Addressing the Socio-Political at Biennial 2016

Posted on 5 October 2016 by Liverpool Biennial

From representations of trauma and the destruction of cultural heritage to the power of protest and subversion through art, Helen Reynolds has detected a highly political slant to many of the artworks in Liverpool Biennial 2016. Here she explores some of the current global issues that the artists in this year’s festival have chosen to address.

Re-Writing History

Found YouTube footage of the destruction of cultural artefacts in Turkey and Iran by ISIS forms the basis of a three-minute video, titled Big Rock Candy Mountain (2015), by artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian. The videos play on loop at Tate Liverpool. The artists’ hand-drawn animations are layered over the found footage, personifying our cultural heritage and subverting power from the perpetrators of the destruction by assigning new characteristics and storylines to the events.

Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian, Big Rock Candy Mountain, 2015. Tate Liverpool. Photo: Helen Reynolds

Protest, Past and Present

At the neighbouring Open Eye Gallery, the chance discovery of photographs from a mass protest that took place in Liverpool in 1985 – where thousands of children marched from St Georges Hall to the Pier Head, angry at the Conservative Government’s proposed Youth Training Scheme – inspired artist Koki Tanaka’s Provisional Studies: Action #6, 1985 School Students' Strike (2016). A megaphone is on the floor and layered placards lean upside down against the gallery wall with slogans like ‘FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHTS’ and ‘NO CHILD LABOUR’. These look ready to be put to use in a protest today against zero hour contracts or other labour conditions, but are in fact props from Tanaka’s re-staging of the 1985 protest that took place in June this year.

Koki Tanaka's recreation of the YTS 1985 school student strike, 5 June, 2016. Courtesy the artist

The Violence of Sound

Next to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, deafening noise resonates in the cool Oratory. Once a chapel holding funerary services, it is now the temporary venue for a 21-minute video titled Rubber Coated Steel (2016) by artist and forensic audio analyst Lawrence Abu Hamdan. In 2014, he was asked to analyse audio files that recorded the shots that killed Nadeem Nawara and Mohamed Abu Daher in the West Bank of Palestine. The film’s story revealed through Hamdan’s acoustic analysis of gunshots is a shocking account of Israeli soldiers firing live ammunition at civilians. Its conclusion is punctuated with the repeated noise of gunshots that stand in contrast to the mostly silent majority of the rest of the work, much of which is communicated through text set as subtitles to the moving evidence. The text is a transcript of a simulated trial and gives the audience information on how to interpret the vivid colours making up the spectrograms of real and rubber bullet sounds; the horizontal axis representing time, the vertical axis corresponding to sound pitch. 

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Rubber Coated Steel (film still), 2016. Courtesy the artist

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Rubber Coated Steel, 2016. The Oratory. Photo: Helen Reynolds

Representing Trauma

Presented at FACT is a retrospective of works by artist Krzysztof Wodiczko created over the last 40 years. Wodiczko is concerned with the representation of trauma and has worked alongside war veterans and other victims of violence and prejudice to develop objects that function to tell their stories. He is explicitly anti-war and, as can be seen in his proposed architectural development of the war memorial Arc de Triomphe: World Institute for the abolition of War Memorial (2010), Wodiczko wishes to instigate a cultural shift to one that is reflective and not celebratory of past horrors.

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Arc de Triomphe: World Institute for the Abolition of War, A Proposal, 2010

Predation in Humans

On Saturday 8 October, artist Coco Fusco presents a work commissioned by Liverpool Biennial and Frieze Projects, in which she appears as the chimpanzee psychologist Dr Zira in Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr Zira, Animal Psychologist. The performance-lecture takes place in Liverpool’s Grade II-listed building The Florrie. Dr. Zira has appeared in different incarnations throughout history and is familiar to many from the Planet of the Apes films, novels and comics. The lecture provides a commentary on contemporary forms of aggression and predatory behaviour in a post-industrial society. 

Coco Fusco, TED Ethology - Primate Visions of the Human Mind, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates

The Cuban-American artist has also selected the film Nothing More (NADA+) (2001) by Director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti to be screened at FACT on Thursday 6 October. Set in present day Cuba, the film examines issues of migration, separation and the ludicrous extent to which red-tape bureaucracy complicates the lives of everyday Cubans.

Nothing More (NADA +), 2001

Liverpool Biennial 2016 is free to visit and open daily until 16 October.

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