Liverpool Biennial

Plymouth Arts Centre Home – PAC Home have supported me with a bursary to visit the Liverpool Biennial – I saw an excellent series of shows over the weekend 26/27 September. I have written a blog post for PAC Home. Here’s the link and also see below :-

It explores my views about the ways in which the exhibitions – particularly the group show “A Needle Walks into a Haystack” were presented with a focus on the information provided to audiences. My view is that this interpretation to facilitate access and understanding will be a great challenge for us when we come to the exhibitions for Redefining Print.

Just last week I went to a talk about the exhibition at Exeter Phoenix – The Exeter Contemporary Open :

phoenixSamantha Donnelly “Modernise Your Look”

And then the new show at Spacex Gallery in Exeter :

spacexScott King “Anish and Antony Take Afghanistan”

In both of these shows the ‘way in’ for the audience was much clearer – better information, interpretation and explanation.
It is easy to forget that looking at art can often be hard work – challenging, difficult to understand, raising conflicting emotions, frustrating. The work in the Liverpool Biennial group show at The Old Blind School entitled  “A Needle Walks into a Haystack” was all of this for me. I saw also the John Moores Painting Prize too and whilst I knew just as little about each piece in that show, it was so much easier to look at paint on canvas, two dimensions, something established and accessible.  Finding a doorway to an understanding of new work, an orientation for the viewer to begin to get some of the intentions of the artist is key for the success of a public exhibition. Without that it is easy to simply look and turn away none the wiser.
In the shows I visited in Liverpool, there were successes and failures in this.  I’m sure that curators and artists gave consideration to who the audiences for their work might be but in the group show especially, this was particularly opaque. I wanted more narrative, background and explanation. Art based principally around ideas sometimes fails to stand up to a purely visual examination, it cries out for an intellectual discourse but to facilitate that sometimes more information – a way in, is required.
Whilst I am not advocating spoon feeding the audience, there is a certain cruelty in leaving interpretation solely up to the viewer. It is generally only with the passage of time that the work in the ‘avant garde’ reveals itself to us. But in the absence of anything familiar for me to cling on to, I am cast adrift. I went on a tour of the show given by Rosie Cooper : Project Curator  – and whilst it was helpful, I think most of our mixed group looked on, listened, nodded sagely and went away not much enlightened.
Double Elephant Print Workshop is currently engaged in a project to ‘Redefine Printmaking” with artists Katy Connor, Bryony Gillard, Mark Leahy and Clare Thornton. The work culminates in exhibitions and a Symposium in November 2015. You can follow the progress of our project at
The challenge for us at Double Elephant will be to interpret the art work which our commissioned artists make. These artists bring conceptual approaches and familiarity with other media to printmaking. Double Elephant is well versed in the ways of workshop, ink, paper, presses and process. Here is a clash of cultures out of which we hope will be born a synthesis and never before seen ways of making art. We hope that they will ‘redefine print’ – and we need to shine a light onto that new interpretation so that audiences can enjoy and understand.
When we invite audiences to come and see the outcome of this project we need to be ready to meet them visually and intellectually. How do we do that? Given the numerous ways in which different people receive new information, that question will perhaps be the greatest challenge of our project.
Liverpool Tate got the balance between information and exploration about right in their show of work by Claude Parent. Their choice of words helped to elucidate and not confuse. They drew parallels with other art objects to contextualise the exhibition. They explained the artists’ mission which made me reflect upon my own. That in turn made the experience of the show itself more engaging and accessible.
As we progress our project over the coming months, please come and judge our interpretation of its many potential meanings and outcomes that we will be sharing on our Facebook page. Join in and give opinions, ask for more if we don’t give enough. Such a dialogue will surely improve the work produced and our understanding of it.