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Art in your face for the next two months; Diane Massey lifts the lid on the biggest arts extravaganza that Merseyside has ever seen - the Liverpool Biennial 2002.

Byline: Diane Massey

IT'S going to be monstrous. Massive. In your face. But is it going to be art?

The public - that means you, dear reader - can make up its own mind in just a few days.

For the second coming is upon us, from next Friday, of the Liverpool Biennial, the hugely unwieldy, sometimes shocking artfest spawned three years ago on Merseyside.

The title Biennial has turned out to be misleading. Last year's intended show was postponed to await the refurbishment and extension of the Walker Art Gallery. The 22nd Liverpool John Moores exhibition which opens to the public on Friday will be one of the stars in the Biennial firmament.

Much of what is going on behind the scenes is top secret and very last minute. But we do know that one of the exhibitors is Brit-pack artist Tracey Emin.

And, like it or not, artists will be making very large and public statements in public spaces like Williamson Square and Lime Street Station.

The emphasis has shifted from artists exhibiting inside public buildings to exhibiting outside them. Another change is that more than 80pc of the artworks have been created especially for Liverpool.

This is the UK's only contemporary art biennial festival. Two years ago Lewis Biggs resigned from the Tate Liverpool to organise it. With just a week to go, he's still negotiating. Art on this scale is a tricky, last-minute business. Countdown is seven days and most of the art is still packed away in shipping cases, a hundred Jack in the Boxes ready to leap out next Friday.

He has no idea whether this year's offering will produce the kind of art that had tabloid newspapers frothing with indignation three years ago, over among other things, a pyre of pigeons and a room full of decomposing food.

``But there will be many surprises, I'm sure,'' he comments, with a wicked twinkle. He points out that there are 300 artists taking part, including those in the independent sector and he's not too sure what they will all be up to.

Home grown Liverpool resident artists are holding their own happenings in and around the city, including a contingent managed by the innovative Jump Ship Rat gallery both at the Parr Street HQ and in St John's Market.

Part of the thinking behind the Biennial is that the public needs to get involved. There will be a massive interactive late night video installation in Williamson Square, for example, where the public will be invited to make shadow patterns on video images of themselves.

In Derby Square artist Tatsurou Bashi. Is setting up a rather different makeshift one roomed hotel by the Queen Victoria monument...with room service. Members of the public are invited to stay, for a fee of course.

I ASKED Lewis Biggs if he feared the public may get too involved - by defacing the public sculpture for example. Super Lamb Banana after all has suffered graffiti in recent months. ``That's not bad for a public sculpture over a period of six years,'' he says. ``Obviously the artists are aware of the risk but we're not expecting anything.''

Much is gambled on a feeling of diplomatic immunity which comes from making the exhibition very Liverpool--centered, although intending to reach a worldwide community. ``Unlike three years ago, eighty per cent is brand new commissioned work.''

Some of Britain's major artists were brought to Liverpool at the inception of the second Biennial and asked whether they could see a project in Liverpool, of the city and for the city.

Most of them responded positively, ``others were very busy with other projects and tied up. Another one or two visited and nothing came out of it...''

Among those who went with the project all the way is artist Marc Quinn, whose exhibition of his own blood-sculptures at the Liverpool Tate was recently memorable. His work, of a giant rainbow, mercifully using just water and coloured light, can be seen at Cammell Lairds in Birkenhead, one of the few projects across the Mersey. Tracey Emin, who opened the first Liverpool Biennial three years ago is back, intriguingly exhibiting under the title New Religious Art at the Polish Church in Seel Street. One hopes she isn't taking herself too seriously. Californian artist Jason Rhoades has taken the task rather literally. In the Tate Gallery he is exhibiting a large livershaped paddling pool. He was apparently taken with the analyst Jung's dream vision of ``Liverpool is the Pool of Life'' when he visited last year. Hence the livershaped pool, a sculpture which apparently also includes peas. He's also creating a live performance around and the concept at the Tate on Friday Septem-ber 13 at 2pm.. If this sounds all a little weird and whacky, there are also fairly traditional paintings, including watercolours, diverging from the sculptural and installation led work of three years ago.

Apart from the Tate and the John Moores show at the Walker, the Bluecoat Exhibition centre also plays host. At the Bluecoat there are performances entitled Eccentrics by Guillermo Gomez-pena, on Saturday September 14 from 7.30-10.30pm. At the Static Gallery in Roscoe Lane, Bloomberg's New Contemporaries is a touring exhibition of the best of British art colleges this year. Most of the exhibitions, with the exception of the Walker and the Tate are free.

The only worry in Lewis Biggs' mind is the trains - trackwork during the Biennial means a journey from London to Liverpool could take six hours and he reckons this could put off a lot of weekend trippers from the South East. But then, there will always be plenty of Scousers to appreciate the art. They can hardly miss it. Whatever the viewing figures, publicity for Liverpool as a centre for the arts is assured. ``We made CNN Worldwide News last time,'' says Biggs happily.

He's probably hoping that within those packing cases is a real Pandora's Box.

A FEW HIGHLIGHTS

JOHN MOORES PRIZEWINNER: Twenty-five grandgoes to the lucky struggling artist to liven up his garret. Probably a fraction of what Charles Saatchi may pay him. Announced 2pm Thursday, Walker Art Gallery. By invitation only. Public admitted Friday.

TRACEY EMIN: Mystery contribution to exhibition of New Religious Art, probably involves lots of sober stitching and voluble contributions from tipsy artist. Polish Church, Seel Street. From 14 SeptemberST JOHN'S MARKET: Fourteen crazed, inventiveartists from around the globe take over the fish stalls. Includes four feet high ``rabbit children'' Saturday 14 September - October 31.CAMMELL LAIRD Birkenhead: Marc Quinn is technically very accomplished. Who knows what his giant rainbow could be like? All very last minute but probably from Saturday evening, September 14.

PLEASANT STREET SCHOOL: Half a lorry, turned on its side, forms the new entrance to the disused Pleasant Street School. The brainchild of artists, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers and Tod James.

CAPTION(S):

Pictures: MARTIN BRCHALL and TONY KENWRIGHT; ATTRACTIONS: Monsters of Paradise Time 2, by Fred Tomaselli (detail left) is one of the starts of the Tate's Biennial exhibition, while paintings for the John Moores Exhibition are hung at the Walker prior to next week's prize announcement and official opening (above and; right)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 6, 2002
Words:1193
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