Liverpool Biennial has rooted itself in our city for the past 25 years. Remarkable projects such as Anthony Gormley’s, Another Place and Jeanne van Heeswijk’s 2 Up 2 Down which initiated Homebaked, a still-thriving community interest bakery, have had long-lasting effects on people and places. They represent past commitments and future ambition of Liverpool Biennial – to be a biennial for everybody.
This year’s festival uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things speaks directly to the histories of Liverpool and the role that the city played in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Our curator, Khanyisile Mbongwa, our artists, the biennial team and our city partners have collaborated generatively and generously on working with the sites, people and collections of the city.
Indeed, while the festival directly acknowledges and addresses past histories of violence it also proposes resistance, care and joy, narratives that embrace emancipatory strategies as a move towards new and different futures.
The possibilities offered when one both acknowledges the past and the ongoing complexities of our current situation while holding onto optimism and ambition for change now stand at the heart of our future activity within the city.
During the pandemic we launched our previous Liverpool Biennial, The Stomach and the Port, on the first day that museums were permitted to open in 2021. We welcomed large, local and new audiences but we missed bringing together local, national and international artists, colleagues, and networks. We were reminded that the biennial festival’s core strength comes from its local context, but its value lies in the connections it makes between ideas, experiences and people.
It is our aim to make a biennial that could not be made anywhere else and to make it with as much care for the people who engage with it, and the places that support it, as our resources will allow. By this I mean that, like many festivals, we are thinking carefully about who a biennial of contemporary art might be for, and how its traditional organisational and exhibitionary modes of intense working and unusual and inaccessible "found" sites operate as exclusionary structures.
With financial support from Art Fund and Paul Hamlyn Foundation and local expertise from Dada, a Liverpool-based disabled and d/Deaf arts organisation, we have been able to radically expand the accessibility of this festival, supporting artists, visitors and team members. We will continue this work through a Critical Friends group who we expect to continue to challenge the biennial, both through our festival and interim year programme of commissions, talks and events.
At the same time, we have been thinking about issues of environmental impact with networks of European Biennial partners (the Perennial Biennial) and UK-based public realm commissioning body UP Projects. How can we create sustainable models of commissioning, touring and exchange? How can we utilise our international connections to understand the challenges of climate change in different parts of the world and our own city of Liverpool?
We are committed to assessing and rethinking production and materials to minimise impacts and to working with artists to directly explore these issues both conceptually and practically. As an organisation "without walls", we have built in flexibility and the advantage of negotiating our current economic context, without the impact of the year-round costs of running a museum and gallery. What this also means is that as an organisation we are our people: our core team, the temporary staff who join us, our curator, artists, board, stakeholders and the people who work with us across the city and visit us from across the world.
The future of the Liverpool Biennial is here, and our strength lies in our ability to collaborate and to connect.
Sam Lackey is the director of the Liverpool Biennial