The Biennial’s Long Night is finally upon us, and I couldn’t be more excited; I imagine myself finishing work around 7, going out for dinner with my partner, then setting out on a night of exploration of the city’s galleries, all open until the early hours for everyone’s enjoyment. I picture galleries packed with punters, many of whom would never normally set foot inside a gallery, but the lure of live music, visual performance and free drinks is too much to resist. Dreaming of late night discussions of contemporary art and wandering around exhibition spaces into the early hours, (in my head at least), Long Night is shaping up to be an un-missable evening.
Unfortunately, most of the galleries began to close around 8pm – when myself and my partner had not even managed to get away from work, and so we were left with very little choice. Why, on a Friday night, when people want to stay up late and experience new things, should the night come to an early closure? Any why, when a huge community of city-centre workers do not even finish work until 8/9pm, should galleries completely alienate their most accessible audience, and shun them from their doors? On top of this, for no good reason, on the (supposedly) biggest night of the festival, Biennial decided to charge for entry to some events, which seems ridiculous to someone like me who fully supports free art in order to reach a wider audience.
Assessing the guide at 9pm to see if anything was even still open, we came across The Bluecoat, which promised music, characters from the Shiverpool tours, and other not-to-be-missed entertainments. Despite the promise, The Bluecoat did not deliver, and aside from the severe lack of extra entertainments and activities, the exhibition itself was also deeply disappointing. Jakob Kolding’s As yet untitled was an intriguingly pleasant collection of works, inviting the audience to examine his mixed-media collages by getting up close and personal with the work. His pieces were fun and satirical, but their minimalism left them looking lost and forlorn in the huge gallery space.
Much of the work on offer was highly forgettable, particularly a collection of photographs on the top floor which seemed to bear little relevance to the rest of the theme, however, the work of Sun Xun partially redeemed The Bluecoat’s lacklustre exhibition. Xun’s work explores notions of hospitality in present-day China by using traditional and new media forms, including animation and projection. His work, inspired by old masters such as Hokusai and Song Dynasty customs, transfixes the audience; completely enveloping the gallery space in a mixture of mural and film projection, which weave together to form a perfect example of contemporary Chinese art.
As we left the gallery, we stumbled upon Dan Graham’s 2-Way Mirror Cylinder Bisected by Perforated Stainless Steel, which is a fascinating piece of work, yet at first utterly confounded us: The huge structure invites the viewer in through a sliding glass door, which leads into a semi-circular room, entirely mirrored and closed off from the outside world. This piece, for me, really illustrated the idea of ‘The Unexpected Guest’, as audiences are invited into the cylinder, then find that they have nowhere to go: they are unexpected, uninvited, unwanted.
This really was the key theme of Biennial’s 2012 Long Night, which did little of what was promised, turning away some potential art fanatics. The art world spectacularly missed an opportunity to connect with a new audience tonight, despite the idea of hospitality and reaching out being the focal point of the festival. Hailed as the UK’s number one Art Festival, Liverpool Biennial’s promoters certainly missed a trick here: Friday night, a city booming with pleasure-seekers and tourists, all ignored and left to their TGI drinks, whilst a wealth of art and culture quietly snoozed into the evening.