Visit

The first ‘outside’ chapter of Liverpool Biennial 2021: The Stomach and the Port is now open. In order to keep yourself and everyone around you safe, we ask that all visitors to the outdoor works please observe the health and safety guidelines (Link to Covid Safety rules) and if you are from outside of the city, please do not visit the Biennial until the government guidelines say it is safe to do so and travel restrictions are lifted.

  • See the map and trails to explore seven outdoor sculptures across the city.
  • Check the FAQs for tips on safe visiting
  • Experience the online programme of sonic and digital commissions, films, events, podcasts and more.

From late Spring we’ll open the full festival of exhibitions and events hosted by partner venues throughout Liverpool. We’ll add info on getting here and how to book your free timed visit nearer the time – sign up to stay posted.

Meanwhile take your imagination on a wander through the Biennial with writer Orit Gat’s personal View of the City and see the specially commissioned editions and merchandise at our online Shop.

  • Public Work
  • Venues

Trails

Here are four suggested trails which offer routes that you can take around the Biennial. Each option groups venues by location to make suggestions of which can be easily visited together, perfect if you’re short on time! They also offer a curatorial insight, referencing specific artworks which respond to, and are linked together, through the three entry points.

Stomach/Waterfront Trail

Coming Soon

Porosity/Business District Trail

Coming Soon

Kinship/City Centre Trail

Coming Soon

A View of the City

A Personal Exploration by Orit Gat, Writer

This is a story of arriving in a city told through a selection of objects – a set of false teeth; a sugar cube; a model of an ocean liner; a landscape painting in an abandoned basement; some bird drawings; two birds; a small forest of young trees – presented as a way of guiding you, the visitor, through Liverpool Biennial 2021. It is a thread, weaving connections between Liverpool, its history, its buildings, and the exhibition sites, the works of art and the ideas that make up The Stomach and the Port.

When I first came to Liverpool, I imagined that this small book would gently guide the visitor across and through the Biennial. Much has changed since then: being guided feels very different when the ground is full of stickers directing you where to stand, instructing you how to follow a one-way system and reminding you to ‘keep your distance’. An exhibition that focuses on the body and its relation to the spaces it inhabits is coloured by a year (or more) of being keenly aware of one’s body in space, and of other bodies around. And so, my aim is to offer options, not directions – ways of connecting with the ideas and connecting the ideas together.

In a network of interrelation, I had to decide: which stories to tell? This exploration accounts for the things that linger in the background: the sugar, the birds, and the many histories carried and represented by the geography, waters and people of the city, shaping a path through the curatorial ideas. This is how you create a sense of fiction: an exhibition is a set of relationships, and these are part of the process – there’s the relationships between artworks hanging next to each other, but also the relationships between different spaces. My hope is that every different path through the Biennial and the city generates a different meaning for each visitor, who then carries that home in their memory and back into the world.

A set of false teeth

The false teeth are usually displayed on the top floor of the Victoria Gallery & Museum. Fashionable in Victorian England, they’re displayed here in vitrines, next to bell jars containing huge cross-sectioned models of tooth decay. Made of ivory (or collected from dead soldiers, prisoners and graves), they were necessary because of the uptake in the consumption of sugar, newly accessible from the Western hemisphere and the colonies.

In medieval times, sugar had been imported to Europe from the Arab world: crusaders brought what they called ‘sweet salt’ back with them from the Holy Land. Until the 18th century, sugar was expensive and treated as medicine. This set of ivory teeth is a sign of availability. The history of everything is a history of circulation.

To consume is a complex verb – it can be used to describe eating and buying, devouring, and using up. New things on offer, such as sugar, require new ways of living, such as false teeth. The Victoria Gallery & Museum, which resides in one of the oldest parts of the University of Liverpool, was funded by donors such as Sir Henry Tate and Sir William Hartley, who made their respective fortunes from sugar and jam manufacture. It was opened in 1892, during a time of plenty (for some) and a time of increasing trade (at the expense of others). The Victorian era also birthed a new kind of place, where the modern opulence that resulted from trade and colonialism could be displayed and made available for the masses: the department store, such as Lewis’s. A new kind of shop for a new kind of time, an overwhelming, intoxicating muchness.

More on consumption: a writers list and the other histories of sugar

In 1974 the French writer Georges Perec created a self-portrait via food in an essay entitled ‘Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Food-stuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four’. Divided by food type, it begins with liquids: ‘nine beef broths, one iced cucumber soup, one mussel soup’. There were ‘five chickens’ and ‘one chicken kebab’, as well as ‘one lemon chicken’. Rabbits, other kinds of kebabs, dozens of bottles of wine (I read a literary analysis of the essay explaining that, for a Frenchman of his generation, Perec’s alcohol consumption was quite standard). Two lines about salad and three paragraphs about dessert, the first of which is dedicated to fruit (‘two strawberries...one pear in syrup, three pears in wine, two peaches in wine’), the second to pastries (‘ten tarts Tatin, seven pear tarts’), and the third is cake (‘four chocolate gateaux...one cheesecake’).

In 2011 the New York Times Magazine’s cover image was a photo of a sugar cube cracking, accompanied by the words ‘Sweet and Vicious: the case against sugar’. Inside, the article’s headline queried ‘Is sugar toxic?’. Numerous articles followed, giving directions on how to cut sugar from your diet. Instructions are necessary: sugar is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to know what contains sugar and what does not. There was a quick shift from luxury to infamy. The idea that you are what you eat was introduced and reinforced. Your stomach is you.

Another translation of Perec’s French list of foods substitutes ‘ingested’ for ‘ingurgitated’, which feels like less of a value judgement. Food is controlled by religion and society and therefore food is culture (I once heard a food writer saying that every story in the world is a story about food, just add a sandwich to it). The story of sugar is loaded and also local: it is a Brazilian story, for example, since Portuguese settlers brought sugar to be planted there in the 16th century, resulting in the earliest large-scale production in the world. Sugar is a story of colonial power and slavery, as its cultivation spread across the Americas to meet growing European demand. Sugar came through the ports and was refined and processed to make loaves, then cubes and bags of granulated sugar. Sugar embodies a history of trade, wealth, labour, movement and change. Every paper pack of sugar on a shelf is a reminder of intersecting histories.

A model boat

The now defunct Tate & Lyle sugar silo and factory in Kirkdale, which sits within Liverpool’s 7.5 mile dock system, is a tale of the economy of the city. Yet the docks themselves tell many other, related tales. On display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum is a replica of the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner with four funnels. Operated by the locally owned Cunard Line, the Lusitania was a familiar sight at the port’s landing stage and now, in model form, is one of many symbols standing for the city’s vast and complicated role in maritime history.

The Lusitania was sunk in May 1915 by a German submarine even though it was a civilian ocean liner, on its 202nd trip from Liverpool to New York. The Titanic is more famous, but the Lusitania sinking during the First World War was a modern tragedy in which war and travel, the port and politics, the story and the secret collide.

On Wikipedia you’ll find a list of representations of the sinking of the Lusitania under the headline ‘cultural significance’. There are First World War recruitment posters from the USA showing victims of the sinking, as well as a few documentaries, a handful of books, some pieces of music. The Lusitania is an emblem of the types of stories that are repeatedly told and represented in popular culture – the Atlantic was dangerous during the war, the Germans brought down other passenger liners, including the White Star Line’s SS Arabic in the same year. The Titanic, unsinkable, still sunk. The story of movement is often presented as one of freedom shaded with danger.

But there is another consciousness, an alternative way of looking at the ocean and the movement across it which often begins or ends in the Port of Liverpool, and which intimately connects to diaspora and colonial violence. This sense of another ocean tells the story of the Middle Passage, the name given to one leg of the triangular trading system between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Ships would leave Europe with merchandise that would be exchanged for enslaved people in Africa who were taken to the Americas to be sold. The ships would then return to Europe full of raw material to be made into merchandise, and the cycle would continue. Endless and horrifying, the middle part of the passage is another story that the ocean holds.

An abandoned painting

By the mid-19th century half of all trade in Liverpool related to the cotton coming in through the port. Cotton – a thing that begins as a flower, continues with labour, shipment, trade, processing, trade again. And a product of slavery.

The local business of trading cotton was originally done outdoors, at Exchange Flags, where the pavements were always white with fluff. It moved indoors, to the Cotton Exchange Building at the end of the 19th century and Liverpool remained a central player in global cotton trade until the Second World War. In the late 1960s the Cotton Exchange became a site of intense regeneration, bought by a developer who turned the old building into a block of refurbished offices, with its original façade destroyed. But much remains of what the building once was.

The Liverpool Echo sent their business editor to tour the building in 2015. He described the old lift cage with a large sign saying ‘samples’, and what was the basement restaurant for the cotton traders, replete with a huge painting of an Italian lakeside scene with a warm sunny sky and light shimmering on the water. (This is not an object, just a photograph I’ve seen online, but sometimes a camera catches more than one would think it could. A sense of loss, an absence of what and who was there.) The writer, sent there to assess an office building, found himself writing about a history that haunts the place, especially in its as-yet-unrefurbished basement.

A book of bird drawings

Taking the escalator up to the first floor of the modern-looking Liverpool Central Library, it’s almost impossible to imagine the round domed 19th-century reading room with its old wooden bookcases reached via spiralling cast-iron staircases. To one end is the Oak Room, where once a week a librarian opens a glass case and turns a page of the American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon’s book, The Birds of America (1827–38). The book, in four volumes, is one of the most precious objects in the library’s collection.

This object also reflects on a voyage across the ocean, from the United States to Europe. Audubon made his journey on a cotton-hauling ship, with the aim of undertaking a lucrative lecture tour about American life and nature, to support his completionist project to paint every bird in North America. He wanted to categorise, to know and to be able to define the world. Audubon’s knowledge of nature, his grandiose project to capture all its avian members, was enormously popular. The single plates of the book with their life-size reproductions of birds were so prized for their aesthetic that the majority of the copies were cut and dispersed far and wide. Now only 120 full copies exist. The book is a gorgeous series of colourful prints, but also a taxonomy that combines the fantasy of an elsewhere and the idea that nature can be described, known, managed, owned.

Two other birds

The futility of Audubon’s project to try to record every bird feels all the more resonant since birds are fleeting apparitions, symbols of migration. The context of the Port of Liverpool fills this Biennial with stories about migration and movement, with narrative and tragedy. The first thing a ship’s passenger arriving in Liverpool will see are the Three Graces – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building – the three structures that define Liverpool’s skyline and its history of commercial prowess. The Liver Building is topped by two 18 ft statues of liver birds, mythical birds that are the symbols of the city – one watches over the city centre, the other looks towards the River Mersey, and away.

The bird looking to the city is known to represent a view of its people, the bird looking at the port a sign of prosperity. But seeing them while thinking of the context of the port as a story of capital, colonialism and globalisation is a reminder that the relationship between the city and prosperity is often a myth: it’s an economy that has left many behind.

A password

When I reached out to one of the Liverpool Biennial 2021 commissioned artists asking them about a film they were showing, they sent me a link. “The password is ‘anthropofagia’”, they added. It felt like one of those magical moments in which all ideas meet.

‘Anthropophagia’ is a term that originated with modernist Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade in his Manifesto Antropófago from 1928. It’s been translated as ‘cultural cannibalism’, the idea that Brazilian art will develop from ingesting the different cultures of the country rather than looking to the West. It’s a process that can be violent – transformation requires energy, experience. In the process of digesting the world, you transform yourself and embody that knowledge physically. The body learns.

Saplings

In this story, there is an idealised Italian landscape painting, a salad and a forest. The forest is newly planted, as it was made for the Biennial by artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané in Crown Street Park. It is like a myth, a story, a thing hidden from the eye and is an intervention which reminds us that nature is a constituent part of the Biennial. Represented, ingested, created, it is all nature. The River Mersey is nature, but also an economic thoroughfare. Cotton – nature, also commodity. We are used to the idea that nature is subservient to humans, a thing to cultivate, like a park where benches inform where bodies can go, where flowers are potted, incapable of expanding. But there’s another way to see contingencies. The human body is just another part of nature, another element in a system. Like both the stomach and the port – circulatory systems of objects coming in and out – the body and nature meet in life. It is inescapable.

COVID Safety

Liverpool Biennial have been working with our partners across the city, as well as Public Health Liverpool and members of the Safety Advisory Group, to help ensure the Biennial is as safe as possible for all visitors.

The first ‘outside’ chapter, which launched on 20 March 2021, is now available to visit. In order to keep yourself and everyone around you safe, we ask that all visitors to the outdoor works please observe the following health and safety guidelines:

Who can visit?

  • If you are from outside of the city, please do not visit the Biennial until the government guidelines say it is safe to do so and travel restrictions are lifted
  • Between 20 March – 28 March, public realm works will be available to view by single households or support bubbles only as part of their daily outdoor exercise
  • From Monday 29 March, the rule of six or two households mixing outdoors will apply and the ability to travel within Liverpool City Region applies to people who live in the area.

What do I need to do?

  • Wear a face covering or mask at all times, unless you are medically exempt
  • Carry anti-bacterial hand gel, and continue to wash your hands on regularly
  • Remember to practice social distancing at all times
  • Please be respectful and patient with other visitors
  • If possible, get tested before your visit. Details of the nearest no-symptoms test centre can be found here.

Full details on the additional measures we have put in place and our COVID-19 safety procedures for all venues will be updated here before the ‘indoor’ chapter launches in late spring.