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Art & Social Space
Context Sensitivity: The 2006 Liverpool Biennial... Part 2
by Donna Conwell

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Adriana Varejão

Teresa Margolles

Matej Andraz Vogrincic

Hans Schabus

Shilpa Gupta

As Osvaldo Sánchez has noted, there is a tendency for works commissioned for the public realm to employ the city as if it were a white cube gallery space.(14) Locating artistic representations and artifacts in the city not only reinforces the idea that a conurbation is simply a fixed demarcated space, a container of objects, but it also runs the risk that viewers will either fail to notice the presence of such work in the midst of the associated visual noise, or will simply interpret them as civic ornaments. Almost without exception, the works located in the public realm for International 06 follow the white cube model.

Adriana Varají£o installation of pristine ceramic tiles depicting hallucinogenic plants on the base of the Wellington monument was exquisite, but it is located with a practice of ornamentalizing the city which negates and renders impotent any critical potential the work might have had. This is also the case with Priscilla Monge soccer pitch located in Goree Plaza, the famous former site for chaining merchantsí­ horses. Although Monge fashioned an unusual football pitch with undulating hills and troughs, her intended aim: to show how spaces are defined by their own specific rules and by tensions and power dynamics, results in a representation of such relationships and not in actively disrupting them. A game without players is strange indeed because surely it is the players themselves that negotiate the rules of the game. The rules are not defined by the geographical confines of the pitch. As such Mongeí­s work is read as part of the ornamental scenography of the city, rather than a critical intervention on its processes of coercion and control. With Sobre el Dolor/On Sorrow Teresa Margolles collected glass from car windows that had been shattered during car-jacking incidents involving the murder of drivers and/or passengers in Mexico City. She then embedded the glass in an asphalt passageway in Liverpoolí­s nightclub district. Although the work draws an interesting relational correspondence between Mexico City and Liverpoolí­s urban violence, nevertheless the work re-articulates the idea of site as a fixed and permanent physical space. In this sense, the commissioned works for International 06 sited in the public realm shore up a very traditional conception of site as defined by its spatial characteristics and not by ongoing socio-economic processes that continually re-shape it and produce it.

Although Manray Hsu stated aim was to enable the free flow of creative energy throughout the city by employing archipuncture, surely the only way to address such blockages and imbalances is through the activation of new inter-personal dynamics and exchanges rather than through the very literal siting of art objects in specific key locations. Isní­t locating art objects within the city merely representing a strategy of intervention rather than really embodying and activating one? The experience of the viewer becomes relatively passive, following the logic of consumption rather than engaging in an experience of friction or co-creation that reveals how the city is continually re-produced and re-made.

Again, these problems seem to point to the difficulties of framing place specific works in a biennial format. If visitors are merely given a map and asked to meander around the city in search of objects that are supposed to encapsulate context-specificity, then not only the works but the city itself becomes emptied of its specific cultural, social, and political context. The city is transformed into a domesticated and politically passive autonomous exhibition space. If no effort is made to communicate the investigative process of engagement with a specific context then the works will simply be read as autonomous art objects, and not as process-based place-specific pieces.

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