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Crossing the Line - Ergin Soyal, IPA Summer 2014, MIXER Istanbul, Photo J rgen Fritz Crossing the Line - Ergin Soyal, IPA Summer 2014, MIXER Istanbul, Photo J rgen Fritz

Two art biennials in Cardiff and Bristol launched in 2012 and had, or are having, their second iteration this year. Phil Owen reviewed the 2014 Bristol Biennial- Crossing The Line for CCQ.

The Bristol Biennial is produced by a young, relatively inexperienced team, features the work of mostly emerging practitioners (selection is via open submission), and takes place across a range of non-institutional spaces. On paper, and its title notwithstanding (more on that later), you could be forgiven for wondering whether a festival like this might struggle for visibility in a city with such an already full art calendar. Yet in the short time that it s been running, the Biennial has become a major event - professional, ambitious in scale, and with strong, convincing identity. This year s programme was full, with 29 events taking place over 10 days. There was an emphasis on event-based work, be that performance proper, or exhibitions animated through workshops or discussions. This, combined with the fact that so many of the featured artists were international, leant the festival the quality of a temporary take-over, as an active intervention into the city. Complimentary to this, the use of such a wide variety of venues (public toilets and private houses amongst them) allowed those of us who ve lived in Bristol for years the opportunity to feel like we were discovering it anew.

A few selections: Crossing the Line (see image above) at police station-turned-community art space The Island was the culmination of an opening programme of events, co-curated with the International Performance Association, which combined durational with timetabled live art pieces. As is often the case with these sorts of events, I struggled to find a rhythm to properly engage with the work shown, unsure when I needed to be in another part of the building, and unable to see through the crowd that congregated around whatever was claiming the most audience attention at the time. Nevertheless, there were plenty of sustaining moments through the evening: my glimpse of Daina Dieva folding small origami sculptures of birds in a former prison cell, with its metal toilet bowl directly behind her in my eye line, the images of freedom and incarceration searing against one another; the rubbery casts pulled by Bean from the inside of her mouth, left to congeal around sticks and looking so much like lilies; or the pleasingly silly Desert Island Deaths by Johnathan Rogerson, who swathed in flowing black collapsed, again and again, to the accompaniment of lovelorn pop songs. The Church of St Thomas the Martyr hosted Nanna Lysholt Hansen s video installation Temporary Sculptures for Beijing Apartments. Six or so television monitors each screened footage of the artist posing nude in the manner of a classical sculpture inside a different domestic space in Beijing. Each film gave a unique access point in to private life in a radically different culture to our own, through Hansen s occupation. And occupations they are referencing beauty, yet invasive, static and melancholy, almost malingering. The natural inhabitants go about their tasks around her, either passing quiet, knowing comment and failing to appear unembarrassed, or seemingly completely ignoring her, as in the midst of the chaos of the one-room flat apparently home to 10 female art students. Quite apart from the fascination of voyeurism, there was much to reflect on here around the impact of looking visual presence disrupted by broken social norms, or the global reach of western historical visual culture and the installation s placing right in front of the ostentatious 18th century altarpieces that St Thomas s is famed for added another layer for consideration. Holly Corfield-Carr s MINE took place in the extraordinary shell and crystal-filled grotto dug 300 years ago beneath the gardens of Goldney Hall in Clifton. Her piece was intimately, lovingly site-responsive. Spoken-word, undertaken for only 6 audience members at a time (we were incorporated to read ourselves at points), and through a narrative as intricate as the arrangement of minerals on the grotto walls, explored the interface of geology and human time, dropping in many arcane points from Bristol mythology. Beside the potential overload of the space, and the detail of her text, Carr s performance style was informal and inviting I almost felt like I shouldn t look her in the eye, lest we both started giggling.

Of course, there is no doubt that in taking the namebiennial , eyebrows will have been raised amongst certain echelons of Bristol s art scene. After all, such a title implies a claim to representation which in a city with so many big, internationally-recognised institutions, and a large community of practitioners, should perhaps be more of a collaborative effort (compare the Bristol Art Weekender initiated this year by Situations, coinciding with the Spike Open, and incorporating contributions from over 16 different galleries and artist-led projects, for example). But, equally, is the term in need of an update, a refresh away from current impressions of a festival circuit traversed by the culturally over-privileged, flying across the world whilst remaining very firmly within one self-referential bubble? Could a worthwhile alternative be something equally as international, while produced on a minute percentage of the cost? More locally particular, more DIY? Either way, and as perhaps befits its setting in a place where the worst rioting in recent years had less to do with youthful disenfranchisement imploding, and was instead focussed on a principled opposition to Tesco opening a branch in an established independent shopping area, this young festival is not waiting for permission.

Secret Gig by Justyna Scheuring Secret Gig by Justyna Scheuring