A Needle Walks into a Haystack is an exhibition that disrupts the way we assume our habits and experience our habitats.

8th Liverpool Biennial

A Needle Walks into a Haystack

5 July – 26 October 2014

Curators: Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman

Group Exhibition:

A Needle Walks into a Haystack presents artists who draw upon and reconfigure the objects, images, relationships and activities that constitute their immediate surroundings. Whilst addressing larger questions facing contemporary life and art, these artists work on a scale that is intimate, tangible, and within everyday reach. They attack the metaphors, symbols, and representations that make up their own environment, replacing them with new meanings and protocols: bureaucracy becomes a form of comedy, silence becomes a type of knowledge, domesticity becomes a place of pathology, inefficiency becomes a necessary vocation, and delinquency becomes an everyday routine.

Just as artists in A Needle Walks into a Haystack corrupt recognisable conventions, the exhibition’s title perverts a familiar colloquialism and strips a joke of its necessary punch line, while also alluding to the way these artists impose the singularity of their individual agency onto the larger tenets and social realities of day-to-day life.

For these artists, perhaps like most people, a day involves working in a studio, office, or home, spending time doing mundane chores, smoking a cigarette, cooking a meal, meeting friends or strangers in a bar. Reading a book, visiting a show, caring for a child, or fixing a car is as central to their practice as mixing paint or editing film. Through forms and ideas that range from the provocative to the withdrawn, the artists in the exhibition exploit this mix of occupation, routine and time-off, and locate a place for art in how we live our lives.

Echoing its curatorial concept, A Needle Walks into a Haystack is a single exhibition that reveals its core proposition in different places around the city. At the heart of it is a group show that continues Liverpool Biennial’s commitment to producing new work. This year, the commissioned artists are also invited to show some of their previous projects, providing audiences with more extensive introductions to a selection of artistic languages and practices. The former Trade Union Building, the Biennial’s central location, features a group exhibition that includes work by Uri Aran (IS), Marc Bauer (CH), Bonnie Camplin (UK), Chris Evans (UK), Rana Hamadeh (LB/NL), Louise Hervé (FR) and Chloé Maillet (FR), Judith Hopf (DE), Aaron Flint Jamison (US), Norma Jeane (US), Nicola L. (FR), William Leavitt (US), Christina Ramberg (US), Michael Stevenson (NZ), Josef Strau (AT), Peter Wächtler (DE) and Amelie von Wulffen (DE).

Participating Artists:

Uri Aran (IL), Marc Bauer (CH), Bonnie Camplin (UK), Chris Evans (UK), Rana Hamadeh (LB), Louise Hervé (FR) and Chloé Maillet (FR),Judith Hopf (DE), Aaron Flint Jamison (US), Norma Jeane (US), Nicola L. (FR), William Leavitt(US), Christina Ramberg (US), Michael Stevenson (NZ), STRAUTCHEREPNIN (AT/US), Peter Wächtler (DE) and Amelie von Wulffen (DE). It includes four monographic presentations of Jef Cornelis (BE), Sharon Lockhart (US), Claude Parent (FR) and James McNeill Whistler (US, 1834–1903). It also includes a show curated from the Tate Collection with works by over 50 artists. It includes The Companion, taking place September 19–21, conceived with Angie Keefer (US) and featuring Federica Buetti (IT) and Jan Verwoert (DE); Concert: Chris Evans (UK), Morten NorbyeHalvorsen (NO) and Benjamin Seror (FR); Jeremiah Day (US); Géraldine Geffriaud (FR); Josephine Foster (US) and Victor Herrero (ES); Will Holder (UK); Hassan Khan (EG); James English Leary (US); Jaxson Payne (UK); Mounira al-Solh (LB/NL); Lucy Skaer (UK); C. Spencer Yeh (TW/US); Oskar Schlemmer Dances with Erik Eriksson (SE), Darko Radosavljev (DE), Alma Toaspern (DE) and Christoph Wavelet (FR) and more. There are projects around the city by Christoph Büchel (CH). There is also a book co-edited with Camille Pageard that includes writings by Keren Cytter (IL), Angie Keefer (US), Hassan Khan (EG), Karl Larsson (SE), Eileen Myles(US), Lisa Robertson (CA) and Matthew Stadler (US), David Antin (US), George Szirtes (HU),Edward Said (1935–2003, PL/US), and drawings by Abraham Cruzvillegas (MX).

Solo Exhibitions:

In dialogue with the group exhibition are four solo exhibitions featuring practitioners who have significantly influenced their own field, and have challenged the accepted conventions and parameters that define the territory of their work.

James McNeill Whistler (US, 1834-1903) is presented at Bluecoat, one of Liverpool’s oldest centres for contemporary art. Whistler was a flamboyant public figure, controversially associated with the dandies of his time, who deliberately constructed the conditions with which to present and distribute his art. Not only did he pave the road for abstract painting and advocate “art for art’s sake”, but he also assumed a public persona that challenged art communities, theories, critics and conventions.

At Tate, A Needle Walks into a Haystack presents a new commission by architect Claude Parent (FR), another prominent figure who takes his role as an active member of his profession to its most avant-garde limits. Parent’s work, while considered part of the utopian architecture discourse, is focused on shifting daily experience through subtle yet dramatic change in the lived environment. Parent has built, lived, worked and taught in his constructions devised through his Fonction Oblique. For A Needle Walks into a Haystack, he has designed an architecture for the Wolfson Gallery: slanted floors and ramps demand that the audience experience the museum anew. Works from the Tate collection by Anni Albers (DE/US), Babette Mangolte (FR), Gustav Metzger, Francis Picabia (FR), Gillian Wise (UK), amongst others, are presented here to compliment Parent’s on-going passion for challenging conformity.

On the second floor of Tate is a group exhibition comprising works from the collection. Linking the institutional space of the museum to the familiar space of the home, the curatorial approach replaces a canonical narrative with a more personalised story, presenting works by Ivor Abrahams (UK), Naum Gabo (RU), Sherrie Levine (US), Andrew Lord (UK), Susan Hiller (UK), Gabriel Orozco (MX), among others. The broad range of works selected, combined with their staging, alludes to the central role of the domestic space and its representation as subject matter for artists, as well as a tendency within the collection.

An apartment nearby houses the work of experimental television director Jef Cornelis (BE). Over the course of three decades (1963-1998), many Belgians turned on VRT, the Dutch-language Belgian public broadcast, and encountered programmes conceived by Cornelis, introducing mass audiences to contemporary art and culture. Eschewing traditional TV formats, the programmes made use of the language of art itself—sudden juxtapositions, abstract compositions, or conceptual mise-en-abyme. For A Needle Walks into a Haystack, art historians Koen Brams (BE) and Dirk Pultau (BE) have selected films by Cornelis for viewers to watch on televisions, not only introducing an audience to this important and recalcitrant figure, but also serving as a place for conversations about what television can be and how this medium can be used to document and represent art.

A solo exhibition of the work of filmmaker and photographer Sharon Lockhart (US) is presented at FACT, Liverpool’s centre for film and new media. Anchored by a new installation commissioned by Liverpool Biennial and FACT, the exhibition introduces audiences to an artist whose practice brings together ideas about childhood, as well as the politics of labour and leisure, in subtle but often unsettling ways. Lockhart is a key figure who is constantly reinventing the documentary form by questioning both its parameters and its message.

Central to any daily experience are personal exchanges and intimate relationships. On September 19 to 21, a performative project called The Companion, conceived in collaboration with artist and writer Angie Keefer (US) takes place in various spaces around the city. The three-day event includes a combination of performances by artists including Jeremiah Day (NL/US), Hassan Khan (EG), with improvisational contributions by Mounira al-Solh (LB/NL), Federica Buetti (IT) with Jan Verwoert (DE), James Leary (US), Josephine Foster (US) and Victor Herrero (ES), Géraldine Geffriaud (FR), Will Holder (UK), and Lucy Skaer (UK). The Companion is inspired by the ancient symposium form, which consisted of a long dinner party punctuated by music and improvised commentary on a subject of shared interest, and is an experimental situation where performances, actions, and ephemeral gestures take place.

Co-edited with art historian Camille Pageard (FR), the book for A Needle Walks into a Haystack constitutes a site of the Biennial exhibition itself, and consists of new texts by the curators and by Keren Cytter (IS), Angie Keefer (US), Hassan Khan (EG), Karl Larsson (SE), Eileen Myles (US), Lisa Robertson (CA) and Matthew Stadler (US), amongst others, with drawings by Abraham Cruzvillegas (MX). The book extends the exhibition to the written word, locating a similar spirit in the work of cultural critics, novelists, philosophers, poets, and others.

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