In Conversation With
Lorenzo Fusi is the curator for International, the lead exhibition at the 2010 edition of the Liverpool Biennial. He was the curator of sms contemporanea in Siena (Italy) and until 2008 he was Chief Curator at the Palazzo delle Papesse. He brings to Liverpool almost a decade of experience in delivering contemporary art commissions, with a distinct interest in politically and socially engaged work and a track record in new media and installation at an international level. www.biennial.com
Firstly, can you tell me about yourself?
I am 42, Italian and an art historian, although in pectore a food and wine critic. Over the last decade I have worked as a contemporary art curator, and after two years, I consider myself a Liverpudlian, although nobody else does. This is fine by me, since it doesn’t seem to be a problem for most people and I hugely enjoy my anonymity. Liverpool and I did not exactly bond by elective affinities when I first arrived, but now we are good acquaintances and understand each other somehow.
The Liverpool Biennial is now celebrating its 6th edition, what does this year’s programme hold?
The format of the Liverpool Biennial has been continuously changing. Although these changes were not necessarily obvious to the audience, the organisation has nevertheless worked very hard to define its identity. The new commissions are definitively still a characterising feature, and the number of participants has escalated and the various platforms achieved a complexity previously unseen. Unlike previous editions, the International show is characterised by several sub-thematic exhibitions and also includes collective participations. Naturally this abundance is not, per se, a parameter for evaluating its quality: one can only hope our festival is not only the biggest visual art event in the UK, but also the most relevant and significant. I think this is the most layered and diverse Liverpool Biennial to date.
How is this year’s theme, Touched, present in the new commissions?
Acknowledging the presence of the “other” is the most art can achieve. Senses and emotions are indispensable tools in this process of recognition. If it is difficult to fully understand one’s own nature or intimate motivations, the attempt of capturing the essence of the “other” is generally a lost cause. Art does not make this impossible task any easier, but facilitates proximity. By means of tactile, intellectual and emotional approximations, the work of the artists presented tries to penetrate the armour we construct in order to defend and hide our vulnerable human fallacy. There is nothing more touching than crossing someone’s persona, piercing it throughout, in the search for his/her core essence.
What’s your process for curating an event of this scale?
The scale of this project is apparently not much bigger than other exhibitions. What really makes the difference is the multitude of sites wherein we intervene: the public realm, and its inhabitants, provide a venue that changes configuration everyday. I suppose the main challenge has been standing still in my convictions and holding tight to a vision. If you loose confidence, the structure falls apart, but if you do not register external signals and inputs, you crash violently on the boundaries of what it seems to be a freeway.
There are 40 new commissions, what was the selection process like?
Generally speaking, the artists we approach for the new commissions are requested to put forward a proposal that responds to the theme of the show. Each proposal is then conjunctively discussed and evaluated. Once a project is approved, feasibility and budget plan follow: the cycle concludes with the delivery of the artwork. What I have so far described sounds incredibly linear, but of course this is never the case.
What sets the Liverpool Biennial apart from other biennials such as Lyon or Istanbul?
This is an easy one: Liverpool. It is a city like no other.
Why does Liverpool make the perfect backdrop for this world-class event?
Paradoxically, it’s because of the fact that Liverpool is not an ideal city, at least, not in a conventional sense. Its contradictions and idiosyncrasies perfectly mirror the complex nature of humanity, clearly encapsulating our ambivalence. Liverpool does not erect stud walls. Rather it demolishes pre-existing ones, but it is never fake.
The Biennial engages with the public on a large-scale, what is the importance of bringing work to the people in this way?
A museum or gallery is like a public library: the books are there to be read, freely accessible, but the reader must come inside. We try to bring those texts on the streets: many titles will pass unnoticed, but some sentences stick in the eyes, heart and soul of the people. When and if this happens, it is more likely that they will find the time and take interest in reading the full story.
What can visitors expect this year and how will that be a different experience from 2008 when
Liverpool was the Capital of Culture?
Since I was not working for the Biennial then, I can openly declare (without sounding arrogant or partisan) that Liverpool won the bid largely because of the very same existence of the Biennial. We have a huge responsibility, but the Capital of Culture legacy stands in the citizens’ hands. The difference (if any) does not lie in the art we present, but in the way people perceive and relate to the festival. Indeed, we are working to make the 2010 Liverpool Biennial a new, vibrant and exciting art event. However, if any visible improvement has in the meanwhile occurred, it depends only elliptically on us.