We’ve done some proper writing on the Biennial elsewhere on SevenStreets, but I wanted to put some thoughts down on the Biennial takeover of the the former Rapid stores on Renshaw Street, forming two loose exhibitions called The Human Stain and Re:Thinking Trade.
Those parties responsible for making this happen should be applauded, as it still seems remarkable that such a valuable piece of real estate (although there have to be questions about the viability of retail business in that part of town at the moment) should be given over to something so resolutely anti-corporate.
That it exists at all is remarkable, that it exists simply to create a wide-ranging sense experience for the sake of providing a wide-ranging sense experience would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.
As art, I found it something of a mixed bag; but I was keen to explore every nook and cranny of the former DIY store, to see what was next.
There’s something of a feeling of decay about the place, as if Rapid had declined decades ago. There are still odd scraps of DIY chic around the place: old ceramic tiles, part-decoration, part sales device; garish signage.
It’s as if the veneer of an art gallery is peeling back to reveal what truly lies beneath; as if Rapid is reclaiming the space, like an infection spreading throughout the fabric of the building.
Because of this odd juxtaposition, there’s a little bit of an illicit thrill to walking freely around the store, like having the run of school at night. ‘Art or floor?’ it whispers. ‘Installation or fire extinguisher?’ Whether this is deliberate or not I couldn’t tell, but it lends an extra dimension to what’s actually on show.
As part of the Trade theme, I found Meschac Gaba’s colourful work engaging, but it works as something pretty to look at too – something the numerous kids around the building probably found welcoming and often something of a rarity in ‘art’ these days. The Time/Bank stuff was interesting too, even if the theme was stretched a little too thin.
The highlight of the exhibition, if it can be called that, is Ryan Trecartin’s dizzying Trill-Ogy Comp; taking up the entire basement and proving an immersive and memorable addition.
It’s an all-out assault on the senses, and consciousness itself. I felt like I was being violently hypnotised; at once lulled and attacked. It’s incoherent, obnoxious, vaguely sickening and thoroughly disorientating, yet quite addictive. I’m at a loss as to how to form any greater critique.
I lurched upstairs feeling like I was experiencing some kind of gonzo Stendahl syndrome; pushing on to the top floor, which misses more often than it finds the mark.
With a weary sense of inevitability, I discovered some pictures of humans and animals bumming one another; but the Marx Room prevented some welcome respite and some of the other paintings – forming the Human Stain strand – were good.
The Rapid whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and I don’t mind a spot of pretention and art-wank – I certainly expect a lot to be written about it.
Set in the at-once bizarre and perfect venue of the former chipboard-and-screwdrivers merchants; Art in the Public Realm is an off-the-wall jewel in the crown of the Biennial.