Imagine being trapped in a Gossip Girl script meeting. Imagine a world where the minutiae of life is elevated to dogma and religion. Where life, identity, scandal and attention span is acted out at broadband speed, and where air-headed trust fund teens froth and boil from one, like, emergency to another. OMG!

That’s the lurid, frenetic world of Ryan Trecartin, a 29 year old video artist whose installation Trill-Ogy Comp, takes up the entire basement of the Rapid Hardware Store on Renshaw Street.

Presented in the UK for the first time, Trill-ogy Comp comprises three works: K-CoreaINC.K (section a), Sibling Topics (section a), and P.opular (section ish). Featuring a cast of family and friends (in particular long-time collaborator Lizzie Fitch) and Ryan himself, these feverish, cut and paste paeans to the ‘throw-it-all-at-the-screen’ school of MTV, the E! channel and YouTube, are the opposite of easy watching, but they’re compulsive, engaging and car-crash compelling.

Trecartin’s created his own cinematic language, and, by mining hot topics of exposure, identity, consumerism and kidulthood, he’s single-handedly given video installations a good name.

Elsewhere in Rapid, there is much worth pausing over. Lee Mingwei’s Mending Project sees the machinist sitting amid a sea of coloured cotton bobbins, ready to stitch and sew his way to healing the broken fabric of society. Literally.

Visitors are asked to bring items of clothing that need mending and sit with the artist while he darns these at their side. Rather than hiding the tear, Lee pinpoints it, and stitches it together in bright, day-glo colours. Clothes, he says, are powerful, personal and private objects: and the act of mending someone’s beloved garment is just about the most intimate interplay two strangers can have these days. Moments of connection, in more ways than one.

Lee occupies a tranquil space, and his tales (of how his partner was minutes late for work, thus missing being in the North Tower of the Twin Towers when the plane struck) are haunting and powerful. His Mending Project was borne out of this near miss.

In his work, Meschac Gaba explores world trade and of how it can have an ameliorating effect on cultural identity. His room full of products (export products, rubber stamps and commercial detritus) are coloured luridly in national flags, debasing their currency, and somehow making an international soup of their independent colours. Visitors are invited to bring along their own items to be painted and swapped for those on display.

Rosa Barba’s Free Post Mersey Tunnels is a sculptural sound piece – a twisting and turning tubular pipe – leaving the top floor of the Rapid building, and heading straight down into the pavement outside to plumb the depths of the city, and replay the sounds from under the floorboards. The pipe’s rumbling drone is actually a recording of the low frequency drones of the Mersey Tunnel. It’s a one-shot piece that, perhaps, tries too hard to get a simple point across.

marx loungeElsewhere there’s a low-ceiling mirrored room, reflecting the tortured faces of those captured within, a room stuffed with Marxist books (Alfredo Jaar, The Marx Room) and comfy sofas. And a heck of a lot of painting -which, set against the attention-demanding installations require a real step change, and a real effort to allow them time to hit home. Having said that, there’s one small sequence you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry: unless, of course, you’re used to goat bestiality and bloody sexual torture. Not one for the kiddies, we think.

Stationery geeks that we are, we loved Aranda and Vidokle’s Time/Bank, a platform that allows participants to trade their time, knowledge and skills, rather than acquire goods and services through the use of money. All well and good, but, if we’re honest, we just loved their to-die-for new currency designs. Not the point, we know.

But star of the show has to be Ryan Trecartin, for it is his rapid-fire, innovative videos that you’ll remember Rapid for.

It’s such a shame the same can’t be said for much of the rest of the video installations around the city at this year’s Biennial. Too many ho-hum video installations, we’re afraid, can leave you feeling like you’re in John Lewis’ shopping for a new plasma. It’s an awkward art form, and, this year, we’re seeing a plague of plasmas, chattering away like so many cable TV channels: unwatched amid a sea of white noise and ponderous, mannered and tricksy techniques. Oh, and far too much sound seepage.

City States, at the CUC, offers five floors of video installations, artistic interventions, sculpture and photography. And it’s a decidedly mixed bag.

Focusing on life in cities around the world, City States consists of a cluster of six international exhibitions exploring the cultural dynamics between cities and states.

The Future Movements organisation (set up by Artschool Palestine) set their sites on Jerusalem, with a series of maps plotting out the Israeli Separation Wall (and how it would look, transposed in different corners of the globe “How Long is A Piece of String” — illustrating the severe restrictions imposed on people’s lives here) a ‘Space Invader’ style game, pitting your wits against bombs destroying communities in Palestine, and a particularly harrowing silver cube inside which the hysteria and fury of war blares out amid a thumping stew of sound, and LED battlefield instructions.

Elsewhere, there’s some engaging work in the Nordic Pavilion, a forerunner to this November’s Nordic festival, NICE.

soren thilo funderSoren Thilo Funders is a video artist from Denmark – and his installation is the most powerful of the clutch of video screens competing for our attention. Set against a pulsing, insistent soundtrack, a cast of bleak, world-weary characters jump wordlessly up and down in a barn, while winged-caped whirl and twist as if seized by some unseen power. Soren’s work investigates power, and the link between the self and society – and, despite the curious setting, you can see what he’s getting at. When someone says jump, what do you say? How high? And we’re not talking Chase and Status, here.

Hrafnhildur Arnardottir AKA ‘Shoplifter’ (Iceland) fills a section of a gallery with black, orange and yellow detritus called ‘Gloria’ – like a million tigger bears put through a wood cutter. No, we’ve no idea either, but after a series of colourless, flickering video and crash-barrier interjections, it is, at least, a welcome blast of fluffy eye candy.

Elsewhere, there’s a basement crammed with blinking plasma screens from Seoul and Korea – Moving Fast – and lots of silly stuff: a glittery cement mixer churning suncream, overly mannered photographic tableaux, videos of a naked Korean man rolling toward the camera, pointlessly, and a strand of colourful art from the Caribbean that, curiously, captured little of the islands’ heat or passion.

But, our favourite has to be a ten metre loop of 35 mm film, caught in suspended animation against a white wall: twisting and dancing, the writhing strip is held aloft thanks to two powerful rotary fans. Its organic mutations seem to defy gravity, and show that, in art, as in much else, less is more.

For all the clever contraptions, and earnest political manoeuvrings elsewhere, this hypnotic piece from Vilnius shows that, when it’s all boiled down, all you really need is an idea.

Both shows run until 28 November

City States
Contemporary Urban Centre

41-51 Greenland Street, Liverpool

Art in the Public Realm
Rapid Hardware Store
Renshaw Street, Liverpool

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