Farewell Biennial: Susan Forsyth talks about her inaugural Biennial experience

Art Sheds History, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth

The Art Sheds is my first Biennial experience and I have enjoyed it hugely.


In 2013 my Zusammen Choir project paraded past the Waterhouse clocktower on Rochdale Town Hall but until I stepped through the front door of the Victoria Gallery & Museum on a freezing January morning I had never experienced the interior of a Waterhouse building before – it is a hidden gem of architectural space.

Site-specific work is the artistic equivalent of tight-rope walking – highly risky during the process itself but very rewarding when you make it successfully to the other side.   I am a sculptor and on hearing the wonderful history of this original University College Liverpool building I designed the Art Sheds on the train home from my first meeting.  The actual content took longer to think through – it turns out you can’t actually hang priceless Turner artwork on a nail at the back of a shed…

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

I spent many hours in darkened rooms with the Victoria Gallery Art Curator, Moira Lindsay and Jade Ryan, the Collections Apprentice searching through the treasures of paintings, prints, silver and miscellaneous.  I love the VG&M’s Bridget Riley print, the exquisite silver and the 1950s cigarette packets but decided to include work up to and including the Art Sheds period.  So, although the hang and the labels break just about every other rule of contemporary curating, there is a coherent framework to the hang.  I am very pleased with the final result.

Gilding the roof

Artist Susan Forsyth adds gold leaf to an Art Shed roof.

Public participation involves a lot more people than a conventional show.  The Visitor Services Team at the VG&M are amazing – running three artists’ studios for the full 16-week run of the Biennial.  Thanks to them our ‘Art Sheds Participating Artist’ medals have gone around the world!

susan in gal7

Susan with her ‘chosen ones’ in Gallery 7

On the first day of the Biennial I headed out to see as many shows as I could.  My heart lifted when I entered the wonderful Claude Parent show at Tate Liverpool. It was completely rammed with adults and children interacting with the space and the work.  I knew that Liverpool audiences would not be shy about having a go!  I followed the art critic Adrian Searle around the stunning Open Eye Gallery – he was absorbed as I was by the black & white images.  I trained as a painter at Chelsea and the sheer range and scale of work at the Liverpool John Moores Painting Prize was very interesting.  I also spent some time in the casts room on the first floor.  Before the show closes I am giving a talk to students at Liverpool John Moores University and I’ll be heading to the Bluecoat to see the Whistler show – two of his Nocturnes are in the show and also Sharon Lockhart’s show at FACT.


Susan has her first ever ‘selfie’, taken by a Liverpool John Moores art student

2015 is the tenth anniversary of my first large-scale public art project at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park.  Bob Geldof, Richard Curtis and every Prime Minister attending the summit received a small canvas.  The archive comprises almost one hundred paintings and drawings and will be shown in the summer of next year.

On hearing I was working in Liverpool my Dad told me a nice story.  He arrived in the city on an overnight ferry from Ireland aged 16 in the early 50s.  His one suitcase, containing his entire record collection, was carried to the bus stop by a kindly policeman who laughed out loud when he found out what he was carrying and told the bus driver to make sure he got off safely at Lime Street station.

I was born in Tipperary and have felt completely at home in a city where people find it perfectly natural to be nice to complete strangers.   Liverpool has welcomed the world during the Biennial; thank you for allowing me to be part of it.

You can keep up with Susan Forsyth’s world via her website at susanforsyth.com or follow her on Twitter @SusanForsyth_.


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