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Independents Biennial 2023 opens this weekend, after a five year hiatus from physical activity

Since 1999, Independents Biennial (under various names; Tracey, Biennial Fringe, Liverpool Independents, Independents Biennial) has made sure that the work of local artists is seen during the busiest few months of Liverpool’s cultural calendar.

In 2018, Art in Liverpool took the programme over, and delivered a four month festival of visual art across all six boroughs of Merseyside and the Liverpool City Region. In 2021, following a covid postponement, they ran a festival entirely online, with print exhibitions available across most regional supermarkets.

This year, with funding disappointment, the programme is being managed with zero pounds and zero pence to spend on artists, organisers, or venue costs. Perhaps it’s in the spirit of the programme and perhaps it’s against adversity, but hundreds of artists have come out to continue the Independents Biennial tradition by flooding the streets and galleries of Merseyside with locally produced visual art.

Starting this Friday, Shuffle (produced by Max Mallender and Josie Jenkins) have taken over a new warehouse space in the North Docks, managed by Make Liverpool, and will host a late-night celebration of North West artists, their work, and their music.

Also on Friday, The Royal Standard have put together their own programme, featuring artists with longstanding and new-found connections to the region. Exhibitions at TRS begin on Friday 9th June, with Freddy Franké’s Under the Cracked Lid of the Beetroot Man, and change each with, with launch events most Friday nights until September.

In the building that once hosted The Gallery Liverpool on Stanhope Street, Space Liverpool are hosting the collaborative work of Emma Case, The Red Archive, and twenty seven Liverpool Fans, who all took cameras to the Champions League Final in Paris. While the majority of the exhibition is a show of camaraderie and celebration, we all know how the story unfolded. This exhibition is a true-to-life documentary of what happened, from the eyes of those who were there.

St Helens-based artists, Andrew Small and Fiona Stirling continue their long-running collaboration with a new exhibition at The Egg Café, exploring the interactions and limitations that come from working together as teaching staff. Their exhibitions shares twenty-five years’ of site-specific work, and two years’ worth of new collaborative reliefs.

And just around the corner from Shuffle, up the towering stairs of Invisible Wind Factory, in their beautiful Factory Kitchen, is a stunningly sensitive photography exhibitions by John McDonald, who has spent years photographic the city’s buskers, while navigating the morals of permission and request that surround street photography.

All of the above are open this weekend, with loads more to see throughout the programme, including a career-retrospective of Louise Waller’s ceramics at the Victoria Gallery & Museum and the resurgence of the Tate staff-artists collective across several venues in August and September.

While at the bottom of Kensington (or the top of town, depending on where you’re standing) Bridewell Studios host rolling exhibitions from dozens of Merseyside-based artists, including the return of Material Matters and The Drawing (Paper) Show, celebrating the history of Jon Barraclough’s The Drawing Paper and the current wealth of illustrators and pen/pencil-based artists in the city.

“This year’s programme is as much about us at Art in Liverpool as it is about guttering (which it isn’t). We’re literally just facilitating the existing work of artists, and making sure it’s given the audience it deserves. When we found out we didn’t get funding for the festival we were surprised, and obviously disappointed, but we knew we could still keep the heart of the Independents alive. Thankfully, every artist we know, and a fair few we don’t, wanted to share their work and built it into something that explores what it means to be an artist in Merseyside.

From our perspective, we’re just overwhelmed by the support we’ve had this year. Whether it’s from the venues who couldn’t afford to produce without funding, or those who were determined enough to make things happen, everyone has been wonderful, and made sure this year’s Independents could happen with the same vigour as always.” Patrick Kirk-Smith, Director of Art in Liverpool