The 10th edition of Liverpool Biennial, Beautiful world, where are you? invites artists and audiences to reflect on a world in turmoil.
The title derives from a line in a poem, Die Götter Griechenlands, written by the German poet Friedrich Schiller in 1788 and set to music by Austrian composer Franz Schubert in 1819. While the verse is an ode to the glory of ancient Greece, here the emphasis falls on a lament for what has been lost. That sense of loss was widespread in the early part of the 19th century, unsurprisingly given that the years between the composition of Schiller’s poem and Schubert’s song saw great upheaval and profound change, from the French Revolution to the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. It was an era that introduced a modern age of indifference and alienation.
It was also a moment when science was reshaping the understanding of nature, revealing that it was radically removed from the scale of the individual. Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726–1797) published his two-volume Theory of the Earth (1795), introducing the ideas of uniformitarianism – the recognition that today’s landforms were shaped by geologic processes over enormous spans of time. This ‘deep time’, the inconceivably great age of the earth, sets off the shortness and insignificance of human life.
Today, the line from the poem continues to resonate in a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political, economic, even climatic turmoil. We can understand it as an invitation to reconsider our past and to advance a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.
Beautiful world, where are you? is curated by Kitty Scott (Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario) and Sally Tallant (Director, Liverpool Biennial) with the Liverpool Biennial team.