It’s that time again! Yes, the Liverpool Biennial 2014 – a celebration of visual art across the city – is upon us

Dazzle Ship by Carlos Cruz-Diez, side view
Carlos Cruz-Diez’s dazzle ship in the dry dock at Liverpool - a joint commission presented by 14-18 NOW, Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool in partnership with Merseyside Maritime Museum

The 8th Biennial Exhibition, subtitled A Needle Walks into a Haystack is, say the Liverpool Biennial, ‘an exhibition about our habits, our habitats, and the objects, images, relationships and activities that constitute our immediate surroundings’. At Tate Liverpool, those ideas are explored in a pair of exhibitions on two different floors of the museum.

In the Wolfson Gallery, avant-garde architect Claude Parent has turned how we experience art on its head, changing the ground floor space into La colline de l’art (art hill), what he calls a ‘machine for viewing’ artworks from the Tate collection. Carefully selected by Parent with Liverpool Biennial curator Mai Abu ElDahab the works – by artists such as Naum Gabo, Helen Saunders, Edward Wadsworth, Gillian WiseGustav Metzger and Francis Picabia – emphasise his interest in geometry and a commitment to radical thinking respectively. Difficult to describe, La colline de l’art is best experienced first hand.

Susan Hiller, 'Belshazzar's Feast, the Writing on Your Wall' 1983-4
Susan Hiller
Belshazzar's Feast, the Writing on Your Wall 1983-4
support, each: 509 x 409 mm
duration: 21min, 52sec
Purchased 1984© Susan Hiller

On the second floor is ‘an invitation’ to see the gallery as a domestic space and the artworks on display as ‘objects within it’. It’s a grand conceit, one in which Susan Hiller’s immersive living room-mimicking space, Belshazzar’s Feast, the Writing on Your Wall 1983–84, takes centre stage, confronting the viewer and throwing off preconceptions of the traditional gallery space. Extending the sense of the uncanny – as well as the illusion – are works by artists including Francis Bacon (a trio of rugs created when Bacon was working in interior designer), Giorgio de Chirico’s hauntingly surreal ‘family’ portrait and Nan Goldin’s intimate photography. Both ordinary and disturbing, watch out for Robert Gober’s ‘leg’…

Dragging you away from what might already feel like a second home, there’s much more on offer to help make this Liverpool Biennial a blissful one:

The Old Blind School

This group show is at the beating heart of A Needle Walks into a Haystack. 16 artists – including Nicola L.’s ‘Functional Art’ objects made over a 50-year period, Rana Hamadeh’s combining of the ‘theatrical and actual’ and Marc Bauer’s response to staying in a ‘dingy’ Liverpool hotel for the past few weeks – show new works alongside a selection of historical projects.

The Old Blind School, L1 9AX, Open daily 10am–6pm

The Bluecoat: James McNeill Whistler

The historic Bluecoat plays host to charismatic American artist, performer and self publicist James McNeill Whistler. Positioned as the ‘original’ contemporary artist, the exhibition reflects on how artists operate today. With paintings, but also prints, drawings, sound, ephemera and correspondence, the aim is to present and understand Whistler and his trailblazing ways as never before. 

The Bluecoat, L1 3BX, Open daily 10am–6pm

FACTSharon Lockhart

Concerned with the rights of children and inspired in particular by a Polish teenager named Milena (whom the artist befriended during her research), in her films and photographs at FACT Sharon Lockhart weaves together ideas around childhood, philosophical questions and the politics of the voice.

FACT, L1 4DQ, Weekdays and Sunday 12pm–6pm, Saturday 11am–6pm

St Andrews Gardens: Jef Cornelis

At the decidedly non white cube, red brick space of St Andrews Gardens, you can find the work of pioneering Belgian filmmaker Jef Cornelis. Cornelis, who worked for Dutch language Belgian TV channel VRT, was both master and subverter of the media in which he worked. In this archive of his films curated by Cornelis scholar Koen Brams you can explore his singular interrogation into art, architecture and culture.

St Andrews Gardens, L3 5XA, Open daily 10am–6pm

Liverpool Medical Institution: Drinks With…

Running for the duration of the Biennial (5 July – 26 October), this programme of lectures, conversations and screenings featuring writers, artists, filmmakers, philosophers and critics aims to get to grips with the central themes of A Needle Walks into a Haystack. Staged in a Victorian lecture theatre at the Liverpool Medical Institution, the title – Drinks With – isn’t jst a ploy; each event is followed by drinks at the bar!

Liverpool Medical Institution, L3 5SR. Visit the Liverpool Biennial website for times and dates of events

Liverpool Biennial 2014A Needle Walks into a Haystack‘ takes place in various venues across the city from 5 July – 26 October