Pigs' heads star at Liverpool's feast of art

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The Independent Online
PIGS' HEADS put in their second public appearance in as many weeks in Liverpool yesterday. The previous batch was stuck on railings by farmers who wanted to draw attention to their financial plight. The latest are among the more surreal elements of the city's Biennial of Contemporary Art, which opens to the public today.

A great deal of local pride, not to mention pounds 1m of private money, has gone into establishing the biennial, Britain's first, which aims to draw on the tradition of Venice's Biennale. The event is expected to attract 250,000 people and cements the city's art credentials: the Tate Gallery's northern outpost is here and the Walker Art Gallery has one of the finest classical art collections outside London.

The grim sight of pigs' heads, placed on a long thin trestle table, reflects the theme of Ireland's dead. For the Irish artist Alastair MacLennan (who represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale two years ago) they symbolise the uneaten supper of absent friends. Mr MacLennan, who is known for participating for as long as 140 hours in his own creations, sits at the table dressed in black, amid black balloons tied to cups of water and road maps at each place setting. A taped recording, in a repeating loop, delivers the names of the missing and dead.

Other elements of the biennial are more gently engaging. In St John's Precinct, artists bravely asked shoppers to part with items of personal significance from wallets and handbags, then record their significance in a diary. The John Lewis store has thrown caution to the wind, freeing one of its windows for a sculpture that seems to represent the conceit of fashion. A mannequin is endowed with latex nipples and navels and human hair where a suede collar should be.

More than 50 artists from 24 countries will exhibit at the biennial, which runs until 7 November. The event carries the title of Trace and explores Liverpool's history as a port. It also coincides with Britain's best- known competition for painters, the John Moores (also biennial and set up in 1957 by Sir John Moores, founder of Littlewoods).

The chief curator of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Anthony Bond, has been recruited for the exhibition which Liverpool is touting as evidence of its challenge to be European City of Culture in 2008.

n One of the more troubled Millennium Commission-funded projects, the National Centre for Popular Music, in Sheffield, announced redundancies yesterday as it published disappointing visitor numbers.

Only 104,000 people - half the number expected - have been to the pounds 15m centre since it opened in March. The poor figures have prompted a shake- up at the centre, with the loss of up to seven jobs in addition to nine shed in June. The venue's director, Stuart Rogers, announced his intention to resign last month. His successor, Martin King - who has held senior management roles at Madame Tussaud's and the Planetarium in London - was named yesterday.