The Twin at Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, 2019

Axis Directory member Helen Kilby-Nelson reports back from The Coventry Biennial, a city-wide arts festival taking place 4 October - 24 November 2019


Do you ever feel that sense of trepidation when you’ve been looking forward to the sequel of a favourite film? Will it be as good as the first? Pale in comparison? Or exceed all expectations? If you consider all the players involved in the concept, visualisation, creation, organisation, curation and exposition of the 2019 Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, The Twin, with over 100 artists plus events at multiple venues, the core team, the partners, the volunteers and the viewers … that’s multiple rows of spinning plates!


Mousethings: 'A Litany (pt 1 & 2)', 2019

Speaking of rows, one of the main venues this year, alongside the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, is The Row: one of Axisweb’s Vacant Spaces co-run with Coventry Artspace. It includes the work of the successful Axisweb x Coventry Biennial commissioned artists Mousethings: 'A Litany (pt 1 & 2)', (2019).

Located in the middle of the city centre’s main shopping thoroughfare, this disused NHS building has been empty for a few years. Situated over three floors is the work of over sixty artists, including recent graduates from across the West Midlands and established national and international artists. The works exhibited here and across the biennial offer diverse narratives of relationships, parallels, opposites and replication. Some of my favourite works at The Row are ‘Twin Stranger: Entangled State’ (2019) by Darryl Georgiou & Rebekah Tolley; the voice of Jack Klaff informing me: “I spy with my cynical eye” in a film that highlights the disturbing reality of contemporary society. Also Ewan Johnston’s paintings including ‘Costly Coffee’, (2019) are such an honest replication of today’s High Streets.

Georgiou and Tolley

Darryl Georgiou & Rebekah, ‘Twin Stranger: Entangled State’, 2019

Ewan Johnston

Ewan Johnston, ‘Costly Coffee’, 2019

Other works that have particularly caught my (not quite so cynical) eye are: ‘A Couple (of swings)’, (1993), a thought-provoking reminder of the fragility of relationships by Mona Hatoum and ‘RGB (Retinally Governed Behaviours)’, (2019) by Stephen Cornford, a joyous exploration of technology, light sources and outputs. Both of these works are on show at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum, ‘A Couple (of swings)’, 1993

Stephen Cornford

Stephen Cornford, ‘RGB (Retinally Governed Behaviours)’, 2019

As well as The Row, I’ve been to chapel, university and the shops: or more specifically, St Mary’s Guildhall, the Lanchester Gallery at Coventry University and Coventry Artspace’s Arcadia Gallery, a disused shop in City Arcade which are also hosting the biennial. These venues along with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum are in such close proximity to each other it makes navigating the biennial an accessible tour of the city as well as the art. From the historical and tourist attractions, to the home of the university’s art students and shopping precincts, the biennial touches every part of the city and invites locals and visitors to participate.

As an artist based in Coventry and living in rural Warwickshire it is very exciting to have the opportunity to participate in and engage with such a diverse range of artists and art works on my doorstep. The biennial team have proved their commitment to collaboration and making art more social. The use of empty and familiar spaces helps demystify the often elevated status of art. Also the commitment to the city as a bi-annual event which supports local artists and provides continued opportunities for artist development. It is not only an event for artists; it includes local people, businesses and organisations, creating opportunities for a stronger infrastructure that can encourage more visitors and businesses to become part of the landscape of the city.

More information: 

Helen on Axisweb >