The 21st Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney

The 21st Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney show­cases a free pro­gram of in­no­va­tive art across the city. By Roshan Sukhla and Jes­sica Feen­stra.

Where Sydney - - Contents -

PRE­SENT­ING AN IN­NO­VA­TIVE pro­gram of con­tem­po­rary art, the 21st Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney pushes bound­aries and ideas. Artis­tic Di­rec­tor Mami Kataoka has cu­rated an im­mensely di­verse range of art around the theme of SUPERPOSITION: Equi­lib­rium & En­gage­ment. The Bi­en­nale is held at seven of the city’s most re­spected mu­se­ums, gal­leries and non-tra­di­tional ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces: Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW), Artspace, Car­riage­works, Cock­a­too Is­land, Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia (MCA), Syd­ney Opera House and 4A Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Asian Art. Par­tic­i­pat­ing artists hail from six con­ti­nents in­clud­ing Africa, Asia, Aus­tralia, North and South Amer­ica and Europe with a quar­ter of the ex­hibit­ing artists from Aus­tralia. The ex­hi­bi­tions are all free, run­ning for three-months un­til 11 June. As you en­ter the es­teemed Art Gallery

of NSW, you’ll find works greet you in the En­trance Court, and pre­dom­i­nantly on Lower Level 2. The gallery has been a part­ner of the Bi­en­nale since 1976. You’ll find works here such as Mar­lene Gib­son’s de­tailed his­tor­i­cal paint­ings that de­pict sig­nif­i­cant events in Aus­tralia’s his­tory by re­claim­ing the nar­ra­tive and bring­ing light to the Indige­nous peo­ple of the time. Riet Wi­j­nen’s fo­cus on ab­strac­tion as art is on dis­play in her art­work “Sculp­ture Six­teen Con­ver­sa­tions on Ab­strac­tion”. Eija-li­isa Ahtila’s new in­stal­la­tion “Po­ten­tial­ity For Love” is a mes­meris­ing, ex­per­i­men­tal mas­ter­piece, while Aus­tralian artist Roy de Maistre, noted as an early adap­tor of the Ab­strac­tion move­ment, is on dis­play with a se­lec­tion of his colour the­ory ex­per­i­ments. The Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia presents the works of 18 artists across two lev­els of the mu­seum. Cana­dian artist Ciara Phillips presents the mas­sive “Work­shop” in­stal­la­tion. She has created an en­tire print stu­dio within the gallery, and of­ten in­vites com­mu­nity groups in to par­tic­i­pate through the act of mak­ing art to­gether.

“Un­ti­tled wall draw­ing” is a large pen­cil draw­ing by Aus­tralian artist Tom Ni­chol­son. The work is a chrono­log­i­cal, hand­writ­ten list writ­ten in pen­cil of the cre­ation of na­tional bound­aries through­out the world since Aus­tralian Fed­er­a­tion in 1901. From afar you can barely see the words, but up close, it tells a mov­ing story of a chang­ing world.

Indige­nous artist Esme Tim­bery has created a wall mounted in­stal­la­tion ti­tled, “Shell­worked slip­pers”. The work con­sists of 200 chil­dren’s slip­pers dec­o­rated with in­tri­cate shell de­signs. At first it is a beau­ti­ful, colour­ful piece of art, but the empty shoes are a re­minder of the dis­pos­ses­sion and dis­place­ment of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in Aus­tralia.

Amer­i­can artist Liza Lou wows with her large-scale work “The Clouds”. The work com­prises of a grid of 600 cloths, which have been hand-wo­ven with glass beads, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Zulu ar­ti­sans. There are sub­tle shifts in the colours of the art­work, as you look from afar, whilst up-close the ex­tra­or­di­nary work of Lou and her team of artists is on dis­play.

Google searches be­come mean­ing­ful art in Ni­cole Wong’s se­ries of con­cep­tual works. Her mar­ble sculp­tures are en­graved with a top ten Google search phrase, such as “I can’t”, “Maybe you” and “Feel­ings are”.

The his­tory and quirk­i­ness of Cock­a­too Is­land is once again used to great ef­fect. This UNESCO World Her­itage-listed is­land is home to works by 20 artists. Ai Wei­wei’s ma­jor work “Law of the Jour­ney”, is a 60-me­tre gi­ant in­flat­able boat filled with more than 300 over­sized fig­ures. Be sure to head to the up­stairs view­ing plat­form to take in the enor­mity of the work, and be moved by the plight of refugees across the world. The art­work is made from the same rub­ber that is used to man­u­fac­ture the ves­sels that carry refugees across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.

A labyrinth tun­nel of ship­ping con­tain­ers proves to be a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Yuki­nori Yanagi’s work “Land­scape with an Eye”. Through a se­ries of tun­nels, mir­rors and text, the artist ref­er­ences the An­cient Greek tale of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

Over at Artspace in Wool­loomooloo you can look into Ai Wei­wei’s “Crys­tal Ball” and con­sider the fu­ture. The gi­ant crys­tal ball placed atop a mound of life-jack­ets con­tem­plates the re­al­i­ties faced by many around the world. Tif­fany Chung also looks at global is­sues of mi­gra­tion through her em­broi­dered world map, fo­cus­ing on where Viet­namese refugees have re­set­tled, and a se­ries of wa­ter­colour paint­ings, found videos and re­pro­duc­tions of archival doc­u­ments.

At the 4A Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Asia Art in Hay­mar­ket, theatre di­rec­tor Akira Takayama’s work “Our Songs – Syd­ney Kabuki Project” is on dis­play. In­spired by the tra­di­tional Kabuki Theatre, he in­vited Syd­ney res­i­dents on­stage (on a day in Jan­uary 2018) to per­form their sto­ries and cul­tural tra­di­tions through song, and then recorded the en­tire event.

Over at Car­riage­works, there are a se­ries of large-scale im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tions. Uk-based duo Semi­con­duc­tor present “Earth­works”, a five-chan­nel video work ex­plor­ing the ma­te­rial na­ture of our world, while Chi­nese artist Chen Shaox­iong de­picts fa­mil­iar ev­ery­day land­scapes in his four-chan­nel video work pro­jected onto curved screens.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the 21st Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney visit bi­en­na­le­of­syd­

Ai Wei­wei, “Law of the Jour­ney”. Photo: Roshan Sukhla.

Eija-li­isa Ahtila, “Po­ten­tail­ity for Love – Mah­dolli­nen Rakkaus”, 2018. Photo: Roshan Sukhla.

Left: Riet Wi­j­nen, “Sculp­ture Six­teen Con­ver­sa­tions on Ab­strac­tion”, 2016–on­go­ing (de­tail), wood and paint, 300 x 300 x 45 cm. Cour­tesy the artist. Photo: Char­lotte Markus.

Cap­tion. Above: Ni­cole Wong, “I can’t”, 2015, mar­ble, 50 x 40 x 5 cm. Cour­tesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong.

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