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.
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 biennaleofsydney.art
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.