As one can always do with a healthy dose of refreshing and invigorating art for the senses, I was stoked to catch the parts of the 18th Biennale of Sydney this year. Catching the free ferry out to heritage listed Cockatoo Island (ex- naval dockyard and prison barracks) was a wind swept and slightly chilling experience. However once on the island I realised what an inspired choice of location it was for hosting such a event. Such vast, variable and gritty indoor and outdoor spaces for works which were well curated to suit the dynamics of each space – whether in the guts of an old silo, engine room, tunnel or foot bridge.
Highlights of the show for me were the monumental installations that really used the sites to enhance ideas. These included the techno-poetic work by Daan Roosegarde, in dog leg tunnel – a audience reactive light installation on ‘magic wands’, Peter Robinson’s Snow Ball Blind Time, in Cockatoo Island’s own Turbine Hall (take that Tate!), Fujiko Nakaya’s outdoor fog, and Philip Beesley’s Hylozoic Series.
Roosegarde’s work was a surprise in the darkness of the tunnel, and being a Biennale Family Day on the island the motion reactive light wands were performing immensely well with all the children hurtling through the tunnel yahooing and carrying on. It was very beautiful and makes me wonder why installations like this are not integrated into our daily environment; imagine a streetscape designed by Roosegarde and Beesley!
It was also a pleasure to see Peter Robinson’s work Snow Ball Blind Time – an epic drape of the signature polystyrene chains across derelict machinery in the Turbine Hall. His work is a monumental expression at society’s attachment to excess, articulated through scale and materiality. Having been a student of Peter Robinson at Elam, it was pretty cool to see how well his work held it’s position in this international showcase. Justin Paton writes eloquently about this work here.
Fujiko Nakaya’s fog captured my imagination and piqued interest in the history of the island. Rising from under the footbridge, her fog not only created a sense of mysticism on the crossing but as the fog licked up the cliff edge it exposed the eye to the heritage of the island; to see the cut-through old grain stores in the cliff side. Read more about the island’s heritage here and Nakaya’s work here.
The ultimate experience at this years biennale would have to have been Philip Beesley’s Hylozoic Series; Sybil. An insanelyintricate, interactive installation of elegant robotic feathers and sensors creating an organism which was alive, reactive and participatory with human presence. A poetic, confounding experience, Beesley seems to have taken interactive art to a intensely complex level. Read about the artist here.
Back on the mainland, another venue, The Museum of Contemporary Art (newly renovated in a conservatively contemporary international art gallery way), housed an array of smaller works, the most engaging for me being Lee Mingwei’s The Mending Project nearly in it’s completion, with massive piles of mending completed by the artist over the course of the exhibition. Attendees were invited to report to the artist with a garment which needed repair, and Mingwei would repair it in a celebratory way, not to conceal the wound but expose and embellish it to add character to the garment. He encourages the act of sharing and commemorating change – he explains the act “something good was done here, a gift was given, this fabric is even better than before.” Read more about his projects here. The floor containing Australian artist collection was also amazing, albeit not part of the Biennale.
The 18th Biennale of Sydney is on until the 16th of September, and I would strongly recommend visiting if you are in the area. There was so much to see and be challenged by. If you need inspiring, head on down.