20 June 2012

'all our relations' – in Sydney this winter!

Its time for Sydney to once again spend winter exploring and discovering some of the best contemporary art on display in the world right now.  The 18th Biennale of Sydney will be presented from 27 June – 16 September 2012 and it’s all free.

The Biennale of Sydney continues to play a central role in developing visual arts culture in Australia and connecting artists from around the world. Every two years, the Biennale of Sydney is presented free to the public over a 12-week period. As the most exciting contemporary visual arts event in the Asia-Pacific region, the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) will celebrate the organisation’s 39th anniversary.

Titled all our relations, this Biennale will present works by more than 100 artists hailing from Australia, New Zealand, Asia Pacific, the Americas, Europe, South Africa and the Middle East. Nearly half the artists will present works created specifically for this exhibition, including many substantial collaborative installations.

Four of Sydney’s leading cultural institutions and heritage sites are major venues for the exhibition: the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the newly redeveloped Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Pier 2/3 and Cockatoo Island. For the first time, Carriageworks will also be a presenting partner.

It will be big – some of it will be beautiful, it will be emotional at times and confronting to some. For all of this you must get there. First thing to know is you can’t do the Biennale in one day – just impossible. So here are my tips, based on my experience of past Biennale’s and on researching what they have in store for us.  

Cockatoo Island

Let’s start with the jewel of the Biennale and going on the show two years ago this is a day trip. Take a free ferry from outside the MCA at Circular Quay and 20 minutes later you will arrive in another world, one where the spirits of the convict past and the legacy of industrious shipbuilding collide with contemporary art.

One mid week morning two years ago my date called to cancel on our outing to see the show at Cockatoo, so I went on my own. It was a cold dark winter day as bleak as the history of the site. Amongst this environment I found myself standing in various buildings being overloaded with amazing installations throwing brutal and beautiful messages at me; so overloading my senses that at several times I broke into tears  - so emotional were the contrasts and experiences. I can’t wait to get back there this year.

Fujiko Nakaya 'Cloud Parking"

On Cockatoo seventy-two  works by 55 artists will be spread across the atmospheric island including Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya, who will create one of her pioneering artificial fog sculptures alongside a cliff-face and Berlin-based Monika Grzymala who  will invite visitors to immerse themselves in a realm of floor-to ceiling paper.

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Presenting 27 artists and 90 artworks, subtitled In Finite Blue Planet, the artists featured at the Gallery explore the idea of the macrocosm, sometimes picturing the planet from afar with its movements of migration and globalisation.

Also in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Inner Mongolian-born, Beijing-based artist Gao Rong will create a life-sized sculptural replica of her grandparent’s living room. Using embroidery in a contemporary application, Gao presents reconstructions of everyday domestic items and tableaus.

When at the Art Gallery take time to look at the expanded and revitalised Australian galleries. On display is a selection of works from the Gallery’s collection of Australian art, from colonial to contemporary – one of the finest in the country. Some of the Gallery’s most famous and popular works of art are presented in new contexts alongside recent acquisitions and numerous works brought out of storage for the first time in years – it’s a wonderful slice of the world through Australian eyes.

Museum of Contemporary Art

If you haven’t got to see the redeveloped MCA yet then this is a good reason to visit. The MCA will present 26 artists and 47 artworks subtitled Possible Composition, many artists bring together disparate elements, or reassemble disjointed parts to create something new from something broken or unexpected.

An expansive new double-height space will be dedicated to a work by Pinaree Sanpitak, one of Thailand’s few internationally recognised female artists. Sanpitak presents Anything Can Break (2011), an installation of hundreds of origami cubes and breast-shaped glass clouds suspended from the ceiling. Illuminated by fibre optics, the cubes and clouds are lined with motion sensors that trigger music in response to the audience’s movement.

Pier 2/3

Pier 2/3 is within walking distance of the MCA and comfortably done as a sequence. It’s a big space and suits big works which you’ll find here. There’s a buzz about the Belgian artist HonorĂ© d’O who will realise a large-scale interactive paper installation, Air and Inner (2012), which incorporates PVC piping, wood and 24 chairs and will be the biggest work of the Biennale.

Tiffany Singh 'Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound'

Also here you’ll see a work by Tiffany Singh from New Zealand made up of 1700 bamboo wind chimes and five kilometres of ribbon called Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound (2012) which promises to be quite emotional for the viewer. The intention of the chimes is to allow the winds of fortune or ‘chi’ energy to flow freely, as wind chimes can influence how chi flows through a space.


For the first time, Redfern-based arts institution Carriageworks is a presenting partner for the Biennale. Carriageworks will present Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens with a site-specific installation based on the relation of time and space. Through the use of light, artificial fog, projections and sound, Janssens’ work touches on experiencing the ungraspable.

Why not incorporate seeing this show with a visit to the wonderful Eveleigh Market, an undercover, traditional, authentic weekly Saturday Farmers’ Market held in the Blacksmith’s Workshop adjacent to Carriageworks.

So no excuses for not getting out and about and immersing yourself in some of the world’s hottest contemporary art – it’ll be unforgettable!


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