The 18th Biennale of Sydney

Contemporary art takes over the Harbor City

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by Alex Vitlin


Since 1973 the Biennale of Sydney has presented an exciting three-month program of contemporary visual arts throughout the city. This year’s 18th Biennale of Sydney is built around the theme, “All Our Relations,” a deliberately rich phrase—does it refer to family? Diplomacy? Proximity of concept?

The Biennale runs through three main venues—the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of NSW, and Cockatoo Island, as well as at satellite sites in the inner city. More than 100 works are on show, curated by co-artistic directors Gerald McMaster and Catherine de Zegher.


More than 50 works have been installed on Cockatoo Island, a former naval yard, and the artists exhibiting on the island have consciously made use of the leftover buildings and equipment. Fujiko Nakaya‘s “Living Chasm” fills the space between a former turbine hall and cliff face with fog, creating a 150-foot-high misted abyss.


Tiffany Singh‘s work is almost inaudible behind a wall, but stepping through a low opening reveals 1,000 wind chimes playing to the changing character of the wind at the island’s westernmost tip.


NYC-based artist Alan Michelson finds a tangible correspondence between the mire of Newtown Creek, located between Brooklyn and Queens, and the forlorn industrial majesty of Cockatoo Island in “Mespat.” Housed in an abandoned crane house,the work comprises a video projected onto stained-white turkey feathers.


Other works are installed in early settlement convict buildings, painted onto the launching slips of the island, and Iris Häussler works within an old residence that still holds the bizarre beeswax sculpting of a wayward city ranger who worked on the island.


Off the island, Postcommodity has installed their work “Do You Remember When” in the Art Gallery of NSW. Previously installed at ASU’s Ceramic Art Research Center, the work cuts out a slab of the Art Gallery of NSW‘s 1874 marble floor to reveal the earth below. Especially in Sydney, where British settlement first occurred in Australia, it is a poignant consideration of the touch points between indigenous Australian and later cultures.

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In the former working wharves of Pier 2/3, Tiffany Singh presents more wind chimes, in this case to be taken home, painted and returned to the island. Further into the space Honore d’O‘s paper forms fill the old wooden space with an organic continuity.

The 18th Biennale of Sydney runs until 16 September 2012. Free ferries to Cockatoo Island run 10am-6pm every day.

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