18th Biennale of Sydney

It’s been an enjoyable Biennale this year, spread across inner Sydney. My Biennale started in late June with a visit to the AGNSW After After Hours. It’s great to see the gallery looking so revitalised; it has opened right out after the the Kaldor bequest renovations.

The highlights for me at AGNSW were textured pieces. Thai artist Nipan Oranniwesna’s ‘City of Ghost’ (2007) was subtle and elegant. The smell of baby powder against the minute detail and scale of the imaginary city was a delight. Colombian Juan Manuel Echavarría’s ‘Requiem NN’ really told the story of the ‘No Name’ gravesites over time with the lenticular prints (where the image changes depending on the viewing angle): simple and engaging. I’m also drawn to the power of framing variations on a theme in a repeating grid – the lenticular treatment only adds to the effect.

I also enjoyed Binh Danh‘s chlorophyll prints, where found images pertaining to the Vietnam War are transferred onto living matter. It’s a great implementation of the idea of ‘traces’. I attended a ‘masterclass’ with Binh at ACP; more on that in the previous post.

A few days later I dropped into the MCA. Highlights there included Liu Zhouquan’s Where are you (2012) and Inkwili (2011) from Nicholas Hlobo.

At Cockatoo Island I found far and away my favourite piece of the Biennale: Hylozoic Series: Sibyl (2012) by Canadian architect Philip Beesley. This was another marvellous textured piece, and one that responded to audience movements, sounds and body heat with shimmers and pulses of its own. In the accompanying video on BOS18, the artist talks about “nearly living systems” and the curiosity they invoke. This was a genuinely uplifting installation: beautiful, optimistic, subtle and sophisticated.

The organisors should be credited with trying to stem the flow of the crowd through the exhibit, as it is far more effective with limited numbers. The difference between my first visit (on a Friday) and my second (the following Sunday) was pronounced though: the higher traffic on the weekend had obviously damaged the work, as the volunteers were unable to stop people, particularly children, roughly pulling and prodding. It was amazing that such a fragile work had held together so well.

A few other great pieces were local artist Jonathan Jones’ untitled (oysters and tea cups) in homage to Bennelong, Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound (2011) from Tiffany Singh, and New Zealander Peter Robinson’s Snow Ball Blind Time / Gravitas Lite, which dominated one of the workshop rooms with oversized polystyrene chains. The perfect fit of form and content to setting was almost startling. I’m not sure of title, however. The artist’s website contracticts what’s on the BOS18 site.

This is a minor criticism overall: the details on the website were obviously provided beforehand, and were in some cases quite out of date. Added to the poor photos of the installations and artworks, bos18.com is a bit of a let down.

Supporting material aside, BOS18 has been enjoyable and provoking. Cockatoo Island continues to improve as a venue, and including the city’s other major art spaces in the action has made for an impressive event. Sometimes it’s splendid to live in Sydney…

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Posted on August 9, 2012

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