The Sydney Biennale 2012 is about ‘all our relations’.
This festival of contemporary art exhibits, is held from June to August on even years, highlighting collaborative and participatory works in venues across the city and harbour.
Along with the São Paolo and Venice Biennales, and Kassel’s dOCUMENTA, the Sydney Biennale, has been spotlighting international contemporary art exhibits since 1973.
And each year the boundaries are extended a little further.
You may, like me, find much of today’s art questionable. How much is art, how much is decoration, fashion or just hype? Biennales are a good opportunity to delve into these questions again. And sometimes the answers can be exhilarating and unforgettable.
The #18BOS Sydney Biennale 2012 includes music, dance and poetry as well as visual arts, often many of them together.
The key themes of ‘all our relations’ include
- geo-politics and ecology (AGNSW)
- composition and compassion (MCA)
- sensation, mutuality, and healing (Pier 2/3 and Cockatoo Island), and
- associated issues of displacement, migration and identity.
The other outstanding feature of the Sydney Biennale 2012 is its emphasis on visitor participation. No longer just gawkers of the inscrutable finished product, we’re invited to become part of the process of making it. Which might also help us to better understand both the art and the issues it raises or tries to answer.
(For an overview of the Sydney Biennale generally, see this post.
AGNSW: Art Gallery of New South Wales
In AGNSW, the main public art gallery in Sydney, the Biennale will take over two floors.
For 2012 the show here is called In Finite Blue Planet with, as the name suggests, a consciousness of, and focus on, the finite nature of our earth.
The gallery will also be the venue for the Sydney Biennale opening week symposium (free but bookings required) and talks throughout the festival.
Curators, celebrities and artists will discuss aspects of their own or others’ works at 1830 (6.30pm) as part of the regular Wednesday ‘Art After Hours’.
You can hear more artist talks at other times.
MCA: Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney
The Biennale’s contemporary art exhibits will be spread over Levels 1 and 3 of the MCA.
The subtitle here is In Possible Composition and the works are based around the idea of artists bring scattered parts, or different substances, together into a new work. Harmony from disjointed elements.
Thus visitors can join in The Mending Project, where the artists will mend the torn or damaged clothes you bring into the museum while they talk with you. The mended clothes and the relationship, however fleeting, that’s created make you and your clothes part of the work.
You are asked to leave the mended clothes at the museum for the duration of the exhibition, so it’s probably not a good idea to bring in that pair of jeans you need to wear tomorrow.
#18BOS at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay
Pier 2/3 is the last unrenovated historic wooden finger wharf building in Walsh Bay, at the western side of Sydney harbour.
It’s great to walk around and a fantastic venue for art installations and exhibitions.
And it’s one of the venues for artists’ talks.
These run for about 20 minutes and are a great opportunity to informally chat to the creative people behind the contemporary art exhibits you’re seeing.
Pier 2/3 hosts the Sydney Biennale 2012 Bar, for over 18s only, from 1830-2130 (6.30-9.30pm) on Friday nights in August.
August also sees The Invasion Project, an ‘impromptu intervention’ by the Sydney Theatre Company in response to Belgian artist, Honore d’O’s Air and Inner
Also in August you can pick up a chime from Tiffany Singh’s installation Knock on the sky listen to the sound, take it away to decorate and then return it to Cockatoo Island to complete the project.
Sydney Biennale 2012 on Cockatoo Island
One of my favourite parts of Sydney, Cockatoo Island is increasingly being used for art and cultural projects.
The site of many of the festival’s contemporary art exhibits and performances, it’s also a fascinating place to explore in its own right.
The old convict settlement, prison, ship-building centre and other uses have all left traces.
Tunnels hewn by hand through the sandstone rocks take you from one side of the island to the other, huge turbine sheds still have old machinery standing around and cranes frame your views of Sydney harbour.
To make access to the Sydney Biennale 2012 even easier, there’s a free ferry service to and from Cockatoo Island from Wharf 6 in Circular Quay and Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay. And even the free ferries are home to Sydney Biennale projects. You might find yourself becoming part of Khadija Baker’s My Little Voice Can’t Lie or Nina Canell and Robin Watkins’ And So Entangled in their Neighbour’s Boughs
There are many more participatory projects on Cockatoo Island itself.
There’s Nadia Myre’s The Scar Project. People are invited to sew the shape of their scar – whether physical or psychological – onto canvas using various fibres and threads, then write down how they got the scar, and how their wound affected or changed them.
Or come to Saturday Sketch, 1030-1200 (10.30am-noon) from 7 July onwards, to join in drawing sessions, facilitated by local artists. You’ll need to bring your own materials.
Also on Saturdays, at 1030 (10.30am) get an introduction to the contemporary art exhibits of the Sydney Biennale at Art Walk Talks by staff of the AGNSW.
Or enjoy Family Sundays or a Youth Mystery Tour.
Certainly don’t miss the Tour of Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s Museum of Copulatory Organs in Building 123 on the Lower Island.
If you’d rather just watch, Sachiko Abe will be plying her scissors in Cut Papers #13, exploring duration, repetition and constraints.
Complete silence, other than the slight sound of the scissors on paper, and neutral white space, encourages contemplation.
Cal Lane will be creating the remaining components of her work Domesticated Turf, cutting her delicate lace patterns into steel.
Performance fans will be interested in Eva Kot’átková’s installation Theatre of Speaking Objects and lovers of language might join artists Alec Finlay and Cecilia Vicuña for apoetry reading.
Carriageworks: Contemporary Dance Companies
Contemporary dance theater comes to the Sydney Biennale 2012 in September with choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s dance ensemble Rosas. They’ll be performing two Australian premieres: En Atendant and Cesena.
Both are collaborations of dancers, musicians and visual artists with the refined and complex fourteenth century French polyphonic secular songs of love, war and chivalry, known as Ars Subtilior, providing the starting point.