You Imagine What You Desire
Comments on #19BOS are now historical. Read them for a sense of Biennale of Sydney venues and where to go another year. If you need up-to-date information on the next Sydney biennale then start here for an overview and follow the links.
Stay on this page if you’re interested in my take on the Sydney Biennale 2014 (#19BOS).
Overall, I feel there was a bit too much ‘fitting in’ rather than ‘grappling with’.
The first struggle missing is often that of the artist with his predecessors: recognising that everything has been done before and nevertheless finding a new way of doing it. There often seems to be a certain disengagement with the tradition, implying that it doesn’t exist in any meaningful way for the artist.
And so the derivative wheel gets reinvented with much posturing and preening.
I’m calling out Zobop at the MCA here but there are plenty of others as well. That said, the theme of You Imagine What You Desire makes it relatively easy to slip into solipsism.
In her introduction to the festival, artistic director Juliana Engberg spoke of creating different encounters based on the terrain. So Cockatoo, the island, became potential danger, utopia, fun, spooky, edges and borders. MCA – surreal, AGNSW – ‘my beating heart’, Prometheus and a commentary on society.
Carriage works was about the new in theatre, cinema and language and Artspace became flights of fancy. I think she succeeded in giving each space its own character, and yet, and yet… Whether it’s a flight of fancy or social commentary, it still has to function as a new way of seeing. Otherwise why not just blow up a few Hallmark cards and put them on the walls?
Some comments, then.
On Cockatoo Island I very much liked Christine Strueli’s gradually_real, 2014, a recreation of the walls of the Mess Hall, which hosted the work. She then overlaid these recreated walls with exuberent colour and design, layers built on layers, and small canvas blow-ups of parts of the painting on the walls.
You can check the lively conversation between old and new by simply walking around the back of the work and seeing the real thing. There’s a joyful engagement with the history of art, with place and with social history.
A very different work, Victoria Phil Lind’s A Tone To Play is inspired by the lifelong correspondence between Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachman and the Romanian poet Paul Celan. At 9 minutes, it lets you submerge into the meditative mood of this slow moving, thoughtful video.
Augustin Rebetez and Noé Cauderay’s seemingly light-hearted, whimsical stop-animation film, Maison, 2012, plays with ideas of destruction and re-use, touching on many of our social and environmental issues without prescriptive didactics.
SYDNEY BIENNALE 2014 AT THE MCA
At the MCA the key to Douglas Gordon’s Phantom, 2011 was, for me, its haunting Rufus Wainwright soundtrack (All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu) more than the eye that I think the artist intended as the fulcrum.
We each find what we want.
Ann Lislegaard’s Oracles, Owls… is a masterpiece of anthropomorphism – whether you find that appealing or off-putting is up to you.
For complete hedonistic immersion – we all need a bit of it from time to time – commandeer a ‘person-bag’ and be enveloped by Pipilotti Rist’s Mercy Garden Retour Skin, 2014. Larger than life, saturated in colour and all in slow-mo; just lie back and drift away.
Re-energised and ready for a bit more confrontation? Then try the
ART GALLERY OF NSW
A standout here is Mircea Cantor’s Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2012, four minutes of HD video that are gone in a flash. You’ll probably want to stay and see it again.
Longer, at 21 minutes, but equally mesmerising, is Wael Shawky’s black and white Al Araba Al Madfuna, a video of a circle of young boys, dressed up as men, recounting a parable about the dying words of the great J-B-R. We see the boys, we hear old men’s voices, we recognise the tale even though we’ve not ever heard it before.
I have a problem with the program notes for Bindi Cole’s We All Need Forgiveness, 2014. They say ‘Created for the 19th biennale’, but I swear I’ve seen it before. Or something very, very like it. Never mind. The work is powerful, mesmerising too. Faces, all different kinds, all saying the same three words ‘I forgive you’. Allow some time for it.
There’s a lot more in the Art Gallery that you’ll want to see: Michael Cook’sMajority Rule with its repeating protagonist, Deborah Kelly’s evolving co-operative collage art No Human Being is Illegal (In All Our Glory), and you could catch one or more of the elusive performance art pieces which, so far, I’ve not been able to do.
What you’ll need for Carriageworks is time. Time to get there, first of all – it’s a little out of the centre of the city – and then time to give to some of the longer works being shown here.
But even if you can’t manage the long program, don’t ignore this space – there are shorter pieces and installations as well.
I enjoyed Henry Coombes’ I am the Architect, This is not Happening, This is Unacceptable, 2012, a twelve minute descent from the certainties of architecture to the messiness of art.
Sculptural pieces include Tinka Pittoors’Dysideological Principle, 2013-14 created in situ using ready-made objects and referencing inter alia, refugees and the bureaucratic stumbling blocks they face in getting to to new country.
Strikingly different is Hadley+Maxwell’s Manners, Habits and Other Received Ideas, 2014 where the artists have incorporated pressings of forms from Sydney public sculptures.
Once arrived at Artspace, be careful of your feet as you move.
Scattered around the floor, with no protection at all, are 59 individually named birds created by Ugo Rondinone.
There’s a map to show the exact location of each if you want to identify your particular bird.
Around the walls Maxime Rossi has mounted his homage to Chopin in Père Lachais, 2010.
And there’s plenty more interesting work to see, listen to and think about.
The 19th Sydney Biennale ends on Sunday 8 June, 2014