#20BOS ‘must sees’
The Sydney Biennale 2016 is very much about ideas. Interpretations of the future, the present and the past. How we see reality, how we translate it across time and cultures and who gets to participate. In the words of science fiction author William Gibson:
The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed
Here are my highlights. And make sure you pick up a map at the first location you visit. It covers all the venues and it’ll help you orient yourself.
The location alone is worth the trip. Cockatoo has been designated the Embassy of the Real. What’s our reality? How do we define it?
Don’t just look at William Forsythe’s Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, get in among it! It’s on the lower island in the industrial precinct, No 7 on your map.
To look at it’s just a series of pendulums suspended from the ceiling, moving very slowly. But walk through them.
You may become aware, as I did, that without any conscious direction from your brain your body starts moving in rhythm with them, not bumbling into them. If you’re not a trained dancer – and most of us aren’t – it’s a rather magical moment, realising how the body has its own knowing.
The other Sydney Biennale 2016 essential on Cockatoo is on the upper island, just along from the ship design precinct, No 13 on your map. Here you’ll see a wonderful series of large-scale cartographic drawings by Emma McNally. Choral Fields 1-12, 2014-16, graphite and carbon on paper.
They are many things at once, drawing you in for closer examination as you speculate about the marks she’s made on the paper. I heard many suggestions from people around me – constellations, old battle plans, musical scores, weather maps, satellite images – subtle, dramatic, complex, zen-like. Don’t miss.
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Back at Circular Quay the MCA hosts the Embassy of Translation. Re-contextualising the past to better access it in the present.
My picks here included Daniel Boyd’s paintings, especially his Untitled monochrome dot paintings. They simultaneously suspend you outside and draw you inside the scene as you piece the story together from glimpses. I found myself physically moving in close, then further back, then in again as I pursued some train of thought or path of action. No 23 on your map.
Nearby, No 31 on your Sydney Biennale 2016 map, Dayanita Singh invites us to view her unpacked Suitcase Museum.
This incorporates not only the rather impressive old leather suitcases themselves, but also her photographic records of her journeys – people, places, images.
Lose yourself for a while in these lives, so lyrically documented.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Embassy of the Spirits – beliefs, rituals and other matters central to our lives.
Strangeness, or otherness, is often a central aspect of our spiritual lives. Mella Jaarsma picks up on this in a performance based work, Dogwalk, 2015-16.
An installation with costumes made from the skins of ritually sacrificed cows, sheep and goats, commenting on relationships between humans and animals, referencing marginalised religions, animistic beliefs and concepts including the mythological joker figure.
Performances are regularly held, check times before you go.
In a completely different vein Taro Shinoda has created Abstraction of Confusion, 2016. No 42 on your map.
A quiet room, designed for contemplation, he has covered the walls and floor with white clay and red ochre. As the clay loses its moisture, over the course of the Sydney Biennale 2016, it first lightens in colour then flakes off, revealing more of the red ochre. So the room changes.
Impermanence is a recurrent theme and crops up in many places in the Biennale. Here, it’s beautifully executed.
Sydney Biennale 2016, Artspace
Down the hill from the Art Gallery. Small and experimental it’s showing some of the more confronting images and ideas of the Sydney Biennale 2016, based on the concept of non-participation.
Interpreted here as resistance, you are confronted with a number of uncomfortable situations including The Unreliable Narrator, which puts you ringside at the 2008 Mumbai attacks as you listen to conversations between the attackers and their controllers and watch footage from CCTV recordings. I found it extremely challenging.
New to the Sydney Biennale 2016 it is designated the Embassy of Transition. Here the focus is on change in its many aspects.
This includes Charwei Tsai’s Spiral Incense Bardo, large spiral incense cones, inscribed with passages from the Tibetan text “The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo”, which are lit every day and will burn away over the course of the #20BOS.
Carriageworks becomes the Embassy of Disappearance. Absence, memory, disappearing languages and landscapes are all included in the themes explored here.
I found Chen Chieh-jen’s The Bianwen Book engrossing. Chen has created a three dimensional spatial book of videos, photographs, objects and text that take you to rarely heard communities to partake in their stories. No 52 on your map.
Don’t miss the section he slipped in, called I Pirate My Own Work – Free Donation Project.
You won’t be able to miss Minouk Lim’s Strange Fruit, with its suspended, bullet ridden container complete with oars. And if you, too, immediately recall Billie Holliday’s song of the same title even more layers rise up.
Don’t Follow the Wind, a curatorial collective, have, in Information Counter, 2016, reclaimed physical artefacts from an irradiated restaurant slated to open in Fukushima in the same month as the nuclear power plant disaster.
As well, they use headsets created in workshops by the former residents to let you take A Walk in Fukushima, an immersive 360-degree video piece through which you experience the uninhabited, radioactive and inaccessible zone. No 53 on your map. Put them on and travel this eerie landscape.
There are a couple of not too long films that you might well enjoy: Between the Bullet and the Hole, Aura Satz, 10 minutes, No 70 on your map, and Home Movie, 2016, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 7 minutes, No 71 on your map.
And go upstairs, to No 72 on your map, where Yao Jui-Chung + Lost Society Document present a series of photos, books and videos from The Mosquito Project. This project documented hundreds of so-called Mosquito Pavilions of Taiwan, public buildings and facilities the products of political campaign promises, some of which were never used at all. and all of which are now abandoned.
As well as the main embassies of thought, the biennale features ‘in-between’ spaces. For when you’re in the mood for a stroll.
They include Richard Bell’s Embassy, Daniel Boyd’s Redfern Wall, and Archie Moore’s A Home Away from Home (Bennelong/Vera’s Hut).
After all that, what’s the verdict on the Sydney Biennale 2016?
As always the biennale mixes the good with the ho-hum. But the #20BOS good is very very good. So do take the time and make the effort to carry on the conversations, confront the questions and debate the issues.
This year’s biennale hasn’t skimped on ideas and issues, the artists have played their canary in the mine role. Over to you now.