Art & Design


Lillian McKnight • 28 July 2012

If turning eighteen is the hallmark of adulthood, then the 18th Biennale of Sydney marks a true coming of age for Australia’s most comprehensive celebration of the visual arts. Taking place between June 27th and September 16th, this year’s event, All Our Relations, lauds the value of fluid exchanges of communication and creativity, aiming to spark conversation and compassion between both the artists and audience. Indeed, since its inception in 1973, the Biennale’s chief mission has been to forge meaningful discourse. In 2012, however, this has become recognised as its chief concern. “With each work appearing to connect to other works, the exhibition points to a world that is interdependent and interconnected, involving all countries and cultures,” says co-artistic director Gerald McMaster.

This year, five venues will play host to the works comprising the Biennale. Joining the stable of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay and Cockatoo Island will be creative hub Carriageworks. While the Art Gallery’s In Finite Blue Planet explores the challenges of inhabiting a fragile world, works at the MCA will aim to reconstruct the fragments of a splintered society. The atmospheric surrounds of Cockatoo Island and Pier 2/3 will see various large-scale projects, and the fledgling environs of Carriageworks will provide the backdrop for contemporary dance presentations in September.

The extent of the Biennale’s geographical span over the City of Sydney is testament to the increasing public interest in contemporary art. The opening of the newly revamped MCA certainly asserted a reinvigorated taste for it. “People used to say that Sydney would never embrace a museum of contemporary art,” director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor told pages, “yet on our opening weekend, with beautiful weather, we were packed!”

Over one hundred artists will exhibit work for the Biennale. Local creatives will be joined by others from New Zealand, Asia, the Americas, Europe, South Africa and the Middle East. While such a melting pot is truly extraordinary, McMaster believes that it is in fact the newfound elasticity of geographic borders that makes such a plethora of nationalities united in art interesting. “In a world where the boundaries are porous to begin with and totally artificial, there are instances where artists may or may not think in terms of nationalities but rather communities.”

In a world where the strictures of nationality are tempered by globalisation, featured works exhibited during the Biennale are remarkably relevant to all walks of life. Thailand’s Nipan Oranniwesna’s installation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a collaged cityscape built from baby powder, evoking the vulnerability of our urban communities. Native American collective Postcommodity slash the ties of our physical environment with Do You Remember When? (2009). Cutting a hole into the gallery’s floor, they seek to represent a transcendental portal between the spiritual, social and cultural.

The task of creative directors Gerald McMaster and Catherine de Zegher in seeking out the comprehensive list of artists that make up the Biennale’s program was as exhausting as it was exhaustive. Travelling to thirteen different countries and thirty-five cities took its toll, but McMaster is sure the duo’s toils were well worth it. “It was both a daunting and an exciting process,” says McMaster. “Daunting in the sense that there’s so much art and so many artists that you’re not sure what path to take, but equally exciting in that you come across artists who surprise you.” Considering the rich offerings of Sydney’s 18th Biennale, it’s a certainty that we will be taken on a very similar journey.

For more information on the Sydney Biennale and the extensive program, head to the dedicated website.

Photo: Tiffany Singh, Knock on the Sky Listen to the Sound (2012), courtesy the artist