Stories, senses and spheres: Sydney Biennale


With a little hustle and bit of bustle, hordes of curious art buffs cram onto the ferry bound for Cockatoo Island. Once an orphanage, then a shipping yard, now the historic island plays host to the 18th Biennale Sydney.  This year’s Biennale, entitled “Stories, Senses and Spheres” transports audiences into an eclectic world where modern art collides with history and fantasy.

Weaving through the island’s industrial dwellings a sense of death becomes compelling, almost tangible. Nestled between the towering cement pillars, illuminating the eerie darkness sits Cal Lane’s “Domesticated Turf”. A plasma-cut shipping container, it fuses masculine material with a feminine design, serving as a commentary on the social conventions that define gender.

A few paces on Peter Robinson’s emotive creation on the death of industry seems to have spectators divided. His parasitic polystyrene sculpture weaves between derelict turbine machines conveying a stark message ofthe fragility between freedom and oppression.

Canadian artist and architect Philip Beesley’s “HylozoicSeries” functions like a lung, with kinetic branches and slow release vials of frankincense. Above, paper ball balloons mechanically rise and fall, like the chest of a sleeping child. As audiences drift past below they trigger sensor lights which flicker dancing shadows against the dark, cold Industrial Precinct.

Trekking up the steps, take a moment to catch breath and the view – a unique angle to admire some of the harbour city’s most iconic landmarks. Breathing restored, stroll towards Cecilia Vicuna’s coloured, hanging, knotted wool. “Quipu Austral” explores the artist’s native South American roots and her interconnectedness with the earth. The long untamed wool hangs limp, tied only to the wooden rafters giving onlookers a sense of mortality.

Inside the cottage is Junling Yang’s animation installation “Class in the Class.” The artist collected graffiti found in children’s textbooks; extrapolating those themes he created three separate stories which explore fantasy, capitalism and war. At first the simple drawings convey an element of humour, but as the stories unfold audiences are forced to grapple with concepts of globalisation, obesity, destruction and death.

The whimsical vortex that is Biennale Sydney has eaten the day away, fed the brain and planted many seeds. As the ferry dashes back to Circular Quay take a second to stand upon the deck, wind in your hair, sun on your face, and embrace the reality of this majestic city with all its “Stories, Senses and Spheres.”

Back at Circular Quay duck your head into the ground floor of MCA, which is currently exhibiting a few more artists as part of Biennale. Lee Mengwei’s “The Mending Project” is a community engagement installation offering the opportunity for anyone to be part of Biennale. Simply leave an item in need of mending and Lee Mengwei will mend it, leaving the thread connected to a spool suspended along the wall. The concept explores our interconnectedness with community and the idea of belonging.

The 18th Biennale of Sydney runs at various venues until September 18.


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