By Rita Bratovich.
The inaugural Biennale of Sydney was held in 1973, timed deliberately to coincide with the opening of the Sydney Opera House, which hosted some of the first Biennale events. Since then, the Biennale of Sydney has grown into one of the leading international contemporary arts festivals. This year is the 45th Anniversary and 21st iteration of the biennial festival. It is also the first for its new Artistic Director, acclaimed Japanese curator Mami Kataoka.
Kataoka is Chief Curator at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and a respected figure in the contemporary art world. She has been involved in major exhibitions around the globe, including other Biennale festivals, and will bring a unique perspective to the Sydney event.
The theme for the 21st Biennale is Superposition: Equilibrium and Engagement. A term borrowed from quantum theory, “superposition” refers to “the ability of electrons to occupy multiple states at once, to simultaneously take opposing paths and end up in different places.”
As it applies to the exhibition, Kataoka describes superposition as “different stages of uncertainty and unpredictableness.”
“Many of the works contain multiple perspectives in one work, so you have to really try and engage and understand,” she explains. “I think that contemporary art is all about bringing a different perspective to the public. Some names are more well-known than others, but it doesn’t really matter to me, it’s just about how convincing each one is and how they work together… a huge exhibition like this is not really about one piece, it’s about how you allocate different works to different spaces and which works will resonate with the history of the site.”
One work that literally reflects that ethos is Dear Mr Utzon, a commissioned piece from Lebanese artist Rayyane Tabet reflecting on the life of Sydney Opera House architect, Jorn Utzon. Tabet’s installation in the Utzon Room at the Opera House is an immersive biography of Utzon, revealing a link between Sydney and Beirut via the architect’s unrealised design for a theatre in the Jeita Grotto.
In a different immersive experience, British artist and musician, Oliver Beer has composed a vocal work for four singers to be performed in the stairwells of the Sydney Opera House. Titled Composition for Tuning an Architectural Space, 2012/2018, Beer’s work explores the sympathetic resonance between the human voice and architectural structures.
Tiffany Chung is a Vietnamese American artist who works across many platforms including sculpture, theatre, drawing, video and photography. Informed by her own experience as a post-war refugee, Chung makes political statements and emotional observations of human displacement through her art. A selection of pieces from her Vietnam Exodus Project will be exhibited at Artspace, and, in one of the series of talks that forms part of the Biennale program, Chung will sit in conversation with Mami Kataoka and Artspace Executive Director Alexie Glass-Kantor to discuss the social and historical implications of her work.
Kataoka will also be speaking with renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in a keynote address at Sydney Opera House. Ai’s themes closely align with those of Chung with regard to migration, violation of rights and suppression of creative and intellectual expression. Artspace will be displaying Ai’s Crystal Ball, a large glass sculpture representing the unknown future of fractured populations. Another of his works, Law Of The Journey, a large inflatable boat filled with over 250 oversized figures, is being displayed on Cockatoo Island. The sculpture depicts the expendability of human life as it echoes the risky voyages taken by refugees in unsuitable watercraft.
An interesting interactive workshop based on the video Parallel Narratives by Francisco Camacho Herrera is being held at the Art Gallery of NSW throughout the duration of the Biennale. Herrera’s video imagines Chinese sailors reaching and influencing American colonies prior to the Spanish arrival. The workshops encourage participants of all ages to contribute their ideas on memory and its part in forming our notion of history. At the end of the festival, all the participants contributions will be consolidated into a collective artwork.
The Biennale of Sydney takes place over 12 weeks and includes talks, visual art, performance, music, sculpture, tours, workshops and educational activities. Over 70 artists and collectives from 35 countries will be represented at this year’s festival. The program is distributed throughout seven venues in Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Artspace, Carriageworks, Cockatoo Island, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney Opera House and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and comprises many free events.
In a special initiative, the Biennale is offering Sydney residents a tasting plate via a full day preview on March 14, ahead of the official opening. The preview program includes talks and performative readings by a selection of artists throughout the day and at various venues. The event is free but registration is required.
Mar 16-Jun 11. For The Full Program: www.biennaleofsydney.com.au