With 70 artists from 35 countries showing in seven locations across the city, to say that the 21st Biennale of Sydney SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium & Engagement is big is an understatement. So, with just a few weeks to go before it closes on June 11, what should you see? Ariel Zhang, Manager of Arts Initiatives at Biennale Principal Partner TWT Property Group, and Natalia Bradshaw, TWT’s Art Advisor and Curator, pull out their top picks on how to tackle the Biennale in just one weekend.
Catch the ferry from Circular Quay over to Cockatoo Island, a UNESCO world-heritage site slap bang in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and make sure to spend a full morning walking around – there’s plenty to drink in.
For some highlights, start at the top of the island with Suzanne Lacy’s The Circle and the Square. Created over three days in 2016 the video work – a potent and beautiful musing on community entanglement — features American shape-note singing and Sufi chanting in an abandoned mill. Afterwards, continue the Sufi theme by checking out Lebanon-born artist Khaled Sabsabi’s Bring the Silence, a five-channel installation that delves into customs at sacred Sufi burial sites in India.
While you’re on the hill walk over to New Zealand artist Kate Newby’s A rock in this pocket. Imbued with physical poetry, Newby has created a work specifically for Cockatoo Island: in an enclosed courtyard in the convict precinct she has lined the floor with 900 house bricks embedded with ceramic and metal objects and broken glass.
Don’t miss Law of the Journey, Ai Weiwei’s vast 60-metre long inflatable boat located downs the steps in the docks precinct. Filled with 258 sculptures of anonymous refugees, it is created from the same material used for the vessels that ferry refugees across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. Take time to read the quotes on freedom, to breath in the heady smell of rubber, and to take note of the conversations – some fraught, some dejected — happening between the still, silent figures.
Want to extend your trip? Stay at one of Cockatoo Island’s camping (or, if funds allow glamping) sites. For some food with a view bring a picnic or grab lunch at the Marina Café & Bar on Camber Wharf – with nachos and pizza on offer, it’s kid friendly. For something a little edgier try Dona Tapa on Bolt Wharf. The bar, restaurant and urban farm is serving South American fusion cuisine in a pop up space created out of repurposed shipping containers – making it a meal you won’t forget.
Hop back on the ferry and walk across Circular Quay to the art deco Museum of Contemporary Art. To enjoy some refreshment before the art head to the MCA Café & Terrace overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge or take a picnic to enjoy on the MCA’s front lawn. Once in the gallery, those with families to amuse can pick up Sketch activity cards, designed for kids aged four plus, available from the Information Desk on Level 1.
For a chance to view a work which the public helped create, head straight to Ciara Phillips’ Workshop, 2010-ongoing. Canadian-born, Scottish-based Phillips has transformed an entire room in the MCA into her own printing workshop – inviting members of the community to make art alongside her (the result is published every weekend in The Saturday Paper). Not only is the workshop an opportunity to be playful, it also has a serious remit: to comment on the historical use of printmaking politically.
One of the most mesmerising works in the Biennale is Navigating Polarities by Marjolijn Dijkman. Take a seat and stare down into a curved dome-shaped screen created by the Brussels-based artist. Projected onto the screen – which mimics the globe — a video work, bursting with delight and wide-eyed wonder, explores the history of navigation.
In Carbon Copy Simryn Gill has created 26 typed texts and their carbon copies. Take time to read each one, featuring phrases from politicians, including Australia’s Pauline Hanson and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, on immigration and refugees. Other works that deal with the power of words include Tom Nicholson’s Untitled wall drawing, a list of the creation of national boundaries in the 20th century inscribed on the gallery wall, and Nicole Wong’s marble slabs. In the latter, Hong Kong artist Wong has carved the top ten Google search results for specific phrases such as “I can’t” and “Maybe you” onto marble. The results are more often than not surprising, sad, and startling.
If you have time, pay a quick visit to the Sydney Opera House to see Composition for Tuning an Architectural Space by Oliver Beer. The ten-minute experience, an immersive vocal composition merging architecture and sound specially commissioned for the Biennale, has to be pre-booked and runs until May 18. Finish the day with the day with a sunset drink at the always buzzing Opera Bar or a walk around the lush Royal Botanic Garden.
Kick off at Art Space, located in the historic Gunnery building in Woolloomooloo. Give yourself the full 19-minutes to watch Poetry of Michelangelo by Geng Xue. The video work – featuring the artist shaping a male figure from clay and giving it life through breath – addresses the making and magic of art, drawing in eroticism, romance and beauty. Another video work to look out for is Belgium artist Michaël Borremans’ The Storm, presented alongside drawings, paintings and sculptural maquettes, all imbued with a sense of melancholy.
Afterwards grab a pie and mushy peas at the iconic Harry’s Café de Wheels opposite Art Space or walk across Woolloomooloo and up the steps to the Art Gallery of NSW and have scones and tea on the outdoor terrace. Those with children look out for the free drop-in workshops on the first and third Sunday of each month, and during school holidays, which provide a hands on art experience.
When there don’t miss British sound artist and musician Oliver Beer’s Composition for Mouths (Songs My Mother Taught Me) I & II. In the two films, singers recall the earliest songs they remember, literally singing into each other’s mouths to create a fusion of memories and voice. Another video work that utilises music is Muted Situation #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th by Samson Young. In it the Hong Kong-based artist asked Cologne’s Flora Sinfonie Orchester to perform Tchaikovsky – only without sound. Instead, we hear just the physical exertion of the performers.
Drive or take the train to Carriageworks, located at Sydney’s historic Eveleigh Rail Yards in Redfern, to wile away a Sunday afternoon. Take time to enjoy the paintings of Aboriginal artist George Tjungurrayi. Note the sophisticated rhythm of his work, known for its abstract use of optical stripes which channels the land of the Gibson Desert in Western Australia from which Tjungurray hails. To knock off a long day, and for a bit of fun, pick up the baton in Constellations by Marco Fusinato. Another Australian artist, this time from Melbourne, Fusinato invites the viewer to raise a baseball bat attached to a long steel chain – and to whack the wall. The resulting sound, which reverberates through Carriageworks, is both awe-inspiring and chilling.
Top off Sunday with dinner in Chinatown (try Two Sticks on George Street for some of the best noodles in town) and a quick visit to 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, which has just two Biennale works. Japanese artist Akira Takayama presents Our Songs – Sydney Kabuki Project, a video documentation of a series of performances, inspired by the four century old tradition of Kabuki Theatre. Meanwhile, Jun Yang’s Becoming European or How I grew up with Wiener Schnitzel charts the artist’s experience of migrating with his family from China to Europe as a child. It’s a fitting end to a Biennale that celebrates a multi-faceted, complex and beautiful world.
TWT Property Group is Principal Partner of the Biennale of Sydney.