What's happening at the 17th Biennale of Sydney

The Beauty of Distance: Songs of survival in a precarious age
Until August 1, 2010

Colour Factory went to the Sydney Biennale a couple of weeks ago. What an extraordinary event! We highly recommend that people visit this incredible free event wherever possible. Cockatoo Island is the major venue hosting the Biennale. Previously a former imperial prison, industrial school, reformatory and gaol, it is located in Sydney Harbor, just a short and beautiful ferry ride from Circular Quay. Large workshops, slipways, wharves, residences and other buildings retain the texture of the island’s industrial past. To see 120 works by 52 artists in a variety of unusual spaces is fascinating.

Site specific works were most impressive. Highlights in this regard are Peter Hennessey’s My Hubble (the universe turned in on itself) – a life-size ‘re-enactment’ of the Hubble telescope, approximately the size of a tram. Constructed inside the Turbine Hall where it resides, it is intricately made from ply wood and steel, impressively enacting the scale and detail of the original. See a video of this here.

Penalogical Pianology: the Timbers of Justice by Slave Pianos is a surrealist allegory of the convict transportation of a piano to the former penal colony for crimes against humanity. It is sentenced ‘to be hanged by the neck until dead’. For the duration of the exhibition the gallows is the resting place for the now mechanically operated piano, whose troublesome, violent, yet beautiful sounds can be heard throughout the entire Industrial precinct.

Kate McMillan’s site specific photographic installation, Islands of incarceration, sits hauntingly on top Cockatoo Island. Inside a weather exposed timber drying shed, the curtain like fabric photograph of the Ludlow Tuart forest (site of the 1841 Wonnerup Massacre of 300 Aboriginal people) eerily floats about as you pass it by, gently caressing you and seemingly following your footsteps. The high positioning of the building and widely spaced wooden beams beneath your feet further influence your sense of unease and danger, as does the barely audible soundtrack made in collaboration with sound artist Cat Hope. See a video for more here.

Rodney Glick
Other highlights are Building 6 in the Convict Precinct, with personal favourites being Rodney Glick and Isaac Julien. Rodney Glick’s ‘Everyone’ series combines imagery from popular eighteenth and nineteenth century Indian Hindu paintings with modern people and scenarios, these beautifully carved and painted wooden sculptures imbue the everyday person with god-like powers. The sense of drama, humour, detail and scale is delightful. Isaac Julien’s film ‘Ten Thousand Waves’ is incredible. Projected front and back over nine large screens with images travelling from one screen to the next, this major work is a very powerful installation. Superbly filmed, picturesque, emotive and quirky, this piece deserves allocating substantial time required to view it in its entirety, and also allows a well deserved resting opportunity.

There are so many more amazing works to be seen and enjoyed…all for free!

The Sydney Biennale is also on at The Museum for Contemporary Art, Pier 2/3 and many other locations. Please see the website for details: http://www.bos17.com

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