Sunday, 15 July 2012

18th Biennale of Sydney Part 2: on the mainland

On my recent trip to Sydney for the opening of Local Colour, I spent a day exploring the 18th Biennale of Sydney, the theme of which is All Our Relations. I spent a good chunk of the day on fascinating historic Cockatoo Island, and afterward had some time left before my flight back to Melbourne to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Biennale exhibition Possible Composition is showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring artists bringing together disparate elements to create a new heterogeneous whole from what was broken and scattered.

The walls of one gallery have been transformed by Alwar  Balasubramaniam in Nothing from My Hands, in which the very fabric of the building appears to have been squeezed from the white walls and moulded by a giant hand.

The Mending Project, a performance installation by Lee Mingwei, fills the gallery space with spools of thread, some waiting to be used, some already connected to a "mended" garment displayed on a work table. Participants are asked to bring a damaged garment, which the mending artist will transform with brightly coloured, decorative mending stitches. The works are tagged with the names of their owners and displayed until the end of the exhibition, when they will be returned.

Liu Zhuoquan's Two Headed Snake appears at first glance to be a massive, confronting collection of jars of preserved snakes and snake parts, but up close it turns out the bottles have been painted using the Chinese traditional folk art technique neihua, in which bent brushes are used to meticulously paint the inside of glass bottles.

This work was in the permanent collection of the museum, not a part of the Biennale, but I love a chance to see the intricately ornamented life-size porcelain busts of Ah Xian.

The Art Gallery of NSW contains the Biennale exhibition In Finite Blue Planet, exploring a new consciousness of the finite, rather than the infinite, nature of our planet and its resources. There are some really stunning works in this exhibition, but photography is prohibited, so see the Biennale website for images.

Binh Danh's Ancestral Altar series, where the artist has printed photographs relating to his birthplace in post-war Vietnam on leaves using the chlorophyll of the leaves themselves as a printing mechanism in his photosynthetic chlorophyll prints.

Nipan Oranniwesna's City of Ghost is a sprawling conglomerate map of 10 cities merged into one, drawn in stenciled baby powder on a huge plinth to create a ghostly white-on-white apparition of a city. The effect is far more powerful in person than in photographs, as you move around the shimmering powder and try to make out the details of rivers and streets.

The Notice - Forest series by Yuken Teruya consists of dioramas of trees cut from the brand name labels of shopping bags and folded down to form a delicate, miniature world within the bag, the colours of the trees' leaves formed by the letters of the brand names.

A short stroll through the park from the Art Gallery of NSW is the State Library of NSW, which is currently showing the World Press Photo Contest 2012 award exhibition and Photos 1440, an exhibition of photographs for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011-2012. I couldn't pass up the chance to see the phenomenal World Press award-winning photographs in large format in person. The overall winner is a sensitive glimpse into a moment of a mother's grief for her wounded son during protests in Yemen, and there are some incredible, heartbreaking shots of the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, efforts to protect endangered rhinoceros from poaching, the Libyan revolution... With over 200 of the 350 winning photos on display, there really are too many to list. If you're in Sydney this winter I highly recommend seeing it in person, but for those of you who can't make it, all of the winning photographs can be viewed online.

There's also a marble inlay replica of the fascinating Tasman Map of Australia in the NSW State Library foyer, showing a vast interpretation of the continent including an attached Tasmania and Papua New Guinea, and sea monsters off the coast of Western Australia.

The Sydney Biennale is on until 16 September, and the World Press Photo Contest 2012 / Sydney Morning Herald Photos 1440 exhibitions run until 22 July. Both are free, and so is the special free Biennale ferry to Cockatoo Island, running every half hour from Circular Quay (but get there early to avoid the queues).

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