Things aren’t getting off to a good start, in the short trip from home to Circular Quay autumn has decided to suddenly show her face, there’s no warning, no gentle puff of cooling air, no autumnal leaves floating on the breeze letting us know what to expect, just an instant drenching cold rain.
It’s enough to dampen the spirits of the most hardy art lover.
But, being a week day, and being it’s Biennale time in Sydney again, the crowd waiting for the ferry to arrive are not going to be put off, mostly because they’re school kids, and mostly because they’re out for an adventure, and mostly because they’re away from school for the day, and nothing, ever, is going to dampen those spirits.
We’re all waiting at Circular Quay to catch the ferry across to Cockatoo Island, where, once again, they’re playing host to the Biennale of Sydney.
It’s the 19th time around for the Biennale, this time controversy has swirled around the exhibitions, with several of the invited artists boycotting the event over links between the major sponsor and their involvement with Australian Government detention center policy.
Heaven forbid they should produce some anti-government art to voice their opinions.
Anyway, the rain eases as we make the 10 minute crossing to Cockatoo Island, one of the bigger islands within Sydney Harbour.
The island was first used as a penal colony for some 30 years in the early white settlement days before being used as a school and reformatory before being turned into Australia’s largest shipbuilding yard. It’s now a National Heritage and UNESCO World Heritage listed site and loaded with great old industrial buildings,convict remains and reminders of our maritime history.
It’s no stranger to arts festivals, playing host, as it does, to numerous comedy, writers festivals, live music and dance events over the years, even a motocross race has had a run on the island, you can also camp for the weekend if that’s what takes your fancy.
This current Biennale, which runs up until early June 2014, has been curated by Australian Centre for Contemporary Art director Juliana Engberg and is being held across five venues in Sydney. There’s lots to see and do and it’s always a popular event on the social calender.
Cockatoo Island has 28 contributing artists for the Biennale this time around, and for me, as can often be the way with contemporary art, a lot of it seems difficult to figure out just what is going on here, there’s some pretty good sculpture though, including the Randi and Katrine installation ” The Village” as well as a series of florescent lights by Ross Manning called Spectra VI, 2014.
The highlight for me though was the amazing work by two Swiss artists, Augustin Rebetez and Noe Cauderay.
Their eerie stop-motion animation film set in an old abandoned house is terrific, it’s called Maison (2012) and they have clearly spent an eternity working on the film, it’s a make believe world of funny little spirit people and curious characters that emerge from the ruins of the old house, there’s rooms that paint themselves black, scary little doll houses that emerge out of the floor then give birth to other little funny doll houses, weird alien type people that march across the rooms, all very strange but very entertaining and impressive in it’s scope.
I also very much enjoyed the work by another Swiss artist, Zilla Leutenegger, she’s installed quiet little mixed-media drawings and projections in the old abandoned governors residence on the island, the spooky empty rooms have come to life with shadows of, who?, an old resident?, the artist?, it’s hard to say, but well done and I’m glad I wasn’t there at night.
Another piece of sculpture I enjoyed is by an Australian artist, Mikala Dwyer.
Titled ” The Hollows “ She’s suspended, between the pillars in an old naval store house, what looks like huge plastic bags, they look all soft and fragile, like sculptures of air, and it’s not until you get up close to them that you realize they’re actually hard transparent structures. I’m sure there’s some meaning to it, for me they just look great.
It’s not all about sculpture though, there’s plenty of mixed media and video installations, down the far end of an old turbine warehouse is a waterfall, 12 meters high and thundering. It’s a crowd favorite and quite mesmerizing to spend a while in front of.
Some of the other work is a little less accessible, for me anyway, take for example the description from a work by German artist Ulla von Brandenburg.
“Using a steadicam enables von Brandenburg to float her filming, dislodging it from anchored realism to transpose it to a kind of magical realism. The carnivalesque is evoked, as are Jungian archetypes”.
Translation = A black and white video of random people chanting on a street.
The Biennale runs for three months in Sydney, so there’s plenty of time to get out and enjoy yourself.