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Biennale of Sydney: Cockatoo Island

Jul 5, 2012  ·  3 min read

By Sharne Wolff


As the ferry approached Cockatoo Island for the media preview of the 18th Biennale in Sydney this week, the city had faded to a distant murky skyline looking something like Ridley Scott’s vision of the future in Blade Runner. On arriving we found more mist but this time it was artificial, part of Fujiko Nakaya’s fog installation Living Chasm – Cockatoo island [2012] an attempt to foster the idea of ‘other worlds’. According to Artistic Directors Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster in Stories Senses and Spheres [the subtitle for Cockatoo Island] the Biennale audience is invited to participate and engage in ‘new ways of looking at the world’. On the Island, they said, we are invited to zoom in close as the artists explore aspects of the micro-cosmos. At that point the thundering rain on the tin roof of the Turbine Hall pretty much halted the speeches but as puddles formed all around us we began to feel immersed in something, even if it wasn’t the art.

While Cockatoo Island provides an incredible location for a Biennale audience it simultaneously poses a delight and a curse for curators and artists. The clever juxtaposition of contemporary versus 20th century industrial, fresh white against dark and sombre, and lightness of materials to counter the weight of steel and mechanical muscle makes for fascinating viewing. Some pieces work more successfully than others. Peter Robinson’s momentous Gravitas Life [2012] creates a spectacle as it towers towards the rafters of the industrial building – it’s pure white polystyrene chains slither, glide and lay around casually on spent pieces of machinery like giant pythons. Canadian Cal Lane’s ‘Domesticated Turf 2012’ a welded-lace shipping container and carpet of ‘sand lace’ is perfectly contradictory – it’s distant appearance as feminine and delicate disguises its previous history.

The curious Museum of Copulatory Organs (MoCo) [2012] project by Maria Fernanda Cardoso and Ross Rudesch Harley is brilliantly displayed museum-like in the shipyard’s former workshops while Jonathan Jones’ monument to Bennelong, Untitled oysters and teacups [2012] a midden of oyster shells and English bone china cups provides hints to Sydney’s darker history and the potential for future reconciliation. The Dog Leg Tunnel is the location for Jon Pylypchuk’s spend the rest of your life mining this death and it will only bring you despair, [2012]. If the title isn’t enough already this whimsical installation of crazy coolers will definitely make you laugh and possibly even contemplate those ‘new ways of looking’.

Until September 16.

Cockatoo Island

Pic: Jonathan Jones, “Untitled [Oysters and Tea Cups], 2012. Oysters and teacups, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.

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