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Biennale of Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art

Jul 5, 2012  ·  3 min read

By Carrie Miller


The most successful works in BOS18 at the MCA are those where the artist has taken a traditional technique and reinvigorated it in a contemporary context. It’s just a matter of finding these works among what sometimes looks like an arts and crafts expo from a time when beards weren’t ironic. Liu Zhuoquan’s Two Headed Snake [2011] is series of glass bottles, for example, have a mysterious quality that draws the viewer in. Look closely and you realise these mundane objects of consumer culture have been inscribed, quite literally, with the past. Zhuoquan uses the traditional technique of neihua to render exquisitely realistic segments of a snake to the interior of each bottle. Zhuoquan’s large installation Where are you? that uses the same technique may be a work about the materialism of contemporary China, but its meanings are not didactic; rather the idea twists and curls around the objects and the audience like the alluring reptiles inside the glass.

Lee Mingwei’s The Mending Project is an interactive work where Mingwei is seated at a table and visitors can bring along fabric items to be mended. Behind him is an installation of differently coloured spools of thread that function as an artwork by itself but also from where he pulls the desired coloured thread. The audience member sits with him while he mends the garment and then the mended article is set-aside with the thread ends still attached until by the end of the exhibition, creating a web of connections between the art on the wall and the objects the audience has brought to it. There is an emotional resonance here in the act of mending, as an analogue to an act of collective healing, as well as sewing as a sign of care for others.

The MCA works are curated around the sub-theme of Possible Composition – works concerned with ‘the fragmentation of the world and artists’ approaches to reconnecting it’. These curatorial parameters has led to the inclusion of work which often read as no more than worthwhile non-government cultural projects. Ironically, many of these works lacks any palpable, visceral sense of the connections they are trying to communicate; they also fail to animate the connection between the art object and its audience. What this means is that the viewer has to try harder than usual to make their own connections to the work – something that’s certainly possible when there’s so much to see  from such a wide range of places and, like hugging a stranger, it’s free.

Until September 16

Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks.

Pic: Liu Zhuoquan, Two-Headed Snake, 2011. Glass bottles, mineral pigments, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and China Art Projects, Beijing.

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