Magazine article Art Monthly

15th Biennale of Sydney: Zones of Contact

Magazine article Art Monthly

15th Biennale of Sydney: Zones of Contact

Article excerpt

15th Biennale of Sydney: Zones of Contact

Various venues June 8 to August 27

'So, we live off transit passenger meals. The planes are always late, the chicken is always cold, and there are people willing to share.' (Raqs Media Collective, New Delhi, India.)

The 15th Biennale of Sydney takes us on a transitory journey through exile and migratory experiences. A geopolitical backdrop of civil and ethnic war looms with dislocation and displacement enunciated across an array of media. Ai Weiwei's imaginary World Map, 2006, comprises infinite layers of stacked cotton fabric depicting fictionalised borders, countries and jagged frontiers. Unlike traditional maps with their colour-coded topography, this giant soft sculpture is uniformly white, conjoining place and region in contoured relief. World Map is emblematic of the conceptual framework underpinning the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, as curator Charles Merewether, writes in the catalogue: 'In proposing "Zones of Contact" ... there is much to be spoken about in terms of mapping, of place and locality, of surveying and surveillance but, equally, of the architectural and forms of occupancy and segregation.'

Minimal yet compelling, Ai Weiwei's work alludes to the consumption and production of clothing in China. Embroidery, stitching and fabric are the substance of adjacent works at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Ghada Amer's canvases of scarlet petals are entangled with silhouettes and dangling twine. Nearby, Kei Takemura's gossamer panels are finely embroidered with domestic objects. Her broken vessels sit mute in vitrines, stitched in shrouds of sheer fabric. A fragile poeticism and mood of longing permeates this biennale--less overtly dazzling, more diminutive in detail but spatially alluring. Fortunately, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has dismantled part of its permanent collection to locate the exhibition in a more prominent space thereby activating stronger links to works in the foyer (Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, John Reynolds) and vestibule (Rose Nolan).

'Zones of Contact' is a delicately nuanced, thoroughly researched and scholarly endeavour accompanied by three symposia--not surprising given Merewether's academic pedigree as collections curator at the Getty Center in Los Angeles and senior research fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra. Merewether travelled across the globe to select 85 artists and collaborations from 44 countries across 16 venues. The result is a carefully choreographed and sprawling juggernaut including venues in outer Sydney suburbs--Blacktown Arts Centre and Campbelltown Arts Centre.

Since its inception in 1973, the Biennale of Sydney is one of Australia's key international events alongside its regional counterpart, the Asia-Pacific Triennial. Approximately half the artists made new work for the 15th Biennale of Sydney. Under-represented regions, especially the Middle East, Japan, China, India and the Balkans, signal a refreshing geographical breadth. An impressive Japanese line-up includes veteran Daido Moriyama's suite of salacious black and white photographs and Tabaimo's delightful animation of an ornately tattooed male whose bodily inscriptions gently fall to the ground in origami patterns. 'Zones of Contact' is earnestly inclusive in representing countries with limited arts support and infrastructure such as Uganda, Bosnia and Kazakhstan (in addition, the catalogue includes eight essays from predominantly non-Western writers: Chaitanya Sambrani, Natasa Petresin, Hou Hanru and Rasha Salti among others. …

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