20th Biennale of Sydney: Various Venues

By Ross, Toni | Artforum International, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

20th Biennale of Sydney: Various Venues


Ross, Toni, Artforum International


SYDNEY

20th Biennale of Sydney

VARIOUS VENUES

For her first outing as a biennial artistic director, Stephanie Rosenthal (chief curator at the Hayward Gallery, London, since 2007) has adopted the words of science-fiction writer William Gibson as the show's title and theme: "The Future is Already Here--It's Just Not Evenly Distributed." But there is more to Rosenthal's conceptual repertoire than this warning that not everyone has equal access to the technological advancements of our time. A number of traditional Sydney Biennale venues have been rebadged as fictional "embassies" or "safe spaces for thinking and conversation." For example, the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Embassy of Spirits) explores different belief systems. The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Embassy of Translation) provides a platform for revisiting history in the twenty-first century. Art located in abandoned industrial sites on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor (Embassy of the Real) addresses overlaps between the actual and the virtual. The cultural precinct at Carriageworks, previously a railway workshop complex, renamed Embassy of Disappearance, hosts works about absence, memory, history, archaeology, the politics of space, land ownership, and ecology. This conceptual overload may not have prevented the Twentieth Biennale of Sydney from echoing themes familiar from many recent biennials around the world, but still, Rosenthal has assembled some compelling works.

Her self-professed interest in experimental performing arts has made its presence felt strongly. In the opening week, French choreographer Boris Charmatz delivered a scintillating keynote address at Carriageworks, followed by a one-off presentation of his work manger, 2014, with thirteen performers from his Musee de la Danse in Rennes, France, enacting just about every form of oral activity imaginable: eating (paper), gulping, choking, spewing, singing, speaking, grunting, coughing, and gasping--bringing to mind a creche of hyperactive, orally fixated infants.

A massive rectangular space once used for shipbuilding on Cockatoo Island housed choreographer William Forsythe's new edition of his performance installation Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, no. 2, 2013. Visitors were invited to navigate hundreds of swinging plumb bobs activated by computer programming. The effort to avoid collision with the pendulums transformed each participant into a light-footed dancer. …

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