After speaking with Sydney Biennale artistic director Gerald McMaster prior to the opening of the 18th edition of the exhibition, which has been given the title all our relations, I was convinced that it was going to be a success. And for the most part, it is. Working in conjunction with fellow artistic director Catherine de Zegher, McMaster and the Biennale team have produced a memorable event even though it is not without its flaws.
In the words of the directors, all our relations “has its roots in storytelling as it is currently being re-imagined, as a coming-into-being in relation. In the reciprocity that is storytelling, both teller and listener inhabit the space of the story. Telling stories connects us and allows us to care, to be: it fosters collaboration; it aggregates knowledge and generates new ideas; it ignites change; and, ultimately, it builds community.”
According to McMaster, when identifying the artists who would participate in the Biennale, the focus was on under-represented artists whose work evokes an immediate reaction and would contribute to the overall synergy of the exhibition. Although they tried to avoid “big name” artists, the curators also wanted to avoid focusing too much on “discovering” new talent. Instead, they focussed on presenting what, according to McMaster, is “right and right now”.
De Zegher and McMaster took an approach to the curation of the exhibition that aimed to present a conversational and collaborative experience defined by an organic and relational coherence between the artists and their works. In doing so, they hoped to emphasise connections and interconnections that will allow visitors to develop their own “Biennale story” as they interact with the various venues and artworks.
On one level McMaster and de Zegher achieved their aims. There are some fantastic works produced by some amazing artists that do work well together, but somehow the whole affair seems a little sterile, and too many of the works seem overly refined and perhaps a little too planned. An overabundance of grand gestures also gives the impression that the curators were perhaps trying a bit too hard to please the audience instead of attempting to challenge them.
Moving around the sites, the exhibition reaches a dizzying crescendo that ends too abruptly leaving a sense of dissatisfaction and a sense that something is missing from the experience. What seems to be missing is the feeling of spontaneity and sufficient evidence of human intervention that have been present in previous editions of the Biennale; there just isn’t enough darkness, grit and imperfection to balance the pristine, polished and planned characteristics of many of the works.
On a more positive note, there are some fantastic highlights including Nipan Oranniwesna’s epic powder map, Lee Mingwei’s fun performance piece The Mending Project, Guido van der Werve’s amazing film Nummer twee, just because I’m standing here doesn’t mean I want to (2003), Liu Zhuoquan’s intricately decorated collection of bottles produced as part of his object series and Aboriginal artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s Light Painting (2011).
So, the Biennale is not perfect – but it never is. Having expressed my opinion of this edition of the Biennale, it is now time to celebrate the artists and artworks that make the event so exciting and enlightening. For the duration of the Biennale I will be posting regular articles, some of which will focus on specific artists and artworks, and some of which will be more general commentaries. So stay tuned to Artinfo Australia for all your Sydney Biennale news and reviews.
18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations. 27 June – 16 September 2012. A World of Art. Here. Now.
For more information see http://bos18.com