What to See at the 20th Biennale of Sydney


The 20th Biennale of Sydney kicks off on March 18 and runs until June 5, 2016. Injecting a city that has an already-excellent cultural scene with a hefty dose of contemporary art, the biennale can be overwhelming to navigate. Here, curator Stephanie Rosenthal, artistic director of the 20th Biennale of Sydney, homes in on some of the festival’s stand-out works.

Children will love…

Lee Mingwei’s incredible reconstruction of Picasso’s Guernica in sand at Carriageworks. It’s the most elaborate and largest sand drawing they will have ever seen. Three-quarters of the way through the exhibition the sand is swept and the work completely disappears, leaving an abstracted work. During the performance you can walk on the work so I’m sure there are many children who would love to be part of that.

You’ll want to spend 10 minutes with

Mette Edvardsen’s project at Newtown Library, a one-on-one “reading” of a book from memory. Her project, Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, sees the artist work with a group of Sydney-based performers to memorise a book of their choice. Through these individual acts of remembering, the participants together form a library collection of “living books”. Visitors are invited to choose a text, then the “book”, in turn, takes the reader for a walk, reciting content and perhaps offering interpretations at the same time. Alternatively, during the biennale you can participate in a number of 10-minute one-on-one art insight talks where someone who has spent time with a particular work in the exhibition will provide you with an introduction to it.

I’m expecting the crowd favourite to be…

Korean artist Lee Bul’s spectacular project in the Turbine Hall on Cockatoo Island. Well known for her dramatic sculptures and large-scale installations, she presents Willing To Be Vulnerable, a site-specific work. Monumental in scale, the installation will fill the cathedral-sized 1640-square-metre industrial space with an epic cityscape that’s emblematic of the dreams and aspirations of humanity.

The most surprising work is

Actually a venue, Mortuary Station, a wonderful 19th-century train station in Chippendale where coffins were transported to the cemetery. Two works will be on display here: an exquisite work by Charwei Tsai that utilises giant incense scrolls; and a poetic work by Marco Chiandetti that draws on the contested reading of Indian myna birds in Australia and the sacred place they have in their native lands.

I became emotional when I saw

The plans that Indigenous artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu proposed for her forest-like installation of larrakitj poles at the Art Gallery of NSW. Stripped of branches, leaves and bark, yet heavily adorned with detailed pattern and texture, the tall wooden poles have been gathered together to represent a forest of eucalyptus trees in an indirect reference to her near-fatal encounter with water buffalo. Viewers are invited to make their way slowly and carefully through the dream-like forest, which represents a spiritual place of great personal significance to the artist. She invites them to pause and reflect on her experience, focusing not on the violent, traumatic incident that nearly claimed her life but her journey back to the world as she was carried through the forest.

Top image: Lee Mingwei, 'Guernica in Sand' 2006 and 2015, mixed-media interactive installation, sand, wooden island, lighting, 1300 x 643cm. Courtesy of JUT Museum Pre-Opening Office, Taipei. Photograph Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei


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