Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A bit more Biennale: water, water everywhere...

by Stephenie Cahalan

The title of the Biennale collection at the Art Gallery of NSW was ‘In finite blue planet’ inspired by an unimposing little piece of art placed by the entry to the exhibition.

Not much larger than a soccer ball and modestly framed, the image appeared at a distance to be a simple globe. On closer inspection, I realised that it was a planet comprised entirely of the seas, oceans and waterways of the world, with all the landmasses excised to leave only the water.

As Tasmania awaits the arrival of a supertrawler, heralding the advent of factory fishing in Australian waters (a third-world ecological disaster springing to right life here at home), the immense importance of the world’s waters has searing relevance right now.

Blue planet by Jorge Macchi was made in 2003. An article about the Argentine artist in The Economist observes, ‘Given the amount of travel done by artists today, it is not surprising that maps are to contemporary artistic genres what fruit bowls were to 19th-century ones.’ (April 21, 2011) And while the inference to the fragility of our water-soaked planet might be mine, or the Biennale curators, one can’t help but think that Macchi's blue orb might have a bit more going on in the meaning department than the classic fruity still life.

The AGNSW offers free tours which we gladly jumped aboard and our charming guide Keith began with a quick rehash of contemporary art 101, an excellent way of engaging the brain before immersing ourselves in more of Sydney’s premier contemporary art event. Keith reached the conclusion that the work seen in the 2012 Biennale shows a genre turning a corner, moving from art made purely as creative expressions, to pieces full of concepts and messages about the world, the environment and people.

The water theme continued throughout the gallery, such as Yun-Fei Ji's epic scroll depicting the inundation of village life by the Three Gorge's dam, Subhanker Banerjee’s aerial photographs of melting icy migration routes, to the hypnotic  film of a man casually walking ahead of  looming icebreaker. Nummer acht, everything is going to be alright by Guido van der Werve could have as many meanings as there were riveted viewers contemplating the footage; will the boat catch him, does he even know it is there, is it a metaphor for humans being borne down upon by the technology we have created?

Whatever. It is just fantastic to see. As is that whole Biennale collection in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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