Saturday, September 1, 2012

Artwank - 18th Biennale of Sydney

By Lucy Wilson

If you flip to page 2 of the 18th Biennale of Sydney Guide or look online at, you’ll find a statement headed all our relations by the Artistic Directors Catherine de Zegher (curator and writer) and Gerald McMaster (curator, artist and writer).
Travelling to Sydney to experience the Biennale I was keen to read what the curators had to say. But unfortunately I found their style of writing hard to follow, with the seemingly big concepts at either end of a sentence clanging like a brain twister, which unfortunately landed in a heap.

In fact if their statement were one of the artworks in the exhibition, I imagine it to be dull and hard to make sense of, the type that many people would glaze over and walk away from. Another response would be to hyperventilate with irritation at its artwank. Artwank can be defined as a formal curatorial style or more scathingly by the Urban Dictionary as “made impenetrable on purpose to gain critical acclaim from those who think such impenetrability automatically implies hidden genius; art created purely for its fame-garnering effect for the creator; overly pretentious/irrelevant”.
Yet their statement is not one of the artworks. It’s the over-aching artistic philosophy for this preeminent festival. It’s what could commonly be described as the curatorial premise, or even for the more humble reader/viewer as a welcoming invitation to glean what the 18th Biennale of Sydney is all about. What is the focus? Why choose that? How does it relate to our current world of 2012?
In a laboriously close read to try and understand the 700 words of complicated and convoluted sentences I was surprised to read, “The 18th Biennale of Sydney focuses on inclusionary practices...” Surely this focus would not only be for the collaborating artists, but for the audience they are relating to? Yet I didn’t find this statement inclusive, accessible or compassionate, as it doesn’t encourage the reader to easily engage with and absorb the concepts they are presenting, and therefore tends to go against what they’re espousing.
Sometimes when viewing artwork or reading statements it may not be immediately clear what it’s about, but the process of sitting with it and either working it out or letting it dawn on you, followed by the consequent sensation of realisation can be enlightening and exciting. In persevering with the all our relations statement however, I didn’t find it reach any particularly new or revelatory ideas.

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