Monday, September 17, 2012

Last Bight at the Biennale - In Finite Blue Planet

by Gai Anderson
Focus rather than scatter
With one small bight at the Biennale of Sydney already under my belt I feel like I could have taken a month to begin to take it all in. My first Sunday at Cockatoo Island was one of total scatter -  overwhelmed by the surging crowds and imposing nature of the site, the art works for the most seemed random in quality and difficult to even get at.  

Back for another bight and this time, having researched the curatorial premise in more detail ( thanks Lucy Wilson, see Art Wank), I will  focus-in on the Art Gallery of NSW where 26 artist are presented  side by side ( on two floors) as In Finite Blue oceans.

In Finite Blue Planet #1
This is a powerful and exciting exhibition featuring artists from right across the planet. Varying widely in style, form, medium and content, from aerial views to minutiae, the stories are strong and draw me in quickly.
Themes are not imposed by the curators , but the artists have been selected because of the inherent connection found between and amongst their works. The works in the gallery are placed to ensure a flow of connections and conversations in the mind of the viewer, and threads emerge and weave together in my mind as I journey through the exhibition. Nature, maps, home and journeys are some of the most obvious with the planet itself is the obvious main thread and so I begin at the beginning.

Blue Planet by Argentinean artist Jorg Macchi begins the story. This is a small, unimposing, cut-out-collage, blue-map of the earth without the land, just the water.
The water from which everything on this planet emerged and without which there would be no life. And this is the artwork that inspired the name of the exhibition.

The work of Brisbane based artist Judy Watson continues to reference the ocean.
Her freshwater lense, a massive amorphous water droplet made of bronze floats above us as we enter the gallery proper - as if we are creatures in the sea beneath looking up through its blue encrusted surface. The contradiction of its enormous weight floating high above is at once imposing and spectacular. 
Her next work , Burnt Vessels , inspired by a fire at the Heron Island ,Marine research .
is an elemental and visually layered piece which this time dives straight into the earth.
Stretched along the stark white wall of the gallery, a clinical plate-glass shelf laid with specimens immediately draws-me-in-close. As if from an archaeological dig, these seemingly random ephemera are also as flotsam washed up on shoreline. Somehow menacing, they were once scientific - pincers, glass jars, twisted wire, metal  clamps, a broken microscope, a beaker, keys, a glass vial.

Now they are eroded, worn ,weathered, rusted and aged, charcoaled and dirt-smeared, transformed by  a fire hot enough to fuse and melt glass into organic chunks that now are like rocks.
Stepping back a little, their relationship to each other is amplified by the elongated shadows they cast on the white wall below and above the shelf . Floating in space like sea creatures, again there is the contradiction of their weight on the shelf and the lightness of their shadow-selves swimming above and below, as we are underwater again.

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