Saturday, August 11, 2012

MCA Gallery

by Kylie Eastley

When viewing so much art it is difficult not to be seduced by the next big thing and lose the feelings that were evoked from the previous exhibition. There is little doubt that certain works resonate stronger, connect deeper or hit harder, but there is also worth in those other works that initially may seem a little more subdued, but on closer inspection or if you spend some time with them, can take on a whole new appearance.

Aluminium liquor bottles and copper wire are used by El Anatsui to make an amorphous wall mounted sculpture titled Anonymous Creature 2009

The works in the MCA are about 'bringing together disparate elements' and reconstruction. This Nigerian artist has demonstrated this beautifully. Rather than sitting flush against the white gallery wall, the decorative panelling ripples, writhes and creates a a moving topography that appears to fall from the wall.Something reminiscent of a samurai warriors coat of arms, it is a sprawling and undulating arrangement of flattened out aluminium whisky bottle caps bound together with copper wire.
Perhaps this is about reconstructing from the destructive. Taking control of those things that control us, or communities? Either way, this piece works beautifully. There is an irony about utilising the very items that can cause such destruction. Introduced by western culture, alcohol, along with other disposable products have impacted on the cultural, social and environmental life of communities. Likewise the binding together of the useless with a valuable wire hints to the consumerism of western society that is desired throughout the world, but brings its own failures.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales

by Stephenie Cahalan

After the modern, casual and relaxed vibe of the MCA, then the gritty reinvention of Cockatoo Island, day three of our Sydney Biennale binge took us to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is a classical gallery, complete with stately facade and a charming, uniformed man in the cloakroom. It is orderly, earnest and heavy with the gravitas of an institution groaning under the weight of art of every era and provenance.

Here the Biennale does not take centre stage but shares the space with other visiting and permanent exhibitions. So does it suffer for being crammed in amongst many other outstanding and ferociously famous displays? I don't think so. The Biennale as found here at the AGNSW continues to offer an exciting journey into contemporary art, in so many thoughtful, creative, imaginative and downright clever forms.

Baby powder, embroidery, burnt microscopes, organic matter, rubber thongs, maps, more maps, digital imagery, sound and movement. Oceans, water, trees, migratory paths, ice, cities, river plains and dammed gorges. There is so much going on and I recall no piece of work that I walked away from without feeling a sense of profound respect for the artist.

Everything is going to be alright by Guido van der Werwe
So now that I have described three of the major Biennale venues, I feel like I can go back and revisit the details of the works. Where to begin…

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cockatoo Island, the perfectly dirty gallery

by Stephenie Cahalan

Growing up in Sydney Cockatoo Island was always a no-go zone in the middle of the harbour. Like a big present in the middle of the room that you have to walk around but are never allowed to open. For the twenty-five years I lived in Sydney within eye-sight of Cockatoo Island, I had never set foot on there. It was a ship-building site, a naval base, an industrial zone under remediation, a ferry stop at which guys in greasy work clothes alighted or boarded, and always an exclusion zone.

Not now. Cockatoo island is now an amazing post-industrial gallery space that has captured the layers of living and working history, preserved it and reinvented it. It is a fascinating museum littered with beautiful, industrial objects and relics. It is the perfect venue for a contemporary art festival aiming to juxtapose seemingly disjointed eras and purposes. It was a far cry from the tempered, blank canvas style of venue that is the MCA.

However, there is already so much to look at on Cockatoo Island that an artist must compete with an existing visual landscape.

In a reinvented workshop there is a wall of wooden boxes that used to house nuts and bolts of every measure. A whole wall from ceiling to floor with every box labeled (split pins, half-inch bolts, two inch clouts, hex screws…). It is a beautiful sight.

Cockatoo Island bolt boxes.
From the Museum of Copulatory Organs by Maria Fernanda Cardosa
Within this darkened room lies another exhibition by Maria Fernanda Cardoso, The Museum of Copulatory Organs that is a collection of sculptures of insect genitalia enlarged to an outrageous degree. It sounds a bit repulsive and obscure. But if you didn’t know the detail of the inspiration behind the work you would only look and marvel at the delicacy and detail of the sculptures in wax, blown glass and other media.  Inside finely-crafted glass and wood cases, with accompanying video installation, these representations of the microscopic genitalia of the Tasmanian harvestman (a small beetle-like insect displayed in a corner of the case for scale) made elegant, marble-like, flowing forms.

This is exhibition of work that has begun in a clinical laboratory environment, now on show an industrial site that still has the collected grime of may decades makes for a glorious clash. The gallery is dirty, yet perfect.

We got blown off the island and our visit was cut cruelly short. 120 km per hour winds whipped up and with no such thing as a lee side of the island for shelter we made a bolt for the free ferry back to town. As it turned out, the top part of the island was closed due to the wind which was shame; when I studied the map of the island on the way home I realised I had barely seen a thing.

It is a treasure trove there, worth as many visits as you can squeeze into a Biennale feast. Having had a nibble at the edges of that festival venue I beat a retreat to the ferry bouncing on the Sydney Harbour whitecaps, wishing I had made it to the main course.

Pin Drop - Created & Performed by Tamara Saulwick

Threat is compelling. Your heartbeat sharpens and your ears stand up like a dog’s, while something in your guts churn. Completely unexpected situations in life can do it. Film does it. Yet in theatre I’ve never experienced it quite so convincingly as in Pin Drop created and performed by Tamara Saulwick.

The sensation of threat is rarely put under the spotlight, as an isolated and specific focus. As the stories rolled out and wove between each other, I wondered what inspired and drove Tamara, consciously and unconsciously, to record interviews with people since 2008 about their experiences of threat and terror, and follow it through with the skill and commitment to make such a polished show.

I sat deep in my seat, wanting to know what was going to happen next, both in the unfolding of the stories being told, and in the way they were being told.

This is a solo show and the interviews become the performance: sometimes literally, sometimes being retold in character, sometimes both overlapping. It’s a beautiful mix.

Every element of the show was measured and mixed for the audience to be pricked by a threatening pin drop. The collaboration between Tamara and Composition Sound Designer Peter Knight wove a stunning aural landscape, and Harriet Oxley’s Costume Design was simple, stylish and suitable.

Tamara’s performance was anchored. She didn’t overdo it or under do it; she came from a point of strength.

I hope I don’t freak out when I’m next alone at home...

This is a Mobile States and Salamanca Arts Centre presentation. There are four shows offer, so go get a Season Pass if you still can. 

The Living and the Dead

by Kylie Eastley

Arin Rungjang from Bangkok worked with Rwandan potters and orphans to create the work titled The Living are Few but the Dead are Many, 2012.
Six television screens are installed in a corner of a white room. Each play a different documentary or story of an orphan in Rwanda. With each screen is a headset and depending which one you choose, you may hear traditional singing, music, stories of trauma or other sounds. Opposite the screens, on the other side of an inconvenient post, are a collection of handmade terracotta pots, arranged in what seems like no particular order. Coloured paper flowers are positioned in the pots.
There is no getting around the fact that this space feels very stark. Not welcoming or warm. Many visitors to the space exit quickly, in a rather dismissive manner. It's a shame really. As it is not until you place the headsets on, especially those that emit the beautiful Rwandan music, that there is any cohesion with this work. The songs and sounds seem to better prepare us for the tragedy and trauma of the stories that we read on screen. Without this, the viewer is a little at sea. I wonder if people move on quickly because we have become so desensitised to tragedy that we glaze over such stories. Changing the TV station before we see the starving African children. I don't know. But visitors pass quickly through this room without engaging with the experience. It just doesn't seem to do justice to the content. Is this intentional? Is there a message that the artist is trying to send us?

Even with the sound element, there is a disconnect with this work and I found myself getting really quite angry about it and more importantly the way it has been curated. The pots seem to be thrown together in a corner of the room, sitting on a collection of disparate shelves that give no reverence or importance to the pieces. Is this intentional? If it is it is certainly not clear to the viewer.
The nature of artists working with communities, particularly disadvantaged communities can be complex. And work produced through such collaboration can challenge as it both invites us to view the work as an art installation but also to consider the narratives that influence it. The reality is that we do not see the months and sometimes years of engagement between the artist and community, we just see the physical outcome.
Depending on the intention of the artist there are obvious curatorial decisions that could have helped to connect the visitor to the work. But again, this comes down to the intention of the artist. My feeling is that the work hasn't been fully realised and like the artist statement needs clearer articulation.

The Living are Few but the Dead are Many, 2012 is part of the Sydney Biennale and is housed at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Sense of South Africa

by Kylie Eastley

Nicholas Hlobo's two pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Inkwili and Tyaphaka, 2011 are quite exquisite. They connect to an earthiness that longs for the simplicity that making provides. He works with paper, stitching hand dyed pieces together with ribbon, creating a patterning of coloured tracks that link the undulating pieces together to create a topography; a country, a place.
Detail of Inkwili by
Nicholas Hlobo

There is a nostalgia in this tea stained mapping. The stitching reminds me of the baskets my grandmother made. Hole punched recycled christmas cards sewed together to make something decorative and functional. It was also something that contained stories and narrative just like Hlobo's work.
Rich, warm colours, rivers and ridges are all visible in a piece that conveys so much. We can feel his story, his country - South Africa.

The First White Gallery

by Kylie Eastley

Anything Can Break is an installation by Pinaree Sanpitak from Thailand. This work draws you into the white room just inside the first floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Hanging from the ceiling are a collection of hundreds of handmade silver paper boxes and blown glass bulbs. Individually they are fragile, but en masse they create an imposing structure that hangs above you like a storm cloud or an alien spaceship.

It is imposing and slightly ominous, but this is broken by the sounds that are triggered as you walk under sensors placed within particular boxes. There is a real joy in finding these and the types of sounds evoke euphoria and balance the weight of what hangs above.  Sounds echo through me and we, me and the other visitors, become integral to this work. It is crisp, beautiful, warm and inviting. I could have stayed in the room for quite a while.

Along the wall is the work of Alwar Balasubramaniam titled Nothing From My Hands, 2011. White, thick and cement-like eruptions punching out of the white walls. The distorted shapes and curves create shadows and characters that give the impression of busting out, reaching out, pulling, twisting and tension. They are tactile and meld beautifully into the wall.

The two works sit well within the space and have been well executed. Well placed lighting compliments both and add to the sense of movement. They are a welcoming and easy introduction to the Biennale and invite me to revisit.

The room of many colours

If you walk away from the ferries, up the big front steps of the MCA and turn left, you will find yourself in an airy gallery with a feast of colour.

Tacked onto two walls are hundreds of spools of cotton, large ones like those on an industrial over-locker. Some tail end of threads trail into the air and flutter under the air-con breeze, but most extended out and away from the wall to stay fixed to garments piled on a table. There you can see everything from delicate crochets shawls to leather miniskirts and teddy bears.

This is the Mending Project by Lee Mingwei (Korea) in which visitors bring their clothes with tears, runs and holes and leave them to be mended. They will live in a pile on a trestle table until the end of the festival when owners  are notified by email to collect their items.
The installation has been staffed over the months of the Biennale by ten stitchers – mostly art and design students – who, true to the Lee Mingwei’s philosophy of celebrating the repair rather than hiding it as would a tailor, make their mendings more than just visible, but a feature of the garment.

Three large canvases by David Aspden hang on adjacent walls. Still feeling the warmth of the Mending Project led me to take in these huge oil paintings of red and yellow hues, throwing light and bright colour out into the room. Reminiscent of works by John Olsen it conjured up notions of deserts, horizons and blissful isolation.

It was a shock then to read the title of one piece: Mururoa. Painted in 1973, seven years after the first French nuclear test on the Pacific atoll, the reds and amber colours to me became bloodied. The splashes of blue became obscured, poisoned glimpses of a once-pristine ocean.

Knowing the subject of the work completely changed my attitude towards it. The happy room of many colours momentarily took on a darker feeling.

Not for long though.The prevailing ambiance was definitely light.


Hello from the Biennale of Sydney, otherwise known as BoS.

The tenacity of Kylie Eastley and the logistical nous of Steph Cahalan have got us here. I’ve come with my two daughters who are three and one, who were supposed to be staying with their NanTan but plans went elsewhere, so we’re all staying in an old-world pub in the Rocks, with music blaring from downstairs. These are the sidelines to seeing the A R T.

This evening we went for a peak. To the Museum of Cotemporary Art (MCA). Clean surfaces and friendly helpful staff wearing “Ask Me” badges. We didn’t need to ask them, they came and offered…

We walked into a room of vibrant colour including 800 spools of thread ‘randomly organised’ on the wall. There was no black. It’s The Mending Project by Taiwan’s Lee Mingwei. We met Grace, an assistant mender. Like long strands of silken cobwebs, the threads unspooled from the wall to their respective mended cloth, all placed in a pile on a table. Look closely and each mend is an eccentric flutter of colour to suit each garment.

The mend becomes the art.

We had something to mend. Were we prepared to leave it there till September? Actually no. We’re from Tasmania and this is my daughter’s only jumper. Ok. Grace, her namesake, sewed on a button and strengthened the others. The third button down now has a colourful spooly flower behind the button.

That’s her Biennale of Sydney Button. Otherwise known as BoSButton.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Regional Art Fund for assisting us to get a team of Tasmanian writers to the Sydney Biennale. All the WriteResponse contributors volunteer enormous amounts of time, energy and resources towards reviewing of the arts. This type of funding assists hugely to what we all love to do; experience art of all kinds and write about it. Thanks RAF.

Here we go

by Stephenie Cahalan

The 18th Biennale of Sydney began on June 27 and runs up to September 16. It occupies five different substantial venues. This means the people of Sydney have had 81 days to scrutinise what we are about to cover in about four. 

I feel like I am going speed dating with art.

We arrived, dumped our bags in our little Rocks pub at 3.30 this afternoon and by 4.00 we were excitedly drumming our fingers on the information counter at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay.
Anything Can Break 2011 by Pinaree Sanpitak,
And what a reception we got. From the girl on the front desk, to the beautiful lady in the gift shop searching menus on Cockatoo Island for us at one minute to closing time, we were showered with good jou-jou. A venue open to 9 pm (just like late-night shopping – only on a Thursday), gallery attendants explaining the MCA app, and offering samples to fondle of an installation that we are clearly dying to touch in spite of the stern warnings against doing so.
Really, as a starting point for a large and slightly intimidating event, my first impression of the Biennale is of an open, accessible and welcoming experience.
And that’s before I have even got to the artworks. We’re off to a good start.

Three Girls and a Biennale

by Kylie Eastley

Last night I felt the first glimpse of excitement at the prospect of hitting Sydney to see my first Biennale. Today I left a grey rainy Hobart and arrived to a warm, shiny and sunny city that seemed to buzz with energy. Or perhaps that was just me.
It was not only me experiencing the euphoria. I am joined by fellow writers Steph Cahalan and Lucy Wilson; all of us leaving our family and work commitments behind to throw ourselves on the Biennale sword. To see, experience and try to share a little of this with you.
Steph and Lucy
It was a chore to find accommodation as the Sydney to Surf is on Sunday and hotels are pretty well booked out. Many hours on the internet and sending emails had been fruitless, until Steph finally found The Australian Hotel in The Rocks. It would be remiss of me not to write about this place, because it is bloody brilliant. It is an old style pub, and as I write at around 10pm, there is a lot of noise coming from the crowd below. But it is really close to everything; has the most ornate breakfast room, lounge area and even an outside terrace with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not bad hey?
The Breakfast Room
Once settled, and having thrown off the Tasmanian attire for more suitable Sydney wear, we made our way to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This really was an opportunity to have a first glimpse at what was on offer. The MCA has provided a range of opportunities for visitors to not only view the art works but interact through workshops, seminars and tours. In the few hours we wandered the galleries the staff were incredibly obliging and informative about artists, exhibitions and other opportunities. There seems to be a strong desire to involve and include the public in this Biennale. Although, it has only been a few hours and there is still so much to see.

Over the coming days we will be posting numerous pieces about different works, but also about how we respond individually. It's going to be a wild and challenging ride at times, and already the discussion is hotting up.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Made in China, Australia

By Thomas Connelly

We went to the Long Gallery on a bleak bleary rainy sort of Hobart day to see Made in China, Australia. I took the entire family, as it is always helpful to get the viewpoint of children who can see through the hype of art and bring all the five dollar words back to the reality of mud and play with a response that is based on love and play first and foremost.

Anthology is from a Greek word, which literally means a flower gathering. This exhibition of sixteen artists is, in the best sense of the word, a gathering of flowers. Like all such gatherings it is a mixed collection of artists and artworks. Like any good gathering it lets us compare and contrast between the different artists, the different ways of seeing and the different ways of playing. China has existed for thousands of years and is a country of more than a billion people. That brings a wide range of attitudes, techniques and abilities and becomes an interesting vein of artistic ore to mine. Some of the artists come from China; some are new arrivals to Australia while others have been in Australia for generations.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

En Route

one step at a time like this

Junction Arts Festival 2012
22-26 August

Take your time…

Would you believe me if I told you I love this city?

I am walking towards my first marker in a sneak-peek of the pedestrian-based live art experience that is En Route.  I put my trust in technology.  Headphones and IPod and my own mobile phone.  I am plugged in and nervous as I follow the sunlight on the Tamar and the instructions given to me by the En Route crew member.  Look for the steps. Is this the way? It's tempting to mistrust my memory, my own senses, to wonder if something is expected of me, something that I might fail.  But there's that sunlight and that water, that ambient music and poetic verse soothing me through wire and its lyrical direction.

Take your time

What if I did?

What if I let myself be lead?