Friday, May 28, 2010

A visit to Sydney

A trip to Sydney over the next few months can include a feast of contemporary art at the 17th Biennale of Sydney, The beauty of distance: songs of survival in a precarious age.

The Biennale includes a broad range of artworks by Australian and international contemporary artists. The works are displayed in seven venues throughout Sydney, with its primary sites being the Museum of Contemporary Art and Cockatoo Island.

Amongst the diverse array of art forms and media in this year’s Biennale are some photographic works. For instance, the first room on the ground floor of MCA is taken over by a large installation of photographs by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China. Their work, Hong Kong intervention 2009 is a project in which the two artists invited 100 Filipino domestic workers to take a toy grenade and photograph it in their favourite spot at their workplace. These photographs are displayed alongside back-view portraits of the participants. The photographs are presented in a grid that extends almost to the top of each of the tall walls in this space.

A number of Roger Ballen’s photographs are on display in the convict precinct of Cockatoo Island. The run-down building that houses them is an eerie setting for Ballen’s surreal and disturbing images. Ballen’s Biennale display includes a selection of his documentary works as well as his staged compositions, some of which were included in the exhibition of his photographs at MGA last year. Along with his Biennale installation, Ballen’s Boarding House series is showing at Stills Gallery in Sydney until 29 May.

Yvonne Todd’s photographic portraits are also displayed in the convict precinct of Cockatoo Island and take over an entire cottage. They are not hung on every wall of the old and deserted building or grouped together in a straight hang. Instead they are scattered around on different walls as if they were family portraits hung in a domestic setting. Todd’s photographs draw on the conventions of traditional portraiture and require a second glance in order to note their strange and unsettling qualities. The unnatural and eerie nature of Todd’s portraits is accentuated in this setting on the Island.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s installation, Faraday Cage 2010 includes black and white light boxes from his series Lighting fields and is based on his recent photographic experiments into the imaging of static electricity on large-format film. The installation was conceived specifically for Cockatoo Island’s abandoned Power House.

The Biennale also includes works by some of MGA’s collection artists including Christian Thompson and Brook Andrew.

Also in Sydney for the next few weeks is Bill Henson’s latest exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington. It is a series of large photographs that juxtaposes sublime images of seas, waterfalls, skies, ancient ruins, statues and a female model. It is definitely worth a visit and will be on display until 2 June.

Stella Loftus-Hills

Cai Guo-Qiang
Inopportune: Stage One 2004 (detail)
Collection of Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Robert M. Arnold, in honour of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006
Courtesy Cai Studio
The presentation of this project was made possible with the assistance from Shiseido

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