Thursday, 19 July 2012


Like a cross between the picturesque decay of Venice and the preserved prison buildings of Alcatraz, Sydney’s Cockatoo Island set a dramatic scene as one of three locations making up the 18th Biennale of Sydney.

Ranging from tiny porcelain flowers so small as to be almost invisible to a dramatic fog covering half the island, and including interactive and web-based platforms, the curators of the Biennale presented a broad scope of local and international works in a variety of media.

Connected by the title of the exhibition, all our relations, many of the works evoked the idea of a global community, with participatory activities for visitors making up a popular component of the show.

As well as this, a number of artists chose to make work that dealt with the ephemeral, utilising cut paper, fabric and cloth in a contrast to the stark setting.  

A drawback with focusing on such ephemeral works was the risk of them being overwhelmed by the extraordinary dilapidated beauty of Cockatoo Island itself.

Consisting of a warren of tunnels, bridges, disused prison buildings and power stations, the opportunity to explore the island in order to find ‘hidden’ works ensured that even the least artistically minded visitor could find something to catch their attention.

A standout for spectacle alone was Fujiko Nakaya’s clouds of densely enveloping fog, erupting from a mossy crevice in the cliff once an hour to the delight of passers by.

Tiffany Singh’s participatory installation, Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound, consisted of thousands of wooden wind chimes, casting a beautiful pattern of shadows in the sun and reverberating their sound around the site.

The newly revamped Museum of Contemporary Art Australia provided another, albeit less theatrical, Biennale location, and despite issues with coherence there were a number of works which stood out.

These included the videos of twin collaborators Gabriella and Silvana Mangano, whose work Between Near and Far was a dreamy, cinematic exploration of their relationship to one another and the natural landscape.

The Biennale of Sydney ends on 16 September, 2012.