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All our relations: The 18th Biennale of Sydney connects continents

McMaster, Gerald (2012) All our relations: The 18th Biennale of Sydney connects continents. Canadian Art, 29 (2). pp. 76-81. ISSN 0825-3854

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Abstract

Interview with Gerald McMaster from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), who, with former AGO colleague Catherine de Zehger, has been travelling the world looking for artists for the 18th Biennale of Sydney that opens June 2012. He and de Zehger are collaborating as artistic directors and have decided against having a large-scale overview of current art and big names. They have included existing or older works that are more in tune with the present moment or have chosen artists who have returned to a skill or craft but articulated it in a way that is of the present. Key Canadian works in the show are discussed including those by Cal Lane, Ed Pien, Tanya Tagaq, Philip Beesley, Los Angeles-based Jon Pylypchuk, Nadia Myre, Erin Manning, Montreal-based Kurdish performance artist Khadija Baker, Shuvinai Ashoona, John Noestheden and Iris Häussler. Key non-Canadian artists include Nigeria-based El Anatsui, Reinier Rietveld, Belgium-based installation artist Ann Veronica Janssens, Beijing-based artist Li Hongbo, Robin Rhode, Japanese performance artist Sachiko Abe, Australian Lyndal Jones and Phoenix-based collective Postcommodity. McMaster talks about the process of co-curating. He also compares the Sydney biennale with others, and asks whether a major biennale is needed in Canada.; During this time, Catherine and I had been talking about working on a large exhibition such as a biennial, since we found our curatorial styles simpatico. The fact that we come from two completely different backgrounds didn't deter us, as we have talked about these differences for years. Thus we began to talk about ways of going about making connections and linkages. So, without a preconceived notion - such as deciding what themes we were going to address and then going out into the world choosing artists to fit the model, so to speak - we began with the simple premise that if we looked at art by visiting artists, curators, dealers, collectors and so on, then we could slowly make the connections. This Is not the usual practice: as curators, we're more likely to create a theme with set objectives and then move toward achieving the results. We didn't want this; instead, we considered a more organic process where we had to find our own way. We had frequent discussions about those we visited and the kinds of art we saw, from w hich we could begin drawing certain inferences. The entire process took less than a year from our first to our final 'selection of art and artists. In retrospect, it was both a daunting and an exciting process: daunting in the sense that there's so much art and so many artists that you're not sure what path to take, but equally exciting in that you come across artists who surprise you. I am certainly thankful to all the kind folks along the way who participated in this conversation. What are the key works in the show? The key Canadian works are significant in their way. Most are newly commissioned works, a few are existing works, and others involve collaboration. Cal Lane, for example, will fill a space almost the size of a skating rink, sprinkling red desert sand in a way that shows her signature lace patterns, while a metal shipping container that has been delicately cut by a plasma cutter will sit in the middle of the field. Ed Pien collaborates with the Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq for his largescale paper installation; his work will be juxtaposed alongside work by the Berlin-based artist Monika Grzymala, who is also collaborating with a group of Aboriginal Australian artists. Together, their installations will fill a space roughly the same size as Cal Lane's. Philip Beesley's hylozoic, interactive landscape (which premiered at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010, and which Toronto audiences later saw at Nuit Blanche) will create some visual excitement in the industrial precinct of Cockatoo Island. The Winnipeg-born, Los Angeles-based artist Jon Pylypchuk takes the ubiquitous cooler - which in Australia is known as an "esky" - and creates coal miners, mining for gold in one of the island's tunnels. Nadia Myre will work each day on the Scar Project, in which participants will be asked to sew threads onto canvas asa way of representing various physical, emotional and psychological scars. Erin Manning will spend the entire Biennale using audience participation to fashion clothes that will stimulate the trading of stories, thus creating a relational atmosphere of composition. The Syria-born and Montreal-based Kurdish artist Khadija Baker will do three different kinds of performances, the most interactive of which will be the one performed on the free ferry to Cockatoo Island, where she will ask audiences to empathize with her as they listen to stories through headphones attached to the ends of her long hair. Shuvinai Ashoona and John Noestheden will present a new iteration of the streetlong banner they collaborated on in Basel and at Nuit Blanche. Finally, Sydney audiences will get to see Iris Häussler's new visual narrative at work, in which visitors' sense of reality will be strangely reshaped. How would you define Sydney in comparison to other biennials? In 1995, 1 was our country's commissioner to the Venice Biennale, which is the oldest of its kind and unique in many ways. It's a model that isn't replicated elsewhere. Säo Paulo is next oldest, and in some respects it follows Venice as a model, where there is national representation alongside international presentations, documenta isn't so much a biennial by definition, but has become the standard by which others are measured. Where Sydney might differ is not only that it's the third longest-running international biennial and the first biennial in the Asia-Pacific region, but also that it did away with the nationalist-pavilion model. Also unique is its use of distinct spaces throughout the city. For the 18th Biennale of Sydney, we will once again use the two main art galleries - the Art Gallery of NSW and Australia's Museum of Contemporary Art- as well as Pier 2/3, which is the last undeveloped waterfront pier, and Cockatoo Island, which is accessible only by ferry.; During this time, Catherine and I had been talking about working on a large exhibition such as a biennial, since we found our curatorial styles simpatico. The fact that we come from two completely different backgrounds didn't deter us, as we have talked about these differences for years. Thus we began to talk about ways of going about making connections and linkages. So, without a preconceived notion - such as deciding what themes we were going to address and then going out into the world choosing artists to fit the model, so to speak - we began with the simple premise that if we looked at art by visiting artists, curators, dealers, collectors and so on, then we could slowly make the connections. This Is not the usual practice: as curators, we're more likely to create a theme with set objectives and then move toward achieving the results. We didn't want this; instead, we considered a more organic process where we had to find our own way. We had frequent discussions about those we visited and the kinds of art we saw, from w hich we could begin drawing certain inferences. The entire process took less than a year from our first to our final 'selection of art and artists. In retrospect, it was both a daunting and an exciting process: daunting in the sense that there's so much art and so many artists that you're not sure what path to take, but equally exciting in that you come across artists who surprise you. I am certainly thankful to all the kind folks along the way who participated in this conversation. What are the key works in the show? The key Canadian works are significant in their way. Most are newly commissioned works, a few are existing works, and others involve collaboration. Cal Lane, for example, will fill a space almost the size of a skating rink, sprinkling red desert sand in a way that shows her signature lace patterns, while a metal shipping container that has been delicately cut by a plasma cutter will sit in the middle of the field. Ed Pien collaborates with the Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq for his largescale paper installation; his work will be juxtaposed alongside work by the Berlin-based artist Monika Grzymala, who is also collaborating with a group of Aboriginal Australian artists. Together, their installations will fill a space roughly the same size as Cal Lane's. Philip Beesley's hylozoic, interactive landscape (which premiered at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010, and which Toronto audiences later saw at Nuit Blanche) will create some visual excitement in the industrial precinct of Cockatoo Island. The Winnipeg-born, Los Angeles-based artist Jon Pylypchuk takes the ubiquitous cooler - which in Australia is known as an "esky" - and creates coal miners, mining for gold in one of the island's tunnels. Nadia Myre will work each day on the Scar Project, in which participants will be asked to sew threads onto canvas asa way of representing various physical, emotional and psychological scars. Erin Manning will spend the entire Biennale using audience participation to fashion clothes that will stimulate the trading of stories, thus creating a relational atmosphere of composition. The Syria-born and Montreal-based Kurdish artist Khadija Baker will do three different kinds of performances, the most interactive of which will be the one performed on the free ferry to Cockatoo Island, where she will ask audiences to empathize with her as they listen to stories through headphones attached to the ends of her long hair. Shuvinai Ashoona and John Noestheden will present a new iteration of the streetlong banner they collaborated on in Basel and at Nuit Blanche. Finally, Sydney audiences will get to see Iris Häussler's new visual narrative at work, in which visitors' sense of reality will be strangely reshaped. How would you define Sydney in comparison to other biennials? In 1995, 1 was our country's commissioner to the Venice Biennale, which is the oldest of its kind and unique in many ways. It's a model that isn't replicated elsewhere. Säo Paulo is next oldest, and in some respects it follows Venice as a model, where there is national representation alongside international presentations, documenta isn't so much a biennial by definition, but has become the standard by which others are measured. Where Sydney might differ is not only that it's the third longest-running international biennial and the first biennial in the Asia-Pacific region, but also that it did away with the nationalist-pavilion model. Also unique is its use of distinct spaces throughout the city. For the 18th Biennale of Sydney, we will once again use the two main art galleries - the Art Gallery of NSW and Australia's Museum of Contemporary Art- as well as Pier 2/3, which is the last undeveloped waterfront pier, and Cockatoo Island, which is accessible only by ferry.;

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Noestheden, John; Baker, Khadija; Myre, Nadia; Rhode, Robin; Manning, Erin; Rietveld, Reinier; de Zehger, Catherine; Janssens, Ann Veronica; Häussler, Iris; Australia; Abe, Sachiko; Sydney: 18th Sydney Biennale 2012; Pien, Ed; Pylypchuk, Jon; Lane, Cal; McMaster, Gerald; Beesley, Philip; artists; international exhibitions; Ashoona, Shuvinai; Tagaq, Tanya; Canada; Jones, Lyndal; Anatsui, El; curators and curating; Li, Hongbo; Curators; Art exhibits; Sydney New South Wales Australia; Canadian art; Artistic directors
Divisions: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2017 18:19
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2017 06:35
URI: http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2119

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