This year’s 19th Biennale of Sydney was curated under the title You Imagine What You Desire. It’s always something of a guessing game with exhibitions on this scale to determine the director’s intentions. The title is always a good place to start as is the catalogue but you never get time to read the catalogue until you are home. Having said that, the whimsy of this years title seemed an open invitation to allow the artwork to take you wherever your own imagination desired. The works as always appeared quite disparate, from Angelica Mesiti’s recording of exquisite lamentations sung within a Sicilian cave to Ann Lislegaard’s animated owls that recited excerpts from Blade Runner.
For the small group of Contemporary Benefactors who travelled to Australia for the opening of the Biennale, the week began with a cocktail evening at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (to which we had been generously invited by the AGNSW patrons). It was the gallery’s opening night and the exhibition spaces were filled with curators, artists and patrons. It was a wonderful opportunity for an early viewing of the artworks and to mingle. The opening speeches were fairly lively given the pre-opening controversy and the somewhat tragic resignation of the Chairman.
As a group we also visited Cockatoo Island (one of the five Biennale venues which along with AGNSW also included the MCA, Carriageworks and Artspace). Cockatoo Island is a spectacular venue for any kind of event but lends itself particularly well to the visual arts. The large industrial buildings are a magnificent site for the artists to work within. The standout artwork on Cockatoo for the previous 2012 Biennale was undoubtedly Peter Robinson’s large polystyrene chains, this year for me the best works, in almost every location, were the video works. Many of these are quite long but if you spent the time they were invariably always worth it (don’t miss the first work off the boat on Cockatoo, Interrrogation, by the Norwegian artist Ignas Krunglevicius). The standout video work for this years Biennale though, all bias aside, was Two shoots that stretch far out, by the sole New Zealand artist Shannon Te Ao (whose earlier work we had seen in the Contemporary Benefactors first sponsored event, Freedom Farmers, at the Auckland Art Gallery). We met with Shannon and Rhana Devenport later in the week for a Benefactors talk followed by a lunch upstairs in the AGNSW’s beautiful restaurant overlooking the harbour. We were joined for lunch by two other New Zealand curators and sitting there it seemed such a privilege to listen to the thoughtful questions being asked, Shannon and the curators’ responses and the conversation about the other works in the Biennale.