Zones of Contact

2006 Sydney Biennale June-August
SPEECH talks with Rebecca Belmore about the Sydney Biennale:
'… It was almost like I was never there. It was the second time. I had been at Pier 2/3 in Sydney in 1998. It’s strange to go such a distance to almost exactly the same spot and never have any sense of Australia.

There was funding for us to go to Australia and New Zealand from Canada, to connect with Australian Aboriginals and Maoris, in the 1990’s but I didn’t go then.

The Biennale puts a lot of pressure on you to be clever in an intense and simple way. Trying to fit into someone else’s ideas of what they want you to say. It’s a game trying to figure out the curators desires and your own. Many voices, many places, about political issues, but it wasn’t clear what the message was. Was it that the world is a terrible place and we’re all fucked? When you are in this company of voices is it for people to come to the Biennale, as tourists, to see how horrible it is in all these places?'
Rebecca BelmoreUntitled I 2004 inkjet print on paper 150 x 104cm
courtesy of the artist, photo Donna H. Hagerman

The Party's Over
see Lowe's comment


Blogger geoff lowe said...

At the front of the ART Gallery of NSW I met an artist from a satellite project called Terminus 2006 installing a work and I asked
Q: What do you think of the politics in the biennale?
A: The politics of who gets into the biennale?
Q: No I mean the politics represented in this biennale?
A: Well there’s all sorts of politics in Sydney like around Performance Space, gender politics, then there’s the schools…
Q: No, what do you think about the politics in the works that are in the biennale?
A: Oh, I haven’t really seen it.

There’s something about this biennale that’s difficult to see. There’s so many works whirring away but somehow they all seem like they need time to access. It’s a time in the world when politics at the level of daily life are more threatening and pertinent that ever. Somehow this exhibition seems more concerned with finding a place in history for works than helping us know how to live in dissolution. For a long time ‘reality’ was something that just suggested other or more realities. Reality TV has made clear to all that it’s not unmediated. Reality, though, is what we all continue to have to contend with (together), usually while what we read and see contradicts what we believe to be proceeding. This exhibition seems a bit like it’s all under glass or in apsic. Even though it deals with fragmentation it seems to have a planned reception.
Antony Gormley’s once again tries to incorporate relational art into essentialism. His picturing of the mass of Chinese is a shared vision that’s so known it aches. Somehow the sheer scale and technical bravura are meant to
tell us something but all I see is a kind of depressing Western vision the same as he put forward in outback Australia. The mainstream speaks on behalf of us poor fragmented selves. It’s also kind of insulting, if you want to see a work that deals with the reality of how westerners see Chinese people see Paola Pivi’s 100 Chinese which at least deals with the absurdity and confrontation
(the 100 performers left the gallery) rather than the pompous aspiration of this key-note work of the biennale.
The biennale looks better overall in the catalogue and it does give a chance to become familiar with unknown artists of which there were many for me. At Loose Projects they presented a very spontaneous work called Cones of Zontac that was in fact a only catalogue, wide ranging, effortlessly showing feelings that exist outside the official terrain. This work begins to talk about what the impulses ‘outside’ are and was very memorable. Like there’s all these whackers out there who aren’t impressed and actually feel like saying something themselves.
I missed seeing James Lynch’s animation The Party's Over which was also part Terminus Projects 2006, a yearly group show in public sites, it was a projection near Taylor Square. It looks like some sort of sad and stupid rumination on how we are meant-to-be-together. In a Biennale of this scale you miss a lot of things and a lot of the time it’s hard to look, you feel kind of blank, you search for what you are meant-to-feel.
At the pier we saw a very measured floor talk by Adrian Paci about his generator works in Tirana,then Amsterdam then Sydney. He sat there like a gunslinger saying it wasn’t really valuable talking about what people could see for themselves. Also at Artspace there was a very funky, lively show with objects coming to life and a double video work by Tacita Dean.
In our country there is pressure on those-who-are-interested-in-contemporary-art to not bag big events because otherwise the philistines will side with you and close them down, then we won’t have anything! I’m feeling that generally I found more grist and traction in the events outside the biennale than in it.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Dish said...

Why a stupid rumination? Why would you hyphenate "meant to be together"?

12:06 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I know everyone asks this question and I've asked it myself before, but want to know who people think the biennale is for. Is it a trade show (i.e. is it for gallerists and other curators)? Is it for the artists in the show (if so, what do they get out of it)? Is it for the "general public"? I was impressed by all the signage -- really easy to find your way around to all the different spaces. Impossible not to know the biennale was happening. But got the distinct impression that most members of the "general public" would not know what to make of the endless videos and often deliberately cryptic installations (sometimes conceptual, sometimes stiltedly metaphorical). There were some really excellent works in the show(s) but they got lost in the general shuffle of things - seeing the biennale became a process of checking things off a list, not exactly a memorable experience. The smaller venues often worked much better for this reason. Maybe it's time we gave up on the big big shows? Or is that not the problem...

3:23 AM  
Blogger geoff lowe said...

To Dish :

Well, Im interested in exploring works that I haven't seen. I hadn't seen Duchamp's Urinal til last year yet I had thought a lot of things about it.
By a 'stupid' I mean in a world that rarely makes sense ("Petrol tops Howard's fear list") we need to take more notice of what we say that doesn't make sense like the stupid, the foolish. So depicting the flat world society has something to do with this. Equality begins to look like a sad desire.
My impression is that James Lynch's work touches on these conditions, so when we get togther to protest what's going on? meant-to-be-together is like a family, a football club, a nation.

It would be great to hear what people think the Biennale is for?

9:51 AM  
Anonymous dish said...

To Geoff:

Elegant explanation, though I was just joshing about the hyphens.
We could write
other things on a whiteboard, like the economy, (stupid) that don't make sense .. a list of stupid things to go over in the mind. Stupid rumination. But that's not what you mean.
These days I only explore works that I haven't seen. But it's a "flat world" not a "level world", which would imply equality.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

Thinking about that Gormley work after I came back from Sydney, I wished I had time and money enough to produce a bunch of those terracotta figures and take them back to the biennale, arrange them around the biennale venues in small clusters as though they are socialising, being in communities, being like humans rather than mere components of a spectacle which I agree was a depressingly Western vision.
A significant problem I found with the biennale was that for all its dealings with 'zones of contact', it contained almost no reference or acknowledgement of its own location in Sydney. As though it was floating nebulously rather than being in Sydney. And to me this betrayed a grounding too much in theory and too little in practice.

1:20 AM  

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