14/05/2010 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

Sydney Biennale 2010 – Vernissage

‘Art with a capital A’ gives mainstream critics the kind of creamed jeans you read about in one of those magazines. Mention folk-art and watch them glaze over, thinking of leather stitching, basket weaving or (at best) those ironic life size paddle-pop-stick figures devised by Marge Simpson. Stuff that belongs at a market stall, not an art gallery, right? Leave Real Art to those who know. The minds behind the 17th Sydney Biennale have flipped this paradigm and commissioned a range of works that cut through the hype. Folk art is the recurring motif – with exhibits reflecting traditional and historic customs from around the globe. Some are ironic, some cheeky, some straight, all carrying messages that reflect the beauty and diversity of human culture.

There’s a lot to see. In the five hours of the Vernissage I was able to visit four venues and catch maybe one-third of everything on offer. That included a luxurious stroll through the Botanical Gardens and a chance to stop by my favourite piece of public art in Sydney (the statue of Pan near the Opera House). I’ll be going back for more. Cockatoo Island on its own is worth a full day-trip with picnic basket. Besides the inherent beauty of the location there are hours to be spent wandering the exhibits and indeed the Island itself has a modern industrial aesthetic unmatched anywhere in Sydney. You could easily be forgiven for spotting a pile of old junk and think it a part of the show. Which is just as it should be.

Art takes patience. Whether it’s a video installation or sculpture, there’s no point in whizzing about catching glimpses here and there, every sculpture, photograph or soundscape needs to be properly inhaled, such that the oxygen of the artists intent can be filtered through. Short, sharp breaths aren’t enough. That being said, there is so much on offer that some of it bound to leave you uninspired – then again when you hit the exhibit that reaches you, chances are you’ll be floored by it.

The exquisitely detailed icons by Rodney Glick are an example of this, reaching back millennia into Hindu mythology, yet carrying the dreadful weight of modern consumerism. They immediately spoke to me of the tension between the traditional and the new. How the culture of cool is the religion of the new generations. How Eastern mysticism will probably end up dominant over the current schizophrenic and fractious global tenure of a Western democracy with its separated Christian heritage. I would attempt to describe these statues, but imagery such as this cannot be captured in words, even a photo would be unjust. I can only insist that my readers catch the ferry out to the Island and walk five minutes to the top of the hill to see these simple elegant figures for their own.

If you don’t like it, there’s always the unsettling and hilarious ‘wax-mausoleum’ installation next door from Shen Shaomin. Again, impact is everything so it would be a critical fail to attempt describing this deliciously ironic work. I have to admit, it must be strange being a modern artist in China, what with all the politics and stuff. But somehow Shaomin gets away with this creative double-entendre, as a work of art, it’s genius, but as a political statement, it could go either way. He’s also got a brilliant bonsai exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, taking the traditional form of tree cultivation and turning it around to become a powerful statement about technology, oppression and nature. Strikingly simple, and darkly reminiscent of other difficult cultural practises (such as foot-binding) from traditional Chinese heritage.

There’s a lot to describe of what i saw on the first day, and I think I might post further on exhibits as I go back and see more. These are the ones that stood out for me the most (although others are springing to mind as I type) – as stated earlier, like anything worthwhile, art takes patience, it takes time to sink in. What you think of something at first could be vastly different to how you feel about it later, and in this world of immediacy and fast-media, I think it’s only right that such a worldly exhibition as this should be allowed to thoroughly soak into one’s soul.

Entry filed under: Festivals. Tags: , , , , , , .

PLAYWRIGHTS POSSE UP!! I had no idea playwrights were all so good looking…

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

since 2009

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