Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Biennale at Cockatoo Island

Passenger ship dwarfs ferry on Sydney harbour
On Easter Sunday the weather was perfect and I was at Circular Quay wharf before most of Sydney had woken up.

It is a short ride from there to  Cockatoo Island, formerly a convict prison, then a shipyard, and now hosting part of the Sydney Biennale artworks.

Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour
The island might look small on the map, but it is bigger than it appears with huge ship yard  buildings which provide perfect settings for large installation works. There are also various houses up the hill, formerly mess halls and staff quarters, with spaces for smaller works. It is quite a walk between the various buildings, up and down steep steps. Fortunately the coffee shops were open by the time I needed them,
Wicked, 2013  by Christine Streuli

The works I liked most were by European artists.

Christine Streuli had taken over the mess hall and as I wandered past her work, Wicked 2013 looking at the tattoo/graffiti inspired works that were partly painted on canvas and partly on the wall I started to wonder where her work began and ended.
Canvas and wall

Still life on the window panes, partly on canvas
Streuli is inspired by so many art forms, from 17th Century still life to wallpaper. I admired the faded pictures on the window panes and wondered how she had stuck them on so seamlessly.
I looked closely at the peeling paint on the lower wall, mindful not to touch anything, obeying the 'do not touch the artwork' notice in the middle of the room. I really could not tell where the art work began, so I asked the attendant seated by the door.

"Oh" she said, "I don't usually tell people when they walk in, but the whole thing is the art work. Have a look behind the wall - she has mirrored it exactly."

Streuli had had a false wall built into the room a meter from the original and the images on the wall reproduced those on the actual walls behind them, with the addition of the various art images.

It was very clever and made me smile.

The other work I thought outstanding was an installation in one of the giant shipyard buildings. It was called The Village, by Danish artists Randi and Katrina (Randi Joergenson and Katrina Malinovsky).

The Village
The Village is a series of quaint buildings, each one rather anthropomorphic. I paint portraits so I very often see faces where there are none, but these houses were definitely people-like, with two eyes, a nose and a mouth.
House with a face

The houses looked so cute and so welcoming but all the doors were fake, even that into the church. There as no access into this charming world.  As the program notes say, 'This is particularly and unfortunately apt as we witness the perilous situation of those who seek asylum.'

Under the harbour bridge
At noon when the ferries were packed with visitors I was ready to leave. We motored along under the  bridge and around the corner to see the opera house glinting in the sunlight. 

Sydney Opera House from the Ferry

Waiting for the Ferry to Cockatoo Island
Sydney is a city of immigrants, many of them former asylum seekers, and when I saw the long lines of people waiting to board the ferry to Cockatoo Island, I thought 'Well, they will understand The Village, even if our Immigration Minister would prefer they didn't'.

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