Countdown to the 20th Biennale of Sydney.

In the lead up to the 20th Biennale of Sydney, we are embracing the slogan, putting our knuckle heads together and letting you in on what the future holds for Australia’s largest contemporary arts festival.


Taking inspiration from science fiction guru William Gibson’s quote, the Biennale is titled “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”. Whilst Biennales thrive on vague titles, which can more than often leave viewers wondering to hopeless ends, this year’s promises to interlink venues and art cohesively.

Artistic Director Stephanie Rosenthal explained the title as, ‘If each era posits its own view of reality, what is ours? One of the key ideas this Biennale explores is how the common distinction between the virtual and the physical has become ever more elusive.”

“The embassies are also inspired by the unique locations and individual histories of each venue; they will provide safe spaces for thinking, convening for the three-month duration of the Biennale. A focus on ‘in-between spaces’ is key: in terms of our interaction with the digital world, displacement from and occupation of spaces and land, and the interconnections and overlaps between politics and financial power structures.”

If “embassies” has thrown you, we’ll offer more clarification. Sticking to the original structure the Biennale will be divided amongst the usual venues with each hosting a different embassy.

Cockatoo Island will host the Embassy of the Real, the cavernous spaces of the former convict settlement and shipyard is set to inspire artists to explore how we perceive reality in an increasingly digitised era. Artists will consider the virtual and the physical, as well as the connection of the human body to this. Major works will be created by Korakrit Arunanondchai, William Forsythe, Camille Henrot, Lee Bul, Chiharu Shiota, Ming Wong, and Xu Zhen.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Embassy of Spirits will intertwine the spiritual and the philosophical in conversation, including works by artists Johanna Calle, Sheila Hicks, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Jumana Manna, Sudarshan Shetty, and Taro Shinoda that are concerned with personal and spiritual rituals.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia will stand as the Embassy of Translation, bringing together artists such as Nina Beier, Daniel Boyd, Noa Eshkol, Helen Marten, and Dayanita Singh whose works contextualise and reimagine historical positions, conceptions and artefacts from a contemporary perspective.

At the MCA Lee Mingwei’s Guernica in Sand, 2006/16, (see image above and below) will be performed on Saturday, 23 April at which time the artist and his collaborators will transform the sand recreation of Picasso’s famous painting into an entirely new work.

Artist duo Karen Mirz and Brad Butler have been given the reins to Artspace in Woolloomooloo. Titled the Embassy of Non-Participation, the artists will explore how ‘non-participation’ is also an actively critical position.

However this year there are a couple of new additions, with Mortuary Station near Central becoming quite aptly named the Embassy of Transition. Artists including Marco Chiadetti and Charwei Tsai will exhibit at this former Victorian-era train station, which was used solely for funerary purposes.

And then there is a small bookshop taken over by Heman Chong, as well as those ‘in-between’ spaces – vague and intriguing -stay tuned we will fill you in more next week.

One thing’s for sure, in its 20th year, this Biennale is not holding back. It is quite a relief there are a few months to get around the full course of events. Spread across and scattered within inner Sydney. First tip: comfortable walking wear.


20th Biennale of Sydney: The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed
Friday, 18 March until Sunday, 5 June 2016

Image: Lee Mingwei, Guernica in Sand, 2006 and 2015, mixed-media interactive installation, sand, wooden island, lighting, 1300 x 643cm. Photograph by Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei
Courtesy the artists, JUT Museum Pre-Opening Office, Taipei and the Biennale of Sydney.

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