Exhibition Overview

For the 19th Biennale of Sydney, I have allowed the feeling of various spaces to guide some itineraries of encounter. Cockatoo Island proposes to me the trope of the ‘island’ – an imaginary, anticipated place, as it has been in literature, philosophy, art and entertainment. The island is a destination, a fantasy location, a fun-park; a utopia perhaps, and with it, a dystopia. Out on the island I have commissioned and placed a variety of projects that play up these ideas: a fun-ride, ruins, a waterfall, a village, a gizmo factory, and many other phantasmic sounds and spaces. Recognising some of the layered history of Cockatoo Island – its power generation, shipbuilding and incarcerations – I have also sought to create energy and kinetic movement through sculptural devices and a certain feral atmosphere. To me the island is a wild, desiring place where a happy anarchy can take hold.

At the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, an air/water venue as I read it, I situate the more liminal, libidinous, liquous items, many of which use the psychological language and semiotics of surrealism, or the energetic movements of colour abstractions. Sometimes both conjoined. This is a space that moves from darkness to light, from movement to stillness. It holds invention in its taxonomies.

At the Art Gallery of New South Wales, for me an earth/fire space, a sense of collectivism and societal rupture, and a hoped-for encounter with change, is explored from the alchemical, tabula rasa images of protest, to Promethean fire plays, storytelling, emerging cultures and intimate human encounters. It is a place for the joyous celebration of the human as innocent, naked and stripped back, and reimagined through collective endeavours. Forgiveness becomes a powerful self-determination.

At Carriageworks – previously used as a film studio, and incorporating the world of theatre and performance – artists investigate the languages of cinema and stage to find in them dream worlds and dream works that link to the psyche. Frozen moments, baroque folds, the bubble of the Hollywood musical and scenographies of the sublime are all encountered here.

The works at Artspace take joy in flights of fancy and allow freedom to find its way through the agency of migratory birds and chance unions, and strange encounters with time travel. Throughout the city centre and in various outdoor sites around Sydney, occasional apparitions appear to create moments of estrangement from normal operations. And at Pier 2/3 we come to THE END, a finale of epic proportions in honour of a humble creature, a metaphor for the self.

Juliana Engberg
Artistic Director