10th Biennale of Sydney: 1996

Ann Hamilton, 'bearings', 1996. Installation view of the 10th Biennale of Sydney (1996) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy of the Artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Ann Hamilton, bearings, 1996. Installation view of the 10th Biennale of Sydney (1996) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy of the Artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Preceded by the Biennale of Ideas in 1995, the tenth Biennale of Sydney in 1996 was a tightly focused exhibition. Cooke saw that Australian culture was through dint of geography and history dependent on reproductive technologies for information, entertainment and for views of contemporary developments elsewhere. The exhibition featured forty-eight artists from twenty four countries, a deliberate curatorial decision to have a smaller show enriched by more substantial statements rather than a sample of each artist.

The exhibition reappraised older reproductive technologies including photography, video, film and print media. It compared artists’ various uses of technology to comment on the world, and revealed how some issues and technologies transcend generational, gender, ethnic and national boundaries. The exhibition also looked to the immense potential of the then newly developing digital and media technology gradually becoming available to artists at that time. Themes which ran through the exhibition included the presence and absence of identity, memory versus history, the fantastic and the gothic.

An important metaphor that ran through the exhibition was the idea of textiles as a reproductive agent and pervasive technology. Artists such as Ann Hamilton, Yinke Shonibare, Phillip Taaffe, Rosemarie Trockel and Emily Kngwarreye examined the formal and spatial effects of serial production, texture, scale and patterning. Artists such as Alighiero Boetti, Shirin Neshat, Frederic Bruly Bouabre and Araya Rasjarmrearnsook highlighted the role of text and language in culture. The fascinating but deliberate dislocation of film and photography was emphasized in works by Douglas Gordon, Tony Oursler, Nan Goldin and Matthew Barney. The tenth Biennale of Sydney suggested that the advent of new information technology had created a vast paradigm shift in culture.

In 1996 satellite exhibitions and programs were hosted in Sydney as well as other cities such as Canberra and Melbourne. As with previous Biennales, a dynamic nationwide outreach program for international visiting artists and curators took the art and artists, as well as some of the current debate about contemporary art, to many cities and regional centres throughout the country. The Biennale of Sydney outreach program which began in the first decade of the exhibition has continued to fulfill one of the longstanding aims of the organisation: to increase dialogue, interest and participation in the visual arts and to foster new relationships and professional networks.