9th Biennale of Sydney: 1992/3

Gordon Bennett, 'Self Portrait (Heritage)', 1992, glass jars, photocopies, foot stool, colonial bookcase, 200 x 120 x 40 cm. Collection the artist; courtesy Bellas Gallery, Brisbane and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne. Installation view for the 9th Biennale of Sydney (1992)

Gordon Bennett, Self Portrait (Heritage), 1992, glass jars, photocopies, foot stool, colonial bookcase, 200 x 120 x 40 cm. Collection the artist; courtesy Bellas Gallery, Brisbane and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne. Installation view for the 9th Biennale of Sydney (1992)

The 1992/3 Biennale reflected a shift away from Europe and the USA and over ninety percent of the artists in the exhibition had not been exhibited before in Australia. Titled ‘The Boundary Rider’ and curated by Tony Bond, the exhibition took as its theme the exploration of physical, psychological and cultural boundaries. It examined their fluidity and transgression through the work of such artists as Orlan, whose surgical manipulation of her own body captured the imagination of both the public and the media. Another powerful work in the exhibition and later acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales was the installation “Atrabiliaros” by Doris Salcedo.

This was an expansive international event with some thirty-six countries participating, many of which had not traditionally been included in Sydney Biennales, such as Benin, Cameroon, Thailand, Haiti, Ghana and South Africa. Mainstream figures were included alongside emerging artists from beyond the traditional centres of culture.

The notion of boundaries had a certain currency with the demise of the old communist order in Europe, the limited liberalisations occurring in China at the time as well as the arrival of ‘boatpeople’ in Australia. The theme provided a rich context for artists such as the Border Art Workshop, Dolly Nampijimpa Daniels, Kamol Phaosavasdi, Marc Quinn, Bill Seaman, Richard Wilson, Wim Delvoye, Antoine Oleyant, Perejaume, Juan Muñoz, Gordon Bennett, Joyce Hinterding, Lorna Simpson, Haim Steinbach and the Campfire Group; who addressed such issues as alienation, race and gender relations, commodity fetishism, technologies and entropy.

An extensive lecture, film and public program marked the ninth Biennale, and a special course on contemporary art was offered to broaden and educate new audiences, as well as intensify debate. In addition to the traditional venues of the Art Gallery of NSW and others such as the Ivan Dougherty Gallery which housed an overwhelming painting installation by Igor Kopystiansky, the Bond Store once again provided a dramatic location for many memorable installations and site specific works. The Border Art Workshop (a group based around the US/Mexico border) worked in the outer suburbs of Cabramatta with young, disenfranchised, immigrant communities, in ways that changed the lives of some of the young participants. This particular example of interaction with the local community – and the legacy it left – is emblematic of many Biennale exhibitions and programs. People were exposed to ideas and experiences they would never otherwise have had, and perhaps more than anything else the Biennale’s enduring strength has been exactly that, to act as a catalyst.