24 April 2016

20th Biennale of Sydney 'The Future Is Already Here - It's Just Not Evenly Distributed'

Words: Jonathan Rae
Images: Jonathan Rae

It's the 20th time the internationally acclaimed Biennale of Sydney has run.

The show is curated by Stephanie Rosenthal and presented at a bunch of places around central Sydney known as 'embassies'.

The works on show encompass everything from found objects, video installations, kinetic sculpture, performance 'art' to more traditional mediums such as painting.

Rosenthal's concept for the curation of exhibition was to assign each embassy an idea of thought. For example, the Cockatoo Island venue was assigned 'Embassy of the Real' and the Carriageworks venue 'Embassy of Disappearance'.

This Biennale may be big on thought, but the ideas translate poorly in the work on show. Although each location is assigned an idea or concept, there appears to be no cohesive message or aesthetic at each location besides what we are told we are supposed to feel through vague didactics.

There are a lot of Instagram-bait works that rely on scale - like that of Lee Bul's installation that can only be described as a deflated looking circus tent mixed in with some hot air balloons and fairy lights (a far cry from her previous intricate and complex works) or William Forsythe's pendulum room. Otherwise, a lot of the work fails to stand out.

The banality of the curation is even more amplified on Cockatoo Island and at Carriageworks where the gallery space and architecture is often more interesting than the work on offer. The pieces on show often rely too heavily on buzzword loaded didactic panels and fail to convey the ideas the curator had hoped to express. It falls into something akin to university student work, loaded with supposed concepts, unloaded with presentation and execution.

Basically, the banality of the works and ideas leave the viewer with a rather flat feeling at the 20th Biennale of Sydney. If this is what the idea of the future feels like, I want off this ride.

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