21st Biennale of Sydney, SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium & Engagement
16 March - 11 June, 2018
Museum of Contemporary Art
Review by Kathleen Linn
Artistic Director Mami Kataoka utilizes the concept of Superposition as a metaphor for the 21st Biennale of Sydney. Superposition is a theory borrowed from quantum mechanics, it posits that different, even seemingly conflicting, components are held in suspension - equal in their difference and vital to the whole. This metaphor seeks to bring the different threads, directions, contradictions and loose-ends that exist in our contemporary world into a (utopian) balance. The Biennale presents the work of seventy artists and collectives from thirty-five countries across seven venues in Sydney, Australia. As the exhibition comes from such a broad conceptual basis there is work that will appeal to all and I feel relieved that Kataoka hasn’t tried to subject it to too much enforced thematization.
Kataoka weaves the concept of Wuxing, an ancient Chinese natural philosophy where everything in the world consists of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water, into the exhibition. This concept is extended into an art specific context with her statement that many of the works at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) incorporate seemingly opposing ideas of minimalism (including serial objects, industrial materials and geometric forms), aesthetics and the handmade.
To one side, on the ground floor of the MCA, is ‘What’s Left Behind’ (2018), an installation by Australian artist Brook Andrew. Andrew’s practice is motived by research - he scrutinizes, reconsiders and rewrites colonial narratives. This installation comprises five sculptural vitrines that represent the five elements of Wuxing. Andrew has invited four artists to contribute artwork and items they have collected to the vitrines.
On the other side, the ground floor is occupied by a functioning print studio where Canadian artist Ciara Phillips is holding print workshops with local community groups, with a focus on collaboration.
Upstairs, South Korean artist Haegue Yang’s installation incorporates three different bodies of work. Yang’s darkened room calms the senses, the low light and semi-reflective mirrored wall contribute to these feelings of introspection. Shadows constantly shift as light filters through the many sets of thin venetian blinds installed in the space. Venetian blinds have been a recurring motif in Yang’s work since 2006, toying with ideas of public and private space.
‘VideoTrilogy (Unfolding Places, Restrained Courage and Squandering Negative Spaces)’ (2004 – 2006), is embedded in this venetian blind installation with scent emitters exuding wildflower and gunpowder. On one of the smaller screens amongst these blinds plays a video that focuses on stories of homelessness and dislocation. ‘Lethal Love’ (2008) is based on the life of German politician and activist Petra Kelly and her partner Gert Bastian. The installation also features two large black forms made from dense, plastic twine and straw sculptures from the series ‘The Intermediates’ (2015 – ongoing).
Chia-Wei Hsu’s ‘Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau’ (2015), reflects on the impact that the Cold War had on the small village of Huai Mo in Northern Thailand intermingling fact and fiction. It melds objective and subjective realities to a story that interweaves Hanuman’s Journey to the Medicine Mountain from the epic Hindu tale of Ramayana with Cold War events.
Jacob Kirkegaard’s ‘Through the Wall’ (2013), forms a large-scale installation of the wall between Palestine and Israel - also known as the Apartheid Wall. Travelling to this region Kirkegaard collected field recordings of sounds using vibration sensors and acoustic microphones; these sounds now resonate around the low-lit gallery.