The Beauty of Distance: 17th Sydney Biennale Author:Zhang Fang Date: 2010-07-02 Size:
Australia is situated in the southern part of the globe. With its vast land, it occupies 7.68 million square kilometers, granting it “the largest island in the world”. Opposite to China’s climate, chilly wind reminds people of the approaching winter in May. Historically, Australia was the British colony where prisoners were put into custody.


David Elliot, chief curator of 17th Sydney Biennale, meets the press people

Australia is situated in the southern part of the globe. With its vast land, it occupies 7.68 million square kilometers, granting it “the largest island in the world”. Opposite to China’s climate, chilly wind reminds people of the approaching winter in May. Historically, Australia was the British colony where prisoners were put into custody. Because its large land is desert, people can only inhabit in several cities. Due to its distance from other continents, Australia has been quite isolated. “The Beauty of Distance”, the theme of this Biennale, well delivers the eagerness of Australia to communicate with the rest of the world.


David Chen, Thomas Berghuis, Eugene Tan, Sun Yuan, Peng Yu, David Elliot, Ms. Lim, Wang Qingsong and Liu Jianhua

Established in 1973, Sydney Biennale has been in existence for 37 years. It was the third oldest next to Venice and Sao Paolo Biennale. This show starts on May 12 and ends on August 1. The chief curator David Elliot entitles this exhibition as “The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival at the Precarious Age”. As a world-renown curator, David has worked as the chairman of International Council of Museums, and the directors for Modern Museum in Sweden, Mori Art Museum in Japan, and Istanbul Museum of Art in Turkey. I believe his encounters with many different cultures over the years enrich his unique perspective which culminates in this exhibition bringing together visual arts and other art forms to explore the possibilities of art to handle war, poverty, injustice, environmental degradation and etc at this precarious age.


Yayoi Kusama, Film Images Kusama Singing, 2004

Survival has been a long-discussed topic. In addition to visual art, scholars in contemporary literature, poetry, drama and film-makers have created a lot of enlightening works. The American blockbuster “Avatar” describes a celestial confrontation between humankind and Na’Vi who want to control “unobtanium”, a mineral element in the Pandora Planet. Jack, the hero in this film, reminds me of David, who is always full of vigor, dressed very coolly, with upright temperament and yuppie taste. When he visited us in Beijing in 2009, he expects the show to be “beautiful, challenging and memorable”. He dreams to put on the same platform of contemporary art different cultures “where there is no culture assuming superiority over the rest of others”.


Cao Guoqiang and his assistant

Braved as one of the most ambitious program, the exhibition venues are spread out, including the Cockatoo Island, Pier 2/3, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney Opera House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Artspace and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Grand Court). 70 artists including 22 Australian artists premiered new works and 65 Australian artists present their works together with 101 international peers. Chinese artists include Cao Fei, Liu Jianhua, Shen Shaomin, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Wang Qingsong, Yang Fudong, Jennifer Ma and Cai Guoqiang.

The opening week is arranged quite tight and orderly. In the evening of May 10, Amanda Love, a collector based in Sydney, invited participating artists and international scholars to a unique dinner of oysters. On May 11, MCA ground floor is packed with over 1000 guests. The carnival in Cockatoo Island on May 12 brought to the climax when free ferry spent three hours to aboard nearly 2000 people. Imagine the way back? On May 14 and 15, symposiums on poverty, freedom, rights, as well as history, experiences, truth and empathy were launched among scholars and artists.

#p#副标题#e#The 440 exhibits from 36 countries have dialogues with each other, exploring different experiences of the past and discussing how much have things really changed in our world of transformation and how art can reflect and salvage the actual world. Each work exudes quite distinctive charm, unlike “the avant-garde visual feasts in China”. In MCA, a woman artist from Africa called Nandipha Mntambo stitches cowhides with resin and makes them into fashionable night gowns. This work ponders at whether human civilization is progressive or retrogressive. Bill Viola presents his new video work with great intimacy and fluent beauty. An aboriginal-looking Asian man and a European woman hold hand in hand, walk through a water curtain and approach us with breath and heartbeats. Sun Yuan & Peng Yu exhibit 100 photos which they realized in Hong Kong called “Intervention”. They give 100 Filipino domestic workers a toy grenade and ask them to place it in their favorite spot at their employer’s home. The photographs with their back turned are also placed alongside. This project looks quite easy. It is carried out with some difficulty because the selection of these migrant workers to place the toy grenade reveals how they look at their employers. Due to differences in social status, a human-divided border of the rich and poor reflects a subtle human relationship in a modern civilized society.


Artwork by Cui Zhenghua

In the shipyard at Pier2/3, my full attention is locked onto a huge installation by Paul McCarthy. A huge wooden ship is erected on a stand post with ugly caricatured figures piled up and smeared all over with cheap pumping foam. This dirty sticky thick foam cover up the ship and reveals a morbid satire against the boring desire of humankind conquering materials world in an industrialized society. In the Art Gallery of New South Wales, about 30 pieces of containers by Liu Jianhua are placed solemnly at the corner. Viewers wonder at the fact if these ceramic containers hold blood or other objects and if perfect glaze over the top is completed during its firing process. Mainland Chinese Tourists brought here by shuttle buses stop in front of Wang Qingsong’s photo works, “Debacle” and “Competition”, pointing their fingers onto the surface of the photos, looking for their familiar ads, negligent of museums regulations of no shooting or no touching signs. The gigantic workshop in Cockatoo Island still keeps worn-out machinery where nine Toyota autos, an installation by Cai Guoqiang, are hung up high, arrested in an animated sequence of explosion. In the dawn of May 15, Jennifer Ma invites an adroit lady dressed in black outfit to dance with a stick of white smoke to create a smoke projection of Monkey King. It allures people’s attention above the Opera House. In the haze of smoke and cloud, Monkey King lands in Sydney and brings closer the ancient and the present, China and Australia.

After the opening week program, Shen Shaoming and Meng Fan bring us to Fish Market, inviting us a big lunch of lobsters, oysters and crabs. None of us had ever seen such huge seafood that we do not want to come back to China. In the afternoon before we return, Daniel Droga, who collects the most number of paintings by Zhao Xiaogang in Australia, invites us to bridge climb Sydney Tower Bridge. It is the widest single-arch bridge and extends as long as 1149 meters. From the sea level to the tip of the bridge, there is 134 meters. I am quite terrified at the beginning. Daniel encourages me by saying “Your sons will be proud of you”. So I decide to take a risk and give me a reason for pride. Entering some room like a space shuttle, a commentator explains us some security measures, and signs with us an agreement. Then we are dressed with an astronaut outfit, equipped with goggles, hat, gloves, and head light. The most important is a stretchable rope like the one used in bungee jump. It is locked behind us and its other end is locked into thick steel wire along the whole trip of bridge climb to avoid accidental falling. A funny guide told us some typical Australian jokes which makes two-hour climb quite relaxing. Upon dawn, I stand on the tip of the bridge, overlooking the ocean, enjoying the night view of Sydney. Distance creates immense beauty! No matter it is scenery, friendship, marriage or culture and art.

[Editor] Elemy Liu