20th Biennale of Sydney unveils initial artist list and exhibition program

20BoS Lee Mingwei Guernica in Sand 2006 and 2015The Biennale of Sydney has announced details of the first 73 artists exhibiting at seven venues across Sydney around the city for the Asia Pacific’s largest contemporary visual arts event, the 20th Biennale of Sydney presented from 18 March until 5 June 2016.

The 20th Biennale of Sydney, inspired by a quote from leading science fiction author William Gibson, is titled The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. This edition of the Biennale will be presented at seven main venues conceived as ‘embassies of thought’. It is this metaphor we are looking to develop when thinking about the themes for the Biennale.

Understood more as temporary settings rather than fixed locales – transient homes for constellations of thought – the embassies are: Cockatoo Island (Embassy of the Real); Art Gallery of New South Wales (Embassy of Spirits); Carriageworks (Embassy of Disappearance); Artspace (Embassy of Non-Participation); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (Embassy of Translation); and a bookshop (Embassy of Stanislaw Lem). For the first time, a former train station, Mortuary Station (Embassy of Transition) will also be a Biennale venue.

“If each era posits its own view of reality, what is ours? One of the key ideas this Biennale explores is how the common distinction between the virtual and the physical has become ever more elusive,” says Artistic Director Stephanie Rosenthal. “The embassies are also inspired by the unique locations and individual histories of each venue; they will provide safe spaces for thinking, convening for the three-month duration of the Biennale.

“A focus on ‘in-between spaces’ is key: in terms of our interaction with the digital world, displacement from and occupation of spaces and land, and the interconnections and overlaps between politics and financial power structures.”

In 2016 the exhibition extends beyond Sydney Harbour and the Central Business District, with more than a third of artworks to be presented at venues in Sydney’s vibrant inner west. In addition to artworks presented across the seven embassies, the 20th Biennale of Sydney has commissioned a series of performances and site-specific installations taking place at locations throughout inner Sydney, including a work created by Bo Christian Larsson at Camperdown Memorial Rest Park.

Performance is an integral part of this Biennale, presented at each embassy and elsewhere by artists including boychild, Boris Charmatz, Neha Choksi, Mette Edvardsen, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Mella Jaarsma, Lee Mingwei, Adam Linder, and Justene Williams with Sydney Chamber Opera.

The Embassies:
An embassy traditionally functions as a state within a state: a host country characteristically allows the embassy control of a specific territory, a system that enables the occupation and creation of new spaces in other lands.

Cockatoo Island will host the Embassy of the Real, with the former convict settlement and shipyard offering a space for artists to explore how we perceive reality in our increasingly digitised era. Artists will consider the spaces between the virtual and physical, as well as the physicality of the human body, with major works by Korakrit Arunanondchai, William Forsythe, Camille Henrot, Lee Bul, Chiharu Shiota, Ming Wong, and Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company).

Artists exhibiting at the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Embassy of Spirits will explore the intersection between the spiritual and the philosophical, including works concerned with personal and religious rituals. Works presented at the Embassy of Spirits by Johanna Calle, Sheila Hicks, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Jumana Manna, Sudarshan Shetty, and Taro Shinoda can also be considered in conversation with the Gallery’s rich collection of Asian and Indigenous Australian artworks.

At Carriageworks, the Embassy of Disappearance brings together works by artists exploring themes of absence and memory, including disappearing languages, histories, currencies and landscapes. Artists presenting work at this Embassy include Lauren Brincat, Neha Choksi, Yannick Dauby and Wan-Shuen Tsai, Yuta Nakamura, Otobong Nkanga, Mike Parr, Bernardo Ortiz, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia will host the Embassy of Translation, bringing together a selection of works that contextualise historical positions, concepts and artefacts, alongside contemporary concerns and working methods. While relying on a range of different strategies, each work considers history as one material among others, restaging and reimagining it as part of the process. Artists presenting work at the MCA include Nina Beier, Daniel Boyd, Noa Eshkol, Helen Marten, and Dayanita Singh.

The Embassy of Non-Participation will be located at Artspace in Woolloomooloo, a former artists’ squat now renowned as a site for experimentation. For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, artist duo Karen Mirza and Brad Butler will take over Artspace, considering how the act of ‘non-participation’ might also be an active and critical position.

The Embassy of Stanislaw Lem presents a project by Heman Chong within a small bookshop. Chong’s work will develop out of a process of accumulation; gathering together second-hand copies of Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem’s books (in both English and Polish), which will be available for visitors to both peruse and purchase.

Mortuary Station will become the Embassy of Transition, presenting artists whose works engage with the cycles of life and death, as well as with rites of passage. The Embassy is inspired by the unique venue that was a former Victorian-era train station used solely for funerary purposes. Exhibiting artists at this Embassy include Marco Chiandetti and Charwei Tsai.

In addition to the seven venues, a series of in-between projects have been commissioned for the 20th Biennale of Sydney including a project by artist collective Brown Council (Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley and Diana Smith). Brown Council’s new participatory performance is about how we recall the past and imagine the future.

By remembering moments from performances in the here-and-now the artists are making a revised history of performance, and at the same time revealing how history is constructed: through stories, memories, and rumours.

“Stephanie’s program for the 20th edition of the Biennale of Sydney captures the essence of our vision,” says Ben Strout, Chief Executive Officer, Biennale of Sydney. “We’re working with fantastic artists from around the world, exhibiting inside established cultural organisations while also inhabiting new and surprising sites across the city.”

The 20th Biennale of Sydney runs 18 March to 5 June 2016. For more information, visit: www.biennaleofsydney.com.au or www.20bos.com for details.

Image: Lee Mingwei, Guernica in Sand, 2006 and 2015. Mixed-media interactive installation, sand, wooden island, and lighting