The Sydney Biennale opens this week and organisers say it’s time to leave politics behind and focus on the art.
That shouldn’t be hard with the work of more than 90 Australian and international artists on show for three months at venues across Sydney including Cockatoo Island, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW).
Cockatoo Island utilises its vast industrial spaces and natural features for large scale installations and even a “ghost train” that disappears into a massive Google home page and through a tunnel in a rock face.
Visitors can take a disorientating ride through darkness, fog and strobe lights into “the other side”, Melbourne artist Callum Morton says.
At the MCA, Scottish artist Jim Lambie has covered an entire floor in coloured tape in his psychedelic work Vortex (This Perfect Day) while Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist invites viewers to lie back on human-shaped pillows and immerse themselves in her lush three-wall video installation.
Things take a more political turn at the AGNSW, with works that reference colonisation, asylum seekers and the death of books.
Woomera-born Yhonnie Scarce of the Kokatha and Nukunu people presents blown glass objects in a lab setting that could be fruit or human organs, some of which are broken or have surgical scissors stuck in them – a reference to eugenics practices of the early 1900s.
More of the Biennale can be seen at the Redfern Carriageworks and Artspace in Woolloomooloo.
The lead-up to Australia’s largest contemporary arts event was marred by controversy that resulted in a major sponsor being dumped.
A group of artists had called for a boycott of the event after it emerged that Transfield was indirectly involved in building offshore detention centres.
Transfield director Luca Belgiorno-Nettis subsequently stood down as head of the Biennale board.
Sydney-based artist Mikala Dwyer, who signed the letter and whose sculptural work The Hollows is on display at Cockatoo Island, said the controversy had left artists torn.
“It’s been the most heartbreaking process for the artists,” she told AAP.
But speaking at Cockatoo Island Biennale chief executive Marah Braye noted that art was no stranger to controversy.
“Art and politics have a long and intertwined history,” she said.
“In fact some of the greatest art has been produced in times of protest.”
The Biennale runs from March 21 to June 9.