The 2012 Biennale of Sydney, like previous years failed to disappoint. After the arduous journey by train and ferry, we landed on Cockatoo island. Upon arrival you are greeted with a seemingly empty space, whose only occupants are the industrial remnants of a by gone era. This emptiness was soon replace by sheer awe and amazement as fellow Biennale goers were attracted to an site-specific piece by Jonathan Jones. A hollow brick cube, gate attached and open, a wave of broken tea cups and oyster shells pour out of the space. The work is referencing the artists Indigenous heritage (the oyster shells) and how the colonisation of Indigenous Australians by British imperial forces as well as Anglo-Celtic convicts (tea cups). The work shows how the two have impacted upon one another, the violent clash of two different worlds, coming to rest together in an unresolved heap. The work at first seems to be a jumbled mess, however, when reading the artists biographical information you begin to understand the intricacies of his work.
Jonathan Jones, Untitled 2012. Image courtesy of the Biennale of Sydney 2012.
Working my way through the many exhibits on the island I came across the large installation of Li Hongbo. His work Ocean of Flowers 2012 is a work that is visually engaging. The colours of the carefully constructed works entice the senses. The seemingly beautiful work has a set of darker conceptual undertones. The artist is bringing to light the ability we have as humans to destroy ourselves, the artist compares this to the ease of which a human can collect flowers. The work encourages the viewer to come into the space and engage with the it on a purely aesthetic basis at first, then once we become aware of what the work is really about, just like how the viewing of the work is restricted to ten people at a time, to minimise the chance of damaging it, we now keep the work at arms length, we are now longer simply enticed by the visual beauty, but are now more conscious of the implied meaning.
Li Hongbo, Ocean of Flowers, 2012
Overall the works exhibited on Cockatoo island were interesting, beautiful, powerful and engaging; some more than others, yet they all seemed to work in their own right and related to the Biennales theme which was “all our relations”. Stay tuned for some future writings on work from the other venues involved in the Biennale.