Biennale of Sydney

Lucas Ihlein & Kim Williams

Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams, Plastic-free Biennale, 2020. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous support from the Australia Council for the Arts, and generous assistance from Detached Cultural Organisation, Hobart. Courtesy the artists. Photograph: Jessica Maurer

Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams, Plastic-free Biennale, 2020. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous support from the Australia Council for the Arts, and generous assistance from Detached Cultural Organisation, Hobart . Courtesy the artists. Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams, Plastic-free Biennale: Microplastics field trip in Wollongong, documentation of event, 2019
Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams, Plastic-free Biennale: Microplastics field trip in Wollongong, documentation of event, 2019

Lucas Ihlein
Born 1975 in Sydney, Australia
Lives and works in Wollongong, Australia

Kim Williams
Born 1959 in Mornington, Australia
Lives and works in Wollongong, Australia


“Plastic-free Biennale is a strange beast! We have been commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney to facilitate its desire ’to go plastic-free’. As anyone living in the world in 2020 would recognise, this is nigh-on-impossible to achieve.  So, how can we as artists work in this space where good intentions butt up against our inevitable failure?  First, we acknowledge that we ourselves don’t have any special insights about how to go plastic-free. In our everyday lives’ plastic is all around us! It’s so useful that we cannot really imagine living without it. And yet every day, overwhelming waves of media wash up tales of gigantic plastic gyres in the ocean, plastic microparticles in our food, plastic in our soil and plastic choking seabirds to death.  And where would the art world be without plastic? Without bubble-wrap, how can we safely transport precious artworks? Without vinyl decals, how can we create professional-looking signage? Without acrylic paint, how can we make our white cubes look clean and of museum standard?  

Plastic is so useful, and so dangerous.  

What would a genuinely plastic-free Biennale look like?”

For this wide-ranging socially engaged project, Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams began with the Biennale of Sydney itself, engaging staff in discussions and field trips while also looking at the organisation’s environmental management more broadly. On Cockatoo Island, the artists have been working with one of the main food and beverage caterers, Societé Overboard. In their home of Wollongong, they’ve engaged local kids and Wadi Wadi Elder Aunty Barbara Nicholson to create a new plastic-themed song “Plastic in the House”. For this present iteration, the artists have created a space for gathering and discussion, centred around the old-fashioned activity of washing up, as both metaphor and action for taking responsibility, allowing people to bring re-usable containers rather than buying disposable items. To delve into all aspects of the project, visit the artists project blog: plasticfreebiennale.sydney

Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams work collaboratively using socially-engaged practice to explore human-environment relations and questions of environmental responsibility and care. Their experimental work uses creative research methods to engage audiences and communities. Recent major exhibitions include Sugar vs the Reef?, Artspace, Mackay, Australia (2015-2019) and Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra, Wollongong Art Gallery, Wollongong, Australia (with Brogan Bunt, 2017).

Lucas Ihlein is an artist and researcher in regenerative agriculture and the social and cultural dimensions of environmental management. Major recent projects and exhibitions include ‘Baking Earth: Soil and the Carbon Economy’ (with Allan Yeomans) in Shapes of Knowledge, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia (2019), Kaldor Studio, Making Art Public: 50 Years of Kaldor Public Art Projects (with The Rizzeria Collective), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2019), 4.543 billion. The Matter of Matter (with Louise Kate Anderson), CAPC, Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux, France (2017), The Yeomans Project (with Ian Milliss), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2013-14), In the Balance: Art for a Changing World, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2010). Ihlein has a practice-based research PhD from Deakin University (2010) for which he received the Alfred Deakin Medal for Best Doctoral Thesis in the Humanities and Social Sciences. From 2016-2019, Ihlein was awarded an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship and in 2015, he was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Fellowship for Emerging and Experimental Arts. Ihlein is a founding member of the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation, an artist collective that supports artists and others who are experimenting with adaptive cultural change as well as a founding member of artists’ collectives SquatSpace, Teaching and Learning Cinema (TLC), Big Fag Press and The Rizzeria printing collective. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art at University of Wollongong, Australia.

Kim Williams is an artist and academic who works across disciplines on transformative environmental projects. She uses socially engaged methods to work closely with communities, organisations and audiences. Williams has presented solo exhibitions across Australia at Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, Broken Hill, Australia (2015), University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia (2012), Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Maitland, Australia (2011) and Wollongong Art Gallery, Wollongong, Australia (2009). In 2013, she received the North Sydney Sculpture Prize and in 2009 and 2005, she was awarded the Meroogal Women’s Art Prize Residency. She is currently undertaking a PhD at the University in Wollongong where she is also Lecturer in Contemporary Art.

Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous support from the Australia Council for the Arts, and generous assistance from Detached Cultural Organisation, Hobart
Courtesy the artists

Exhibited at