Most artists make work about a set of ideas that become a considered investigation over time, through both research and practice. A key focus for the 21st Biennale of Sydney is the commitment made by artists to undertake research and investigate ideas, histories and contexts to inform their practice. This level of engagement can mean years, even decades, of investigation and development.
Engagement can also shape the conceptual framework or content of the work. From investigating art history, literature, psychology or philosophy (Luciano Fabro, Riet Wijnen, Eija-Liisa Ahtila), to investigating the life of a significant person (Geng Xue) or even ancient marine life (Martin Walde), artists pursue deep engagement in order to bring new knowledge to light, to redress historical narratives (Brook Andrew, Marlene Gilson, Dimitar Solakov), or raise our awareness. Many artists are concerned with commenting on contemporary world issues such as forced migration (Ai Weiwei, Tiffany Chung), the ‘apartheid wall’ of Palestine (Jacob Kirkegaard), nuclear power (Yukinori Yanagi), or broader themes such as nature (Sam Falls), technology (Nicole Wong) and ritual (Khaled Sabsabi).
Research can also shape the aesthetic or methodology the artist uses: from reproducing or remaking an artist’s work from the past, to exploring the style and media of another artists work, or of another discipline entirely, creating cross-overs with science, technology, archaeology or museum practice.
By studying history in general and art history in particular, contemporary practitioners reframe how we think about art and society, whether through investigating and reclaiming the silences and erasures of history; reworking the modernist avant-garde; critiquing the Western canon; or in direct engagement with politics and communities.