Biennale of Sydney

Mini Essay: Transforming Cities

The city where we live and work every day is transformed and interpreted by each Biennale edition. The exhibition takes over multiple spaces in the city, including not only major art institutions with different practices, but other sites and places designated for other kinds of use and habitation (transport, tourism and entertainment, the harbour), as well as more personal and intimate spaces (libraries, streets and neighbourhoods).

In turn, the Biennale is contextualised by the city: its geography, its history and its cultural life. Ideas about place and space, about land, the environment and colonialism, and about the role of art and culture in society are all explored and contested.

This continual interpretation is generated by the creation of meeting points that jolt us out of the everyday, and by formal and informal conversations between artists and audiences, whether through the artwork or a personal encounter. Our understanding of the world is often expanded by entering into the experience and point of view of the artist and their particular work, and further shaped by the juxtaposition of artworks in an exhibition.

Navigating such a large exhibition can sometimes require a few maps – floorplans of spaces and layout, but also a map of ideas and approaches that guide visitors’ experience of the exhibition.

The Biennale explores the cultural shift away from the historically passive viewing of objects to the contemporary forging of active experiences in the encounter with the artwork, either as object, process, event or performance. This emphasises the idea that the artwork takes place as much in its activation by an audience, as in its making, or its display.

The 21st Biennale of Sydney, SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium & Engagement, includes work that will expand our understanding of migration and community; of history and landscape, of the city, nature, culture and cultural identity. It includes artists who are critically engaged with different forms of migration and community. The artists’ works acknowledge and make visible the complexity of Australian society and culture, especially in the urgent international context of global forced migration.

The Biennale artworks create opportunities for us to ask: How do we see ourselves? How do we see others? How do we understand where we live?

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