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    Best of the Sydney Biennale 2018

    Words by the artists, photography by Stephanie Stefanovic

    Architecture & Design assistant editor Stephanie Stefanovic presents some of her favourite artwork from this year's Biennale of Sydney. 



    N.S. Harsha's Reclaiming the inner space, 2018, is a wall-mounted installation constructed from a series of hand-carved wooden elephants sandwiched between a layer of unfolded cardboard packaging and acrylic mirror. Collected from a range of sources, including friends, family and recycling facilities, the unprinted side of the packaging facing the viewer is covered in a painted metaphorical representation of the cosmos and its aggregation of planets, stars, dust and gas. 

    Harsha's installation alternates between macro- and microcosmic situations to address rapid modernisation, mass production and consumerism or consumeraj - a term conceived by the artist to refer to the British Raj's social and institutional impact on Indian society - as well as our changing relationship to nature.


    Riet Wijnen's practice is often concerned with revisiting, reworking or expanding upon historical events and ideas, using textual forms to present research. Wijnen frequently returns to abstraction as an artistic movement and as a broader concept, testing the scope and breadth of certain versions and uses of the term.

    Wijnen's newly-commissioned installation is formed around Conversation Six, the most recent iteration of her series Sixteen Conversations on Abstraction, 2015-ongoing. The project is centred around a fictional dialogue between British constructivist Marlow Moss, 1989-1958, and Australian artist and pioneer of modern painting, Grace Crowley, 1890-1979. 



    Marjolijn Dijkman presents an immersive film installation titled Navigating Polarities, 2018, investigating the history of navigation, polarity and magnetism and their associated political, social and moral codes. The work will take the earth's geomagnetic field as a starting point, considering the ways in which micro- and macrocosmic elements are contingent on these properties to operate. 


    The installation for Tuomas Aleksander Laitinen's Dossier of Osmosis, 2018, borrows from the language of an archaeological display, consisting of a series of tiered table-like structures displayed on the gallery floor. Containing objects and traces of chemical reactions/biological processes, the assembled fragments are described through nonsensical diagrams and graphs set within the layers.

    An accompanying narrative, partly generated by an algorithm, speculates on the potential of non-human agencies, complicating definitions of authorship. The installation is periodically activated by performers operating two ultrasonic speakers emitting a sound work composed of guide texts, involuntary noises and utterances that become audible when silent signals hit a solid object. Dossier of Osmosis reveals the incoherence between natural processes and the regulatory structures imposed upon them, prohibiting 'osmosis', or the integration of ideas from occurring. 


    Yarrenyty Arltere Artists is a not-for-profit Aboriginal-owned and run art centre located in the Larapinta Valley Town Camp, Alice Springs. The artists are best known for creating whimsical soft sculptures that have developed into a genre of their own. Their artworks tell the stories of family, country, identity and spirit. Often taking the form of birds and animals, or representing scenes from everyday life, the soft sculptures speak to navigating a new and sometimes hostile world. 

    Made from recycled woolen blankets that are dyed using local plants, tea and corroded metal and embellished with brightly-coloured wool thread and feathers, the soft sculptures are filled with character and humour. They are emblematic of the vitality of the Town Camp and its people, and the ingenuity of the artists who through creativty and perseverence, have reignited the confidence and spirit of their community.



    Ai Weiwei's Law of the Journey, 2017, is an imposing installation that features a 60-metre-long boat crowded with hundreds of anonymous refugee figures, bringing the monumental scale of the current humanitarian crisis sharply into focus. Both the boat and the figures are inflatable, made from black rubber and fabricated in China in a factory that also manufactures the precarious vessels used by thousands of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. 

    In Ai's words, "There's no refugee crisis, only a human crisis... In dealing with refugees we've lost our very basic values. In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other, since we are all one, otherwise humanity will face an even bigger crisis."


    Mit Jai Inn has developed Planes, 2018, an installation that invokes his open-air Chiang Mai studio. Colourful, densely-layered canvases span tables, hang from rafters in the ceiling, and are draped over frameworks resting on the floor. The title of the installation alludes to the simultaneity of the measurable and the imperceptible. Vertical and horizontal planes bisect and animate the space, inviting observation from both close and distant perspectives.


    Jamais Vu, 2018, is a site-specific installation that expands on Koji Ryui's previous experimentation with geometric abstraction and the spatial potential of ordinary objects. Using poly-coated wire from ordinary garment drying racks and and spherical objects, Ryui has created a three-dimensional drawing that resembles a theoretical chart of the cosmos, or perhaps the complex molecular structure of some unknown substance. The formation hangs suspended above a collection of found crystal and glass vessels - domestic and commercial objects that Ryui has transformed into instruments, using them to create an ethereal soundscape that floats in the atmosphere.



    Ai Weiwei's Crystal Ball, 2017, is a sculptural installation that consists of a large glass sphere cradled by a nest of life jackets. Associated with fortune-telling and clairvoyance, a crystal ball or orbuculum is thought to show images that predict the future. Crystal Ball reveals a world inverted: a chaotic reality in which millions of people have been forced to leave their homes to escape war and conflict, their futures now uncertain. 


    Tanya Goel's layered paintings index and map an archive of material collected from demolished houses built in a modernist style prevalent in Delhi from the 1950s to the 1970s. The artist exhibits Index: pages (builder's drawing), 2018, a sequence of ultramarine blue wall drawings set against a finely-drawn grid, which resonate with the repeated permutation, convergence and rigour that are central to her practice. 



    Marco Fusinato's Constellations, 2015/2018, exemplifies the duality of his work, combining noise with an examination of human action and decision-making. A purpose-built, freestanding wall divides the gallery space into two equal sections. The entrance half of the gallery space appears completely empty. Venturing to the other side of the wall, visitors encounter a baseball bat attached to the structure with a long steel chain. Visitors are invited to pick up the bat and strike the wall once, and wait for the outcome. 


    The Views, 2016, a four-channel video installation, is one of the final works Chen Shaoxiong created prior to his death in 2016. Featuring his recognisable animation style, the work documents everyday occurrences - specifically the views witnessed from the artist's hospital window. Projected onto curved screens suspended from the ceiling, the work offers fragmented glimpses of ordinary scenes imbued with solemn overtones.

    After a career deeply committed to political and social change, Chen seemed to have found a resolution, choosing to focus on the ordinary in The Views. The fleeting images and flickering moments in time elicit a subjective nostalgia, evoking personal associations and intimate memories. 


    Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt began working collaboratively under the name Semiconductor in 1999. Using a scientific technique known as analogue modelling, where pressure and motion are applied to layers of particles to simulate tectonic forces, Semiconductor has created a five-channel immersive experience in Earthworks, 2016. As the name suggests, the computer-generated animation uses seismic data from the formation of landscapes and terrain around the world - glaciers, earthquakes, volcanoes and human-made topographies - which is translated into audio that is both a soundtrack to the piece and the method of controlling the animation. 


    Laurent Grasso's latest film, Untitled, 2018, contemplates the notion of the immaterial. The video was produced in the area surrounding the Aboriginal community of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, in consultation with Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation. An attempt to extricate the latent narratives held within the land, the film embodies the felt presences that exist in the natural world, giving form to intangible energies. This is suggested through the floating entities overlaying the footage, which present the Dreaming places as vital and conscious forces. The work represents an animalistic worldview, illustrating the interconnectedness of the visible and invisible. 

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