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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

A Guide to the 21st Biennale of Sydney: From the Opera House to Woolloomooloo's Artspace

Navigate mixed media from Ai Weiwei, a Biennale retrospective and works by 70 international and local artists at this festival of remarkable art and ideas.
By Katie Mayor
January 29, 2018
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A Guide to the 21st Biennale of Sydney: From the Opera House to Woolloomooloo's Artspace

Navigate mixed media from Ai Weiwei, a Biennale retrospective and works by 70 international and local artists at this festival of remarkable art and ideas.
By Katie Mayor
January 29, 2018
  shares

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When the 21st Biennale spreads its artistic arsenal across seven venues in Sydney this March, we plan to be ready. 70 artists from across the globe will be exhibiting their eclectic works under the theme of Superposition: Equilibrium & Engagement in celebration of the 45th anniversary of this explosive festival. In partnership with the Biennale of Sydney, we've curated three different itineraries to arm you with everything you need to navigate this vast and varied program. But let's not forget that an inquisitive, creative-focused brain needs nourishment, so we've thrown in some top food and drink joints nearby as well.

The Biennale and the Sydney Opera House have been firm friends since the first festival in 1973, and this year, it's where the magic is set to begin again. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei will present his keynote speech here, and the iconic building will be the focus of the innovative events within. This itinerary also takes in the Art Gallery of NSW and ends in Woolloomooloo at Artspace in the historic Gunnery Building.

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THE OPERA HOUSE

Ai Weiwei in Human Flow, 2017.

AI WEIWEI'S KEYNOTE SPEECH

Known for his gutsy fusion of art and activism, Ai Weiwei is one of the world's most spoken about artists and a huge coup for the 21st Biennale. In conversation with festival director Mami Kataoka, Weiwei will speak about how his work has changed since he left his native China, his artistic focus on forced migration and much more. A screening of his Oscar-nominated newest film Human Flow will follow, which features 23 countries shot over one year in a powerful exploration of the refugee crisis that is gripping the globe.

Rayanne Tabet: The Dead Sea in Three Parts, 2013. Photograph: Sebastiano Pellion.

WORKS BY OLIVER BEER AND RAYANNE TABET

In a series of original performances, Sydney's most iconic building will become part of the art program — in rather unusual ways. British artist Oliver Beer has utilised his orchestral training and has been researching the building with a peculiar method: by getting the building to sing back to him. He will enlist local vocalists to sing at the building in spaces where it will then sing back to them. And those who love a good mystery can join Lebanese architect Rayyane Tabet as he tells some of the unresolved mysteries of the Sydney Opera House through performance.

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PITSTOP: POOLSIDE CAFE AT ANDREW (BOY) CHARLTON POOL

After a saunter along the water's edge and through the Royal Botanic Gardens — keeping an eye out for the rare White Pied Currawong along the way — take a poolside pitstop for a quick refresh. A swim, a smoothie or a sneaky sip of wine may be just the trick to keep your artful eye astute. The menu at Poolside Cafe is fresh and appetising and served alongside some killer views. Tucked into the back of The Domain, the pool boasts sights of the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, and from here, you'll only have a mere hop and skip along a leafy path to your next stop at the Art Gallery of NSW.

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ART GALLERY OF NSW

Semiconductor: Earthworks, 2016. Photograph: Semiconductor.

THE BIENNALE ARCHIVE

It may be the 21st Biennale, but given it is on every two years, it has been kickin' up the Sydney art dust for 45 years. (We're questioning the maths, too.) Either way, that's a lot of creative events and exhibitions, especially given its nature to expand out into many venues across the city. This year, the Art Gallery of NSW will house a fascinating archival retrospective on the history of the Biennale, showing off more than four decades of worldwide works that have come to Sydney. The venue is especially fitting for such a display, given the AGNSW first partnered with the Biennale in 1976.

CATPC (Congolese Plantation Workers art League) with Baloji and Renzo Martens: The ceremony celebrating the repatriation of the White Cube in Lusanga, 2017. Photograph: Thomas Nolf.

WORKS BY 17 ARTISTS

17 artists will be on display throughout the gallery. Painter and Wathaurung elder Marlene Gilson sheds light on the indigenous connection to famed historic events like the Eureka Stockade and Melbourne Cup. Cambodian art collective Sa Sa Art Projects takes a look into the history of Phnom Penh's destroyed White Building, while Indian artist N.S. Harsha is behind a twelve-metre-long mirrored display made of cardboard and teak elephants, sure to be an Instagram favourite.

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PITSTOP: FRISCO HOTEL

As you make your way from AGNSW to Artspace, just around the corner from your next stop, you'll find this brightly renovated hotel with an ace balcony overlooking the street and with views of Woolloomooloo Wharf. Like any good nautical-styled bar, rum-based drinks keep the theme alive, with cheeky cocktails like the Sailors Mistress, Summer Fling and Frisco's Spiced Lemonade. Frisco Hotel has a casual menu of pub greats. And if you're just stopping in for a pre-show snack, you'll struggle to decide what to order with the grazing board, pumpkin arancini and chicken tulips with smoked chipotle aioli and slaw all on the menu.

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ARTSPACE

Tiffany Chung: water dreamscape — the gangster named Jacky, the sleepers, and the exodus, 2017.

AI WEIWEI AND FOUR INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS

You wouldn't be blamed for heading to Artspace on a direct mission to check out Ai Weiwei's Crystal Ball, focused on looking smack into the future we could be facing on the other side of our current humanitarian crisis. But while you're there, discover some other works created using polar media and by four other artists. There are the frescoes of Indian painter Tanya Goel, an embroidered textile map of diaspora by Vietnamese creative Tiffany Chung and video projects by Belgian artist Michael Borremans and China's Geng Xue who will present Poetry of Michelangelo, 2015.

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The 21st Biennale of Sydney sets up across the city on March 16 and will run until June 11. Find out more about the program here, and check out our guides from the MCA to Cockatoo Island and Haymarket's 4A to Carriageworks.

Lead image: Ai Weiwei: Law of the Journey, 2017. Photograph: Ai Weiwei Studio.

Published on January 29, 2018 by Katie Mayor

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