Introduction by Mami Kataoka and Natalie King
The 21st Biennale of Sydney (BoS) (16 March-11 June 2018) is titled SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium and Engagement and examines the state of 'superposition' by exploring how it might operate in the world today. The word is derived from the world of quantum mechanics and seeks to link the notions of equilibrium and engagement. In quantum theory, it refers to the ability of electrons to occupy multiple states at once, to simultaneously take opposing paths and end up in different places.
We are surrounded by conflicting ideas across all levels of humanity: different cultures; readings of nature and the universe; political ideologies and systems of government; interpretations of human history, the history of art and definitions of contemporary art.
The artists in the 21st BoS have been chosen to offer a panoramic view of how opposing interpretations can come together in a state of equilibrium. Through an intuitive and organic process, artists have been situated in each venue and loosely connected with the nature of the space and its history.
Ocula and the Biennale of Sydney are pleased to work together to release a series of Ocula Conversations with seven of the artists participating in the Biennale, one from each of the seven Biennale locations: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Artspace, Carriageworks, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Opera House, and Cockatoo Island. The artists are Brook Andrew, Michaël Borremans, Michael Stevenson, Akira Takayama, Miriam Cahn, Rayyanne Tabet, and Anya Gallaccio, each offering in-depth reflections on their varied contributions from the formation of concepts to the realisation of artwork. These artists each came into the seven venues for different reasons, and they are not intended to be emblematic, but rather play an important role that resonates with other artists and the space in a state of co-existence.
Numerous works at the Art Gallery of New South Wales allude to perspectives on abstract and figurative art, archiving, documenting and an expanding definition of art forms. The Museum of Contemporary Art incorporates the seemingly opposing ideas of minimalism, aesthetics and the handmade, while referencing female labour, authorship and collective production. Artspace, a site for critical discourse around art and curation, functions as a microcosm of the curatorial concept. Carriageworks presents artworks that refer to diverse ideas on nature, natural and supernatural phenomena, geography, geology, landscape and land ownership.
Cockatoo Island, by contrast, is a former convict settlement and shipyard and the Biennale spans its breadth, from the monumental Turbine Hall to the convict-built prison. Here are works that resonate with the history of the site, as well as ideas of art-making, labour and experimental processes, embodying a place of production as opposed to a museum space. At 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, two artists respond to the intricate issue of community engagement and the history of migration. Finally, the Sydney Opera House, where the Biennale of Sydney was inaugurated in 1973, contains works by artists who respond to its distinguished architectural space and the life of its architect, Jørn Utzon.
While the artists represented in the 21st BoS do not literally represent the notion of superposition, in some of the works multiplicities and interdependent states are revealed by way of alternative history and stories, presenting ambiguous states of interpretation, introducing multicultural states of Sydney, and so on. In doing so, there is an overlapping confluence of artists, ideas and concurrent states of being.
Mami Kataoka is the artistic director of the 21st Biennale of Sydney. She has held the position of chief curator of the Mori Art Museum (MAM) in Tokyo since 2009, and senior curator since 2003. At MAM, Kataoka has curated numerous notable exhibitions including 'Roppongi Crossing' (survey show of contemporary Japanese art) (2004, 2013), 'Sensing Nature: Perception of Nature in Japan' (2010); as well as major survey shows of prominent artists in Asia such as Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Ai Weiwei, Lee Bul, Makoto Aida, Lee Mingwei and N.S. Harsha.
Professor Natalie King is the guest editor for Ocula Magazine's 21st Biennale of Sydney series of Conversations. King is currently the Enterprise Professorial Fellow at Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. In 2017, King was curator and editor of 'Tracey Moffatt: My Horizon', Australian Pavilion at 57th Venice Biennale. Widely published in arts media and a Member of the International Association of Art Critics, Paris, King has conducted in-depth interviews with Ai Weiwei, Pussy Riot, Candice Breitz, Joseph Kosuth, Destiny Deacon, Massimiliano Gioni, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Pipilotti Rist, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bill Henson, Jitish Kallat, Hou Hanru and Cai Guo-Qiang amongst others.