18th Biennale of Sydney on Cockatoo Island

Biennale of Sydney (BOS) is a festival of contemporary art held once in every two years since 1973. For 18th Biennale of Sydney, all our relations, there are 5 prestigious venues presenting all different art exhibitions and performances, such as Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Cockatoo Island.

This article is about my visit to the World heritage, Cockatoo Island, for 18th BOS.

Cockatoo island initially was called island Waremah by Australian Aboriginal people. It was a rich base of fishing for Aboriginal people who rode in their bark canoes that was made from red gum trees on the island. After the arrival of European settlers, the island became a penal establishment and prisons in 19th century. Gradually ship-building activities flourished there in 20th century, and the island served as a major site for naval factories and dockyard facilities in WW2. In 1992 the dockyard and factories were closed, machinery were sold off and residents were cleared. Though some buildings were demolished, most of the constructions on the island remained. Nowadays this beautiful island, as an national heritage, stood emptily in the middle of Sydney Harbour mainly for recreational purposes. It holds several festivals and major events throughout the year. Camping and other holiday service are available to visitors as well.

There is a free ferry for every 40 minutes every day from 10am till 5pm between Cockatoo Island and Circular quay during BOS period. I boarded the free ferry at pier 2/3, which is another venue for 18th BOS. Pier 2/3, together with other constructions at Walsh Bay, is part of Sydney’s historical waterfront precinct. It was build around 1900 and was first designed by an engineer, Henry Dean Walsh. The use of concere seawall, which stopped rats from living in the sea wall and infecting surrounding residents, was to adress the bubonic plague of 1900.

Also there are paid ferries from Circular quay to Cockatoo Island through the whole year. If there is no pecific event going on, you could hardly see any people on the island.

pictures of CBD and Opera House from the ferry:

Arrival: a sense of wilderness and waste … I think inclement weather suits the island best.

Habitation on the island has stopped long enough to reveal its wild and natural look, at the same time mechanical shadows are everywhere. There are lot sof wild and proud seagulls, which often appear at a suprising time and location.

Grand view of the island
[the following photos are contributed by my friend Nicolas. For more his great shots follow “nicholasctan” on instagram.]
Beautiful residential ares for senior navy officers in the past. Now they are not in use.
[This photo below is contributed by my friend Nik. For more his great shots follow “nicholasctan” on instagram]


Ocean of flowers by a Chinese artist, Hongbo Li. This is a popular project and limits the number of visitors that can entry the exhibition room at the same time. If you are there on weekends, usually there will be a long queue. [photograph: Nicholas Tan]

Unfolded Sky by Alwar Balasubramaniam. This is a model of the space between our palms when we hold our hands together.

untitled(oysters and tea cups) by Jonathan Jones [photograph: Nicholas Tan]

The Scar Project by Nadia Myre, 2005-ongoing. Visitors were invited to sit down in a cozy room with needles and strings of different materials offered, to make something on a cotton board based on the theme “scar”. After finishing the work, visitors could write the related stories in a piece of paper with a code identical to the cotton board they used, and inserted the paper into a log book. In this way visitors can remain anonymous if they want to. Some stories might be selected and edited into the artis’s book. This is my “scar”.

Como llegar a las masas? by Ricardo Lanzarini. One of my favorite exhibitions in 18th BOS. The artist spent weeks in the room drawing comics all over the walls and corners at both large scale with heavy strikes and tiny scale with thin, almost invisible lines. When you can see the large and obvious drawings you wouldn’t be albe to see the tiny drawings, even if you are aware the tiny drawings are at a specific spot. I like how this artwork addresses the indeterminate line between genuine information and propaganda. I think there is no such a thing as truth. Truth changes because of time, space and people. The only truth is right now how we feel, think and do. Our attempt on grasping the truth is like a painter drawing a banana with the real object right in front of him so that the painter can constantly look at the object and draw something as close as possible to the banana. [photograph: Nicholas Tan]  

Ways to Roverto by Ewa Partum. English letters were scattered on the yard ground. The first time when I was there it was windy and inclement, letters were just blown around as if the wind were whispering some lost stories.
For the 2nd time when I was there, many people, especially couples, were playing around with letters, putting phrases like “X loves Y” on noticeable spots around the yard. Of course we phrased things in an unconventional way :p.

The yard where the letters were scattered. Inside that room there is an art exhibition as well.


Cloud Parking in Linz, Cloud Installation #11060 by Fujiko Nakaya [photograph: Nicholas Tan]

Other arts projections were held in warehouses. Arm Chair and other projections by Robin Rhode

Besides the exhibitions in the photos above, there are much more things unmentioned  in this article. Not only the art exhibitions but also the island itself is hauntingly beautiful. Note that things can be really busy on the island on weekends, especially for free ferry services. Also NSW Arts Gallery has some AWESOME art exhibitions going on at the moment, such as an entire traditional Chinese room made of needle work, and a huge map of models of  metropolis made out of bacon power. It seems live dance performances would be held at Carriageworks, one of the five venues for 18th BOS,  in Sept.

On 4th of July I didn’t wake up till 9.30am, which was the time when I should arrive at the wharf to meet up with my friend … By the time I got to the island the day started getting dark and windy. In the inclement weather I was fascinated by those rusted mechanicals where seagulls rested and moss grew. The sound waves … indefinite horizons … a glimpse of the city Sydney… Lovely but empty houses, tennis courts, gardens … The first time when I arrived there I just walked around the island rather than paying attention to any art exhibition. The second visit on 8th of July was much more special. Fine weather. Walking with silly smiles on my face. Being attacked by jealousy birds. Watching sunset. Playing letters. Laugh, and love.
Waiting for the last free ferry in a long queue. A plane passed by on the sky like an UFO.

For dinner we went to a Myanmar restaurant where quality meals are at a very good price. For its geographical location Myanmar cuisine is influenced by all Chinese, Indian and Thai cultures. We had three types of cuisine all at once … couldn’t be more satisfied.

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