REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #1
Arrival, 21 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
Early this morning I fly into Sydney from California, and take the ferry to Cockatoo Island, the largest island in the Sydney Harbour.
Cockatoo Island. Image courtesy Airview Online
Here I have been allocated a room in one of the upper island’s Heritage Houses, where a group of Biennale artists are being housed while they complete their installations for the opening of the 18th Biennale on 27 June. I had requested that I stay on the island as I want to understand more fully about why the Co-Artistic Directors, Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, have chosen it as such a key site for their Biennale.
The ferry takes me past the famous Sydney Opera House that opened in 1973.
View of Sydney Opera House from ferry. Photograph: Moira Roth
And under the Sydney Harbour Bridge that opened in 1932.
View of Sydney Harbour Bridge from ferry. Photograph: Moira Roth
Within a short time, I arrive at Cockatoo Island
Parramatta Wharf, Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Moira Roth
and make my way to the upper island - with its array of dilapidated buildings and renovated ‘heritage’ houses - where I find myself immediately immersed in the Island’s earlier history.
For this history, see www.cockatooisland.gov.au/about
In 1839, Cockatoo Island was established as a penal settlement where the prisoners were housed and worked under appalling conditions. Then it was used briefly for a reformatory school and orphanage and reverted back to a jail between 1888 and 1908.
As a lad of ten years of age, I well remember the place with its gloomy prison buildings perched high upon its treeless sides, the even-pacing, red-coated sentries, the sonorous clang of the prison bell, and the long line of wretched convicts marching to and from their toil in the dry dock or among the sandstone quarries. - Louis Becke, 1899
Over the last century, Cockatoo Island became Australia’s biggest shipyard - building ships and repairing them, modernizing submarines, etc. - until the shipyard was closed in 1992.
In 2010 UNESCO chose Cockatoo Island as one of its eleven Australian World Heritage sites to represent ‘surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labor of convicts.’
And now, in the winter of 2012, the upper and lower parts of Cockatoo Island - with their Convict, Docks, Historic Residences, Industrial, and Ship Design Precincts, and Powerhouse and Northern Apron areas - are the home for an amazing group of installations and performances as part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney, which the two Biennale curators have selected for the Island’s exhibition theme of ‘Stories, Senses and Spheres.’
In the Biennale Guide, I read that:
‘Stories, Senses and Spheres continues many of the ideas explored in other Biennale venues by opening up the senses to water, wind, earth and their embedded meanings, in collaborative and interactive projects that have shared storytelling and caring at their core.’
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #2, Part 1
Cecilia Vicuña and Ria Verhaeghe, upper island, 21 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
I spend the day wandering around in a daze caused not only by jetlag but also by being overwhelmed with the magnificent displays of art concealed in these upper island historical buildings.
With Cecilia Vicuña, I visit her Quipa Austral in Building 19, a two-storey structure of 1916-17 that was used for stowage and seasoning of timber.
Read more about Cecilia’s work in my Gleanings #25: http://moirarothsgleanings.tumblr.com
Building 19, Cockatoo Island, with Cecilia Vicuña’s Quipu Astral, 2012. Photograph: Moira Roth
We climb its stairs to the second floor and wander through the Quipa Austral installation, touching the strains of wool and listening to the sounds.
Cecilia Vicuña. Photograph: Moira Roth
Cecilia Vicuña, Quipu Astral, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photographs: Moira Roth
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #2, Part 2
Then I walk over to the chapel of the old Convict Precinct, where I watch Ria Verhaeghe completing her installation of Living with Cuddles.
Ria Verhaeghe and Living with Cuddles, 2012. Photographs: Moira Roth
We talk briefly, but mainly I admiringly watch.
I know from studying her webpage (www.riaverhaeghe.be/biography.php) that Verhaeghe was born in 1950 in Belgium, and had had a career in welfare (nursing). Then in 1988 she decided to dedicate herself fully to her art practice, and started on a huge project of ‘assembling an alternative image bank’ of some 25,000 digitally accessible images, ‘ordered by keywords, colours, dates and groups, in an attempt to measure another dimension of newspaper pictures.’
I recall too that on her artist page on the website it explains that in Living with Cuddles ‘her use of protective materials, such as cotton, hair, cloths, newspaper and latex … refer to her experiences as a nurse. Her installation in the chapel of the old Convict Precinct on Cockatoo Island includes “threads” and “cuddles” made from piles of newspapers, consisting as a kind of recuperation act, which in a sense tries to save what vanishes between the folds of existence, rehabilitating what is lost, what is overlooked, set aside – an unrecognised present. Covered with latex, her long threads can be seen as a kind of prayer that connects the installation with the webwork of the world.’
I resolve to come back in a few days to see the finished version of Ria Verhaeghe’s imaginative and poignant installation.
Ria Verhaeghe, Living with Cuddles, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND # 3
Dawn, 22 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
I wake up at dawn, and stand on the balcony of the Heritage House, looking at the sunrise, experiencing a slight wind, and listening to the cries of birds.
It reminds me of my solitary experiences of dawn on the Aurora ship voyage of this year from San Francisco to Sydney in January/February, and of my encounters on this voyage with water, sky, earth and history that I wrote about in a 22-part series called ‘Reflections from the Aurora’ (http://moirarothsgleanings.tumblr.com/archive).
And now, here I am again musing on water, sky, earth and history on Cockatoo Island in Australia, and wondering what today’s wanderings will bring me.
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #4, Part 1
From the upper to the lower island, 22 June, 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
In the morning I sit writing in my notebook outside the Heritage House, where I am staying, and then wander, in a rather dreamlike state, down the stairs from the upper island to continue my search for the island’s ‘Stories, Senses and Spheres.’
Moira Roth and stairs to the upper Island, Cockatoo Island. Photographs: Moira Roth
I make my way to the Turbine Hall, pausing to study Catherine de Zegher’s Biennale catalogue essay in which she writes that:
‘The immense Turbine Hall at the centre of the industrial shipyard complex can be see as an axis in the overall Biennale project, as a space where all senses assemble and participating voices gather in a theatrical composition initiated by Craigie Horsfield and realised with Reinier Rietveld - its title Confusion (2012).’
I enter the Turbine Hall to find Reinier Rietveld and Craigie Horsfield at work on their Confusion installation.
The Turbine Hall, Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Moira Roth
Read more about Confusion on the Biennale website: http://bos18.com/artist?id=86
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #4, Part 2
Fujiko Nakaya is equally hard at work on her huge Living Chasm – Cockatoo Island installation, and I go to stand outside the building to admire its billowing ‘fog’ clouds.
Fujiko Nakaya, Living Chasm – Cockatoo Island, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Moira Roth
Read more about Living Chasm – Cockatoo Island on the Biennale website: http://bos18.com/artist?id=26
I wander through the spaces beyond the Turbine Hall and come across many other artists at work, with their installations in various stages of completion.
Among them is Monika Grzymala (a Polish-born artist, now living in Berlin), who is absorbed in the finishing touches of The River.
Monika Grzymala. Photograph: Moira Roth
Grzymala created this huge site-specific installation, composed of cotton rag paper, branches, grass and vine, in collaboration with Euraba Artists and Papermakers - a group of Goomeroi artists in Boggabilla, who specialize in handmade paper.
Monika Grzymala, The River, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Moira Roth
For more information and photographs of The River, see the Biennale website:
Monika Grzymala, The River, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist.
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #5, Part 1
Khaled Sabsabi, 22 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
Cecilia Vicuña and Khaled Sabsabi. Photograph: Moira Roth
In the Biennale office on the lower island, Cecilia Vicuña introduces me to Khaled Sabsabi, with whom I have already had a series of email exchanges. He was born in 1965 in Tripoli, Lebanon, and, at age 12, immigrated with his family to Australia to escape the Lebanese civil war that had begun in 1975. For many years he has lived in Sydney, although he also travels abroad frequently.
For more information about the artist see: http://bos18.com/artist?id=97
We decide to spend the afternoon together, which will begin with his showing me his two video installations on the island. (There is a third work by him, Air Land, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia).
First we seek out Nonabel, 2006 (a single channel, 3-minute video) in Building 34, which has ‘Air Raid Shelter’ inscribed on the door - an example of one of the many of the island’s historical buildings.
Building 34: Air Raid Shelter. Photographs: Moira Roth
But technicians are setting up the equipment here, so we wind our way up the island to Biripi in Building 11, which consists of a ‘bunker room’ with literal bunk seats in it.
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #5, Part 2
Building 11: Free Overseers Quarters, with Khaled Sabsabi’s Biripi, 2011. Photographs: Moira Roth
We sit watching the exquisite dance ceremony in red, black and yellow (the colours of the aboriginal flag) and listening to the powerful didgeridoo music.
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #5, Part 3
After this we have a long talk, sitting on a bench that faces the Sydney Harbour Bridge, on the upper island, near the Heritage Houses.
Photographs: Moira Roth
Here Sabsabi tells me about the circumstances of creating this 2011 single-channel Biripi video.
He had been invited by the Biripi Nation people, who live in New South Wales, to make the video after he had met Auntie and Elder Louise Davis during a residency there. (The two artists exchanged presents – she gave him a painting.)
When Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster saw the video, they immediately wanted to include it in the Biennale of Sydney. Sabsabi’s reaction to this, however, was that he must first meticulously check to see if he had approval from the Biripi Nation, and so went back in person to the area to seek this permission - which was gladly granted him.
This leads us to a rich conversation about trust and its role in other examples of Sabsabi’s work in different communities, notably, since 2010, with Sufi practioners - men, women and children - in both Australia (Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania) and with his cousin in Tripoli, Lebanon (Sabsabi has also filmed footage in Cyprus and Turkey). As we talk, I think about his far-reaching travels, exhibitions and collaborations in different parts of the world (e.g. Berlin, Shanghai, Beirut, Poland, Argentina, Colombia and Lebanon) and how deeply rooted he is, despite this, in the local community of Sydney.
I am also stuck, yet again, generally by the themes of not only storytelling but of trust between Biennale artists and cultures different from their own, witness Khaled Sabsabi and the work between Monika Grzymala and the Euraba Artists and Papermakers. It reminds me too of two Gleanings exchanges I have had: with Bouchra Khalili (the Moroccan-French artists who worked with illegal immigrants in five countries) and Arin Rungjung (the Thai artist who worked with children in Rwanda, orphaned by the civil war there).
Bouchra Khalili, Gleanings #20:
Arin Rungjung Gleanings #10, Part 1 and 2:
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #6
Daan Roosegaarde’s Dune Xi, 25 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
My wanderings (usually alone) on the island continue. Today I have set aside the morning for the lower island and the afternoon for the upper island.
Dog-Leg Tunnel, Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Moira Roth.
On the lower island near the Industrial Precinct is the Dog-Leg Tunnel, an air raid shelter, complete with a first aid station, built in 1942 during World War II. Here Dune X by Daan Roosegaarde (born 1979 in the Netherlands, and now living in the Netherlands and China) is being installed. On Studio Roosegaarde’s website, the Dune X installation is described as ‘an interactive landscape of light.’ (http://www.studioroosegaarde.net/project/dune-x/)
In the tunnel, I talk with Christiaan Jansen, the studio’s Head of Design, and he tells me that 41 computers are to be used to run the Dune technology. He is involved in the finishing touches on the installation, and shortly Biennale visitors will be able to activate (through their movements and sound as they walk down the long tunnel) Dune’s lights and sounds, creating ‘a true performance of techno-poetry.’
Daan Roosegaarde, Dune X, 2007–12. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Moira Roth
For more information on Dune X, see the Biennale website: http://bos18.com/artist?id=93
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #7
Ewa Partum, Prison Courtyard, upper island, 25 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
In the early afternoon I watch Ewa Partum (born 1945 in Poland, and now living in Berlin) perform as she scatters letters in the courtyard.
Ewa Partum, Installation Metapoetry “A la recherche du temps perdu” according to Marcel Proust, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist.
I watch knowing the magical background of this simple action, a background that is described on Partum’s artist page on the Biennale website: http://bos18.com/artist?id=45
‘The interactive Metapoetry of Polish artist Ewa Partum is based on Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past). As Partum selects letters from the book’s pages and enlarges them so as to scatter them around the Prison Courtyard of Cockatoo Island, she encourages passers-by to collect the random letters and to form new words and phrases in an act of ‘linguistic liberation’, giving new meaning and context to the literary work in the present. Together with the artist, visitors can discern a connection in a fluency of words.’
Later I return to the courtyard. The artist is gone, but the letters remain for the visitors to do as they wish with them.
Ewa Partum, Installation Metapoetry “A la recherche du temps perdu” according to Marcel Proust, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Moira Roth
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #8
Jananne Al-Ani’s Shadow Sites II, upper island, 25 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
I sit in the bleak space of Building #5 with Jananne Al-Ani (born 1966 in Iraq, and now living in England), as we watch her mesmerizing film, Shadow Sites II with its relentless slow imagery and sounds. It stirs up in me so many memories of and questions about wars - from one that I have personally experienced literally overhead (the bombing of London in World War II) to the many wars that have been physically far away from me (among them wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq).
Jananne Al-Ani, Shadow Sites II, 2011. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Moira Roth
Later in the day, I reread Al-Ani’s powerful artist statement on the Biennale webpage:
My early work focused on orientalist representations of the Middle East in western visual culture and particularly of enduring myths and fantasies surrounding the veil.
Since 2007, I have been developing a new body of work, The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People, which explores the disappearance of the body in the contested and highly charged landscapes of the Middle East. The project includes single screen films Shadow Sites I (2010) and Shadow Sites II (2011).
Frequently depicted as a desert, an exotic place with no history and no population, the Middle Eastern landscape has become familiar to westerners as the blank backdrop to military action. In response to the use of aerial reconnaissance and satellite navigation devices in the 1991 Desert Storm campaign and the 2003 Gulf War, both films adopt the vantage point of such missions, while taking an altogether different viewpoint of the land surveyed. Scanning the surface or burrowing into the earth, the films excavate what cannot otherwise be seen on the ground. Landscapes disappear and reappear as one image slowly dissolves into another, like a mineshaft tunneling deep into a substrate of memories preserved over time.’
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #9
Khadija Baker, upper island, 25 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
I continue my slow wanderings on the upper island. I visit the haunting two-room space of Khadija Baker (born 1973 in Syria, and now living in Canada) accompanied by my friend, Maura Reilly, the art historian and curator.
Khadija Baker, Coffin-Nest, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island.
Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Sebastian Kriete
In one room is the sculpture of a pregnant woman whose shadow on the floor is made out of white wool.
Khadija Baker, Quand vous réveillez les esprits, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Cockatoo Island.
Courtesy the artist. Photographs: Moira Roth
Maura Reilly and Khadija Baker. Photograph: Moira Roth
In the other room are clothes scattered around the floor. I know that Baker had been inspired to make the first version of the Coffin-Nest (2004) installation, with its scattered clothing, by seeing a documentary about a mass grave exhumation in Iraq. I had read on the Biennale website that its ‘items of clothing were the only means of identifying the dead. Collecting clothes from friends and family in Syria and Montreal, Baker symbolically wove them into a nest-shaped coffin for herself.’
For more information about Khadija Baker and to see a video of her performance, see the Biennale website: http://bos18.com/artist?id=19
Now on Cockatoo Island, the three of us stand talking for a while until we fall silent, listening to the message of the two rooms. Then Baker tells us about the silent performance, that she is about to create for the Biennale.
Postscript, email from Khadija Baker, July 12, 2012
[BECK – I will send these images to you in separate emails. AK]
Khadija Baker, My little voice can’t lie 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on the Biennale Free Ferry. Courtesy the artist. Photographs: Khadija Baker
‘Through this performance the action of recycling appears, similar to most of my works. In addition to materials, I recycle sound, stories, and feelings. Through this action, I wish to explore the relation between personal and common memory space that is usually accumulated within time, and I work on this shared space of memory that everybody might share. I suppose that connection and communication had already started in the past in many ways before technology, through war, travel, or immigration. However, the way they are translated is through memory, which is more intense now. Common memory is much more present, and sharing it is much faster. As a result, awareness of this memory is more available, and the space of common memory is intensely present.
My little voice can’t lie is a performance based on spoken words, in which I perform a silent moment, where I stand and let people listen to spoken text through my braided hair. After collecting stories of displaced women I wrote a text based on their stories including myself.
I performed on the Biennale Free Ferry, sitting and sharing the story for six days and three hours every day and every time was a different experience; sitting still and statuesque, I awaited listeners to collect part of the experience. Who will choose to take a moment to listen? Do the stories embedded in my hair actually have an impact if nobody listens to them? I had moments when no one would listen, then I was very connected to the surrounding and more aware of what I was holding and the need to be shared increased.’
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #10
Nadia Myre & Convict Precinct, upper island, 25 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
I continue to wander through the Convict Precinct, and visit Nadia Myre’s two rooms.
Read more about Myre on her webpage:
The Precinct is set around a courtyard and the artists involved, as de Zegher describes in her Biennale catalogue essay, are ‘all women sharing a sense of compassion for others and working through wounding experiences toward healing.’ As I look at Myre’s Scar Project, I keep returning in my mind to the nearby work in this Precinct of the other artists, and their related themes.
To Khadija Baker (see Reflections from Cockatoo Island, #9).
To Ria Verhaeghe (see Reflections from Cockatoo Island, #2).
And to Everlyn Nicodemus and her challenging Bystander on Probation series.
Moira Roth with Everlyn Nicodemus’ Bystander on Probation, Photograph: Moira Roth
Read more about Everlyn in Gleanings #21, Parts 1 and 2
I find Nadia Myre helping visitors as they work (sewing and writing) on their contributions to the Scar Project that she began in 2005 in Canada and the USA.
Nadia Myre on Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Moira Roth
On the wall are finished canvases made by earlier visitors.
Nadia Myre, The Scar Project, 2005–ongoing. Installation view of 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photographs: Moira Roth
We talk about this powerful project that has consumed much of her time over the last few years. Myre (born 1974 in Canada, where she still lives, of indigenous Algonquin ancestry) tells me that she now has 900 canvases in the series, and I try to imagine the astonishing collection of memories, feelings and histories that this represents.
As we speak I understand more deeply her artist’s statement on the Biennale webpage:
The Scar Project (2005–ongoing) is an ongoing interactive art installation where people are invited to create representations of their scars – whether physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual. Participants sew the shape of their scar onto canvas using various fibres and threads, then write down the story of how they got their scars, and how their wounds effected or changed them. Over the last seven years, I have led Scar Project labs with diverse groups of people in a number of contexts – art galleries, youth and cultural centres, prison healing circles, public schools, and so on. During this time, I have gathered more than 800 scar canvases and stories, exhibiting collections in galleries and museums in Canada and the USA. I see this as a ‘slow research’ project – a grassroots survey of how people describe their wounds, both linguistically and symbolically. It has become a study in symbology and raised many questions: Can signs describe hurt across cultures and continents? Will regional specificities surface in the scarred canvases and texts? Will the symbols collected in Australia differ, mirror or resonate with the existing ones from North America? Ultimately, The Scar Project is a vehicle for sharing personal traumas in a space, which is simultaneously contemplative and transformative.
Postscript, 16 August 2012
Today Nadia Myre sends me photographs she has just received of the final Scar Project installation on Cockatoo Island.
Nadia Myre, The Scar Project, 2005–ongoing. Installation view of 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island.
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #11
Erin Manning, Sachiko Abe and Tiffany Singh, 27 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
Before entering the huge space of Stitching Time, I study the wall label carefully that describes the history and thinking behind this project conceived by Erin Manning (born 1969 in Ottawa, Canada and now living in Montreal), who is a practicing artist, philosopher, writer and Director of Concordia University’s SenseLab: ‘a laboratory for thought in motion’ (http://senselab.ca).
I am struck by the label’s emphasis on the collaborative nature of the project and its shifting ‘sewing’ sites from Montreal to Helsinki to Australia:
Project team: Pia Ednie-Brown, Charlotte Farrell, Evelyn Kwok, Brian Massumi, Lauren Osmond, Toni Pape, Leslie Plumb, Michael Richardson, Bianca Scliar, Samantha Spurr, Montreal sewing circle, Sydney sewing circle, Helsinki sewing circle, volunteers from UTS, and UTS Interior and Spatial Design team
. This project was assisted by the School of Architecture and Design and the Design Research Institute, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and the School of Design, University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Erin Manning’s wall label. Photograph: Moira Roth
Then I enter its world of shifting time, and am totally immersed in looking at swaying fabrics, with their attached magnets and watching excited children at play outfitting themselves in the provided garments.
Erin Manning, Stitching Time, 2012. Installation views of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photographs: Moira Roth
On Manning’s page on the Biennale website is a most illuminating short video in which she describes the evolution and complexity of this bewitching (almost literally, so) project.
As I stand here, I reflect on another participatory experience of bewitchment.
I remember a few days ago the pleasure of meeting Sachiko Abe (born 1975 in Japan, where she still lives) and entering her equally bewitching (albeit smaller and more intimate than Manning’s) world of Cut Papers #13, surrounded by long gauze curtains.
Sachiko Abe. Photograph: Moira Roth
Sachiko Abe, Cut Papers #13, 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photographs: Moira Roth
I was astonished to find that Abe plans to stay in Sydney for the duration of the Biennale and to perform five days a week. I remember when I was first sent information about this performance (a version of which had been presented at the 2010 Liverpool Biennial).
See more here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_5dpRMZ3tE
I was struck by a description explaining that the artist invites the audience ‘to experience an intimate space in which the constant sound of snipping of the scissor blades is the only measure of time passing.’
Read more here: http://bos18.com/artist?id=13
Sachiko Abe, Cut Papers #13, 2012. Installation view at the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Tai Spruyt
‘A measure of time passing?’
I am beginning to sense some of the daily rhythms of the Biennale that will continue until it closes on 16 September.
Yesterday I took the ferry to visit Pier 2/3 as I wanted to see the grand start of Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound by Tiffany Singh (born 1978 in Auckland, New Zealand, where she still lives).
Tiffany Singh, Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound, 2011. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Sebastian Kriete
With other visitors, I languidly walk through the parade of wind chimes, touching them as I go and listening to their music.
Tiffany Singh, Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound, 2011. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Pier 2/3. Photograph: Moira Roth
Tiffany Singh, Knock On The Sky Listen To The Sound, 2011. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) at Pier 2/3. Photograph: Moira Roth
The instructions are simple as to how to participate in this project:
‘Pick up a chime from Tiffany Singh’s installation in Pier 2/3 from 7 August, take it home and decorate it as you like, then return it to a special location on Cockatoo Island.’ Participants are also asked to contribute a photo or video of their experiences:
On her Biennale webpage, Singh explains the significance of the title of her project:
‘Knock on the sky listen to the sound’ is a Buddhist proverb of spiritual significance, first heard on a journey over the Himalayas in Ladakh, where the sky was so close we felt like we could knock on it. It seems an appropriate title, as the artwork transforms the space into an open-air musical instrument that, on initial contact, sounds as though it is coming from the sky. Chimes are hung, often in great numbers, near places of religious significance such as temples and shrines. The intention of the chimes is to allow the winds of fortune or “chi” energy to flow freely, as wind chimes can influence how chi flows through a space. Here the chimes are believed to help slow positive energy as it approaches the building, inviting it inside from all four directions. The notion of pilgrimage is seeded in this work, as the chimes journey between the sites through audience participation.
Read more here: http://bos18.com/artist?id=103
As I delight in the work of these three artists - Erin Manning, Sachiko Abe and Tiffany Singh - I am struck yet again by the profound appropriateness of the title, ‘Stories, Senses and Spheres’, chosen by the Biennale’s two curators to explain the threads that connect all the work on Cockatoo Island.
REFLECTIONS FROM COCKATOO ISLAND #12
Listening to Alec Finlay, 30 June 2012 - Moira Roth’s journal
I only have one more day on Cockatoo Island before I move to stay at Mercure Potts Point on Sydney’s mainland, yet there is still so much to see.
Each day my wanderings bring me to new works with new audiences.
This morning I watch a child intensely listening to Swarm (ASX) created by Alec Finlay (born 1966 in Scotland, now lives in England).
Alec Finlay, Swarm (ASX), 2012. Installation view of the 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012) on Cockatoo Island. Photograph: Moira Roth
What does the boy hear?
Read more about Finlay’s two Biennale projects, Swarm (ASX) and The Bee Library, on the Biennale website: http://bos18.com/artist?id=47
This ambitious installation is a dynamic modeling of the global economy in terms of beekeeping. Swarm (ASX) and The Bee Library juxtapose traditional and contemporary representations of economy and knowledge, ‘money’ and ‘honey’.
installation translates beehives into a model of the economy. Finlay takes the fluctuations of the stock market and represents them as the ‘buzz’ of Australian honey-bees (recorded by sound-artist Chris Watson), broadcast from 10 multi-storied wooden hives. Each hive stack bears the acronym of a major stock exchange – New York, Toronto, Sao Paulo, London, Frankfurt, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Sydney – and produces a stream of audio, a buzzing that varies in density and volume in accordance with economic activity. Swarm (ASX) is a snapshot of speculative finance translated into the natural ecosystem of bees: dynamic, in flux, undergoing crisis, confronting potential catastrophe.
In the afternoon, I hear Finlay himself as I attend the joyful joint reading on the Island by him and Cecilia Vicuña.
Cecilia Vicuña and Alec Finlay. Photograph: Moira Roth
Alec Finlay. Photograph: Moira Roth
Postscript, September 10, 2012 – Moira Roth’s journal
I am now at home again in Northern California (after my two-week visit to Sydney from June to July), listening to an online video I have just found of Alec Finlay, where he talks about when he began to write poetry, why he writes and what he reads: http://vimeo.com/22473732
I also reread his series of short poems & sketches that he casually and quickly but with great elegance composed while he was staying on Cockatoo Island in June. They are dedicated to Catherine de Zegher, Gerald McMaster, the staff, crew and artists of the Biennale.
These all stir up so many memories of and feelings about my extraordinary two visits to Australia this year: of the art and performances I saw at the Biennale, of the people I met and of my profound gratitude to and admiration of Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster for their creation of the 18th Biennale of Sydney.