One of the most exciting venues is Cockatoo Island, a World Heritage–listed former convict prison and shipbuilding site bang in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Unlike many safe and sanitised gallery spaces, in the rough industrial buildings here it feels as though you really could stumble into something dangerous. And that may very well be the idea.
Like biennale headliner Ai Weiwei’s work. His black-rubber, 60m-long, inflatable life raft called Law of the Journey dominates the exhibition hall and the conversation about this biennale with its commentary on the refugee crisis. It comes in the wake of controversy surrounding an artists’ boycott of the 2014 Biennale of Sydney in protest of then-chief-sponsor Transfield which was providing services in Australia’s contentious offshore asylum-seeker detention centres.
Curated by Mami Katoaka, chief curator at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum (MAM), the 2018 biennale makes a pivot towards the region with 40% of the artists coming from Asia. The theme, ‘Superposition: Equilibrium & Engagement’ borrows the idea of superposition from quantum physics, referencing the ability of things to be in two distinct states at once. Many of the pieces draw on this theme of double meanings, creating illusions and uncovering submerged realities.
At Cockatoo Island, Thai artist Mit Jai Inn’s massive Planes paintings drape like curtains across the floor. Over at the Art Gallery of NSW Aboriginal artist Malene Gilson’s What If shows Aboriginal ships claiming sovereignty over a new land, while in Samson Young’s Muted Situation #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th, an orchestra’s instruments are silenced, leaving only the sounds of the musicians breathing, turning pages and rustling clothes.
Works are on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Artspace, Carriageworks, Cockatoo Island, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney Opera House and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Visits to Cockatoo Island are by ferry from Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Barangaroo or wharves along the Parramatta River.