Cockatoo Island, a World Heritage-listed island in the middle of Sydney Harbour, certainly gives art installations a run for their money. As a former prison and shipyard, it has the sort of post-industrial scale and spaciousness sought after world-wide for contemporary art installations and events. Yet its strengths as an exhibition venue are matched by its character as a site in its own right, and I have found there are a few art installations that can meet it on its own terms.
The 18th Biennale of Sydney (27 June-16 September 2012) did deliver some excellent projects on Cockatoo island that were neither diminished nor compromised by the heft of the venue. Stand-out works for me included "Gravitas Lite" by Peter Robinson (NZ); "Overcoming the Current Resistance" by Nina Canell (SE/DE) and Robin Watkins (SE/DE); "Sibyl" from The Hylozoic Series by Philip Beesley (CA); the single-channel video work "Shadow Sites II" (2011) by Jananne Al-Ani; "The River" by Adam Cvijanovic (US); "Ride the Caspian" (2011) two-channel HD video work by Bahar Behbahani (IR/US) and Almagul Menlibayeva (KZ); "Living with Cuddle's" by Ria Verhaeghe (BE); and the wonderful fog work "Chasm" by Fujiko Nakaya (JP).
A huge disappointment was not being able to see the completion of Ann Veronica Janssens' planned project "Daydream" on Cockatoo, which was apparently fraught with technical failures and existed in only a partial form by the end of opening week. Luckily her other two works, sited at Carriageworks in Eveleigh, were complete and stunning.
It was touch-and-go as to whether opening week visitors would see Nakaya's wonderful fog work in action too; as the work was shut down before the exhibition opened to the public over fears that disoriented audience members would trip over unseen hazards on the site. At the Biennale Symposium the artist was politely, but emphatically, dismayed by the organisers' inability to problem-solve this issue; however, by the first weekend the issue had been resolved and my photographs in this album show the results, including enthralled visitors.
I mentioned two video works that I enjoyed at Cockatoo Island, Jananne Al-Ani's "Shadow Sites II" (2011); and Bahar Behbahani and Almagul Menlibayeva's "Ride the Caspian" (2011); both of which were sympathetically installed so that the gritty characeter of the site complemented the themes and aesthetics of each work. Importantly too, both sites created the equivalent of black-box projection environments for the works so that they could be appreciated in all their visual subtelty and strength. Following these two experiences I found that the video works selected for this Biennale across the other venues to be equally strong; though the other were not presented in ideal situations, especially at the Art Gallery of New South Wales where the 'hang' suffered from over-crowding and poor sight-lines.