Rhetorical Gestures: The 18th Biennale of Sydney

September 8, 2012

by Veronica Tello
in Afterall

Guido van der Werve, Nummer Acht: Everything is going to be alright, 2007, video, 10min 10sec, dimensions variable. Photograph: Ben Geraerts. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

The 18th Biennale of Sydney, curated by Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, was an attempt to produce, in the curators’ words, a ‘groundbreaking’ show.1 Entitled ‘all our relations’, the biennale proposed a ‘new model of art’2 that mobilised an enhanced attentiveness to ‘how things connect, how we relate to each other and to the world we inhabit’.3 Reflecting on the intensification of globalisation and environmentalism, de Zegher and McMaster’s biennale was hinged on the notion that contemporary artists are increasingly interested in generating affective, affirmative and ethical relations with nature and amongst human subjects.4 Rejecting modernist and avant-gardist strategies for producing social change, such as alienation and negation, the curators invited artists to contribute works that would instead involve the audience – through conversation, participation, interaction or other means – and further stressed the role of ‘collaboration’ and ‘dialogue’ by encouraging artists to find ways for their works to ‘relate’ to the works with which they would be exhibited.5 While de Zegher and McMaster’s curatorial discourse and methodology clearly intended to draw out a new paradigm for thinking our social and environmental relations, for the most part, the 18th Biennale of Sydney resulted in a conceptually and aesthetically flat exhibition.
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