Italian for ‘every other year,’ the word ‘biennale’ conjures up visions of the art world and all that goes with it. About to open, the Sydney Biennale is the largest and best-attended contemporary visual arts event in Australasia.
The twentieth Sydney Biennale starts in Sydney on 18 March and looks set to be a vibrant and celebratory event. New Zealand is proud to be amongst the many countries represented, in the form of by two talented home grown artists, Dane Mitchell and Joyce Campbell.
A short intro to both creatives and their work follows.
Born 1976 in Auckland, New Zealand Lives and works in Auckland
Consulting widely with practitioners in fields such as alchemy, shamanism, witchcraft and perfumery, Mitchell employs principles and rituals from these areas with the intention of displacing our expectations of a world ordered by visible cause and effect. Through his practice, Mitchell tests how human beliefs and convictions find spaces between logic and perception.
For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Mitchell has sought the assistance of a homeopathic practitioner to create an installation of ‘molecular sculptures’. Remedies for Remembering (Al) and Forgetting (NaCl), 2016, releases two formulas into the galleries that are prescribed for specific ailments — one to help memory and the other to assist with forgetting.
Stored in industrial containers, the substances are sprayed onto the windows each day releasing “vapourised sculptural forms”. They linger in the atmosphere, the potential for remembering and forgetting co-mingling in the air and acting upon our memories to contrary ends. Carried airborne in a mist-like form, these substances are ephemeral — raising questions about where they start and finish — and lodging in the mind as much as the body. The work asks us to consider an almost-imperceptible art “object” that surrounds us and enters the cavities of our bodies. We are reminded that all matter comprises invisible particles and that the intangible exists in everyday encounters.
For Mitchell, homeopathy is employed not as a “closed system of knowledge but as a system of material knowledge whereby elemental materials (literally from the periodic table) are expressed as infusions-in-liquid”. Just as substances change form — from a solid to a liquid to a gas — our minds are constantly shifting. Our memories distract and defy us, causing us to seek the interventions of artists, priests and clinicians to offer clarity and insight. Mitchell’s works loosen the cognitive processes that we use to order our physical and emotional states, his performative and intangible gestures leaving minimal traces. In their rarefied materiality and multiplicity of perception, they assert that ‘knowledge of the world means dissolving the solidity of the world (for scientists and spiritual — thinkers alike)”.
Born 1971 in Wairoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand and the United States of America
With a research-driven, interdisciplinary practice that spans the mediums of photography, film, video and sculpture, Auckland-based artist Joyce Campbell explores an ongoing interest in the ecology, history and mythology of place. Employing antiquated photographic equipment and anachronistic techniques and processes such as 16mm film, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cibachrome, and hand-printing from black-and-white negatives, Campbell creates richly detailed, interpretative images of the landscape and objects within the landscape. Often investigating sites of historical, traditional and spiritual significance where access and ownership are contested, Campbell’s films and photographs create a space for dialogue at the intersection of culture and nature.
Campbell presents two works for the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Taniwha Whakaheke/Taniwha Descending, 2016, at the Embassy of Spirits, and Flightdream, 2014–16, at the Embassy of the Real. Each work engages with different themes surrounding water and aquatic life, and, considered together, invoke a dynamic tension between memories of an ancient past and the speculation of possible futures.
Taniwha Whakaheke/Taniwha Descending is an ongoing series created in collaboration with historian and knowledge holder Richard Niania of the Ngāi Kōhatu Hapu. Employing nineteenth century photographic techniques, Campbell explores the ecology of Lake Waikaremoana in the Wairoa region and traditional Maori myths of the surrounding locale. The black-and-white photographs investigate the legend of the Taniwha, ancient serpentine creatures said to inhabit waterways, physical manifestations of the life force of a place. Taniwha Whakaheke/Taniwha Descending depicts the search for the Taniwha Hinekōrako, the female ancestor to Ngāi Kōhatu Hapu, an ancient albino eel that lives under the rock Hinekuia at the base of the Te Reinga falls. Campbell has captured breathtaking images of raging rivers and cascading waterfalls, atmospheric scenes heavy with a palpable mythology and spirituality; the depth and detail of the silver gelatin photographs conveying the potential of photography to act as a conduit for spiritual manifestation.
At the Embassy of the Real, Campbell presents Flightdream, an abstract experimental video piece accompanied by a soundscape composed by experimental guitarist Peter Kolovos. Campbell explores a fascination with consciousness, shape, form, and that which is formless, subjecting objects to electrochemical dispersal, a scientific process of corrosion that causes material to break apart, and filming the floating particles and webs of matter as they gently drift in suspended slow motion. Flightdream is based on a short story by science fiction novelist Mark von Schlegell titled Flugtraum, which, in turn, was originally written in response to a series of Campbell’s photographs, Marianas, 2003–11. The central character of von Schlegell’s story travels to the depths of the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, in search of a nameless, formless monster that resides thousands of feet beneath the surface.