The Biennale Exhibition, 2018
Every semester all those hours of readings and incomplete lectures all pile up to that one week, where we convince ourselves we can catch up on them: STUVAC. If the books are weighing you down, here’s just another reason to procrastinate for the week.
Ah Cockatoo Island, we all know it, but who can really be bothered to make that arduous trip across the harbour, no one right? Well this Easter long weekend I decided to embark on the journey to Cockatoo Island to see the Biennale Exhibition.
The Biennale (for amateur art lovers like myself) is an International, forward-thinking, progressive art show. Each year, it dazzles the connoisseurs, critics and candid citizens of cities such as Venice, Berlin Istanbul, Moscow, Munich, Singapore and of course, Sydney. Celebrating its 21st Birthday of its operation in Sydney, the show, like all things that hit the significant, ‘coming of age’ milestone, promised to be bigger and better than ever.
And how did it do it?
This year’s show-stealer: Ai Weiwei’s installation ‘Law of the Journey’.
Picture every intense, shocking depiction of the inhumane conditions asylum seekers are privy to, manifested in an enormous life-like sculpture of a boat.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ai Weiwei, here’s a quick crash course. He’s a famous Chinese artist, currently living in Germany. Much of his work focuses on activism, and he uses his art to send political messages. Unfortunately for him, this has led to his imprisonment for approximately two and a bit months on ‘economic tax evasion’ charges, which were seen as a part of the crack down on dissident. He also now chooses to not return to China, for fear of arrest. Ai’s more recent focus looks at advocating for Refugee Human Rights, hence this enormous and incredible piece of art.
The boat is made of rubber, in reference to the boats that many asylum seekers made arduous journeys in. Creating a sense of unity between the people and the boat by the use of the same material, Ai demonstrates how vital the boat is to their survival.
Designed to be viewed from an aerial point, the 60-metre-long vessel permits you to witness only a sea of ‘heads’ crammed together in the boat, with few bodies lingering on the outside. The installation surrounding the boat, are quotes from various figures and philosophers in times about humanity, nationalism and sovereignty, all contributing to an extremely powerful message.
The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less. – Vaclav Havel
Ai commented on the culture that inspired his artistic conception:
There’s no refugee crisis, only a human crisis… In dealing with refugees we’ve lost our very basic values. In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other, since we are all one, otherwise humanity will face an even bigger crisis.’
Of course, none of this has occurred without its criticisms. Ai Weiwei has been a subject of disapproval for his extreme views, for his ‘political stunts’ such as posing face down on a beach in a re-enactment of the photo of the drowned Syrian boy, and for not having a full understanding of political situations. However, his artwork triumphs all, sending a message of hope, of mutual respect and of shared humanity in an installation that is not only physically dwarfing, but a challenge to our everyday views, too.
Whether you know art or not, it is well worthwhile going to see this installation. It offers a fresh perspective on the politicised Refugee debate and a great opportunity to spend the day away from studying.
If you get a chance during your STUVAC, make sure you head out to Cockatoo Island to check this out.