Dozens of artists from all over the world were invited to the 19th Sydney Biennale. Poland's representatives are Hubert Czerepok, Agnieszka Kalinowska, Norman Leto and Agnieszka Polska.
Dissent was voiced about the largest and oldest artistic event in the Asia-Pacific region at the beginning of March. Nine invited artists withdrew their work from the exhibition. 51 other artists signed a letter of protest against the Australian Government's immigration policy and the sponsorship of cultural events by companies which violate human rights.
We pulled out our work from the Biennial (do not call it a boycott) in connection with the fact that the main sponsor of the event is the company “Transfield” which profits from the government's refugee detention camps on Manus and Nauru islands. These places are recognized by UNESCO as violating human rights. The refugees arriving in boats are mainly from the Middle East and countries struggling with war. Australian law does not specify the time allowed to detain refugees. Families are kept there for many years. They are often with small children and without any prospects for a better future. Places like those are compared to concentration camps by the RISE organization – said Agnieszka Polska for culture.pl, the only Polish artist who joined the group of protesters.
A few days before the opening of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, president of the Biennale and owner of Transfield, has announced that in light of the situation his company has withdrawn sponsorship of the event. The other members of the board announced the suspension of Transfield's cooperation with the Biennale. After those statements, seven of the nine protesting artists - Libya Castro, Nathan Gray, Ólafur Ólafsson, Ahmet Oguta, Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, and Nicoline van Harskamp - returned to the Biennale. Their works are displayed at the exhibition as planned. The other two - Gabrielle de Vietri, Charlie Sofo - declined to participate.
The theme of the strike and questions about the social responsibility of artists also appeared in the "How the Work is Done" documentary being shown by the Poles. It tells the story of an act of protest at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow in the mid-50s. Students locked themselves in one of the studios and turned the space of their everyday work into an area of passive existence. The role of protesters who want vacation to last longer and ice cream to be free are also played by children in Hubert Czerepok's performance "Let's Change It All".
In turn, Agnieszka Kalinowska will show the video "Silencer" - produced by the Art Museum in Łódź, under the artistic project "Scenarios for Europe". It tells the stories of youth from educational centres. Norman Leto, among others, will present the film part of the “Sailor” diptych, which may be the key to understanding his work. The main character of the film is a scientist-programmer who tells about being incapacitated by his own impulses, pain and lust, and about life as a sum of biochemical reactions.
This year’s 19th Biennale edition in Sydney, dedicated to the imagination, is called "You Imagine What You Desire". Its artistic director is Juliana Engberg – a curator, writer, publisher and designer. She currently works at the Australian Contemporary Art Centre in Melbourne.
The Sydney Biennale will also host a panel called “Future Poland” and a lecture in ACCA’s Melbourne, which is going to be led by Agnieszka Pindera – last year’s curator of the Polish Pavilion at the 55th Art Biennale in Venice. More information here.
19. Biennale in Sydney
"You Imagine What You Desire"
21 March – 9 June 2014
Art Director: Juliana Engberg
Places: Artspace, Cackatoo Island, Carriageworks, Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, the city.
Sources: 19. Biennale in Sydney, The Art Museum in Łódź, dailytelegraph, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Warsaw, culture.pl, own materials, ed. Agnieszka Sural, 18.03.2014, translated: Katarzyna Maksimiuk, 21.03.2014