Dec 13 2017

21st Biennale of Sydney Announces Complete Roster of Artists

by Michael Young

Mami Kataoka, the curator of the 21st Biennale of Sydney, with several of the biennial’s participating artists. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific.

Mami Kataoka, the first Asian artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney (BoS) in the exhibition’s 45-year history and chief curator of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, revealed today that Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei will deliver the biennial’s keynote address on March 15, 2018, at the Sydney Opera House. Kataoka also confirmed that Ai’s politically charged installation Law of the Journey (2017), a 70-meter-long inflatable boat holding 258 faceless human figures, will fill the enormous, atmospheric Turbine Shop, located on UNESCO World Heritage site Cockatoo Island in the Sydney Harbour. Artspace, in Woolloomooloo, will show Ai’s Crystal Ball (2017), a sphere with a one-meter diameter, reflecting on the future of the world. The artist’s latest film, Human Flow (2017), which documents the plight of refugees, will receive its Australian premiere in Sydney in March.

Kataoka stumbled over exactly what is meant by the biennial’s opaque name and curatorial premise, “Superposition: Equilibrium and Engagement,” but a mix of international stars including Haegue Yang and Tiffany Chung, along with many lesser known artists that will be shown at seven of the city’s exhibition spaces—the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the Sydney Opera House, Artspace, Carriageworks, Cockatoo Island and the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art—seems to promise a strong presentation.

There will be somewhere between 69 and 80 artists representing 35 countries. The unsettled final count is due to the inclusion of several artist collectives, and the organizers are aiming for gender parity in representation. One fifth of the participating artists will be Australian, and approximately half of the work on show will be new commissions.

“Four months ago, I was thinking it is not possible to realize [the biennial], but now I am confident I can present a beautiful exhibition. It has been a difficult journey,” Kataoka said.

The AGNSW’s presentation will be foregrounded with an emphasis on the institution being the second-longest partner of BoS—since 1976. Kataoka will use the gallery’s rich archival resources to explore how contemporary art has evolved since the partnership’s nascence. The AGNSW will show the creations of Hong Kong artist Samson Young, who represented Hong Kong at the 57th Venice Biennale this year, as well as a work by NS Harsha, whose midcareer retrospective was mounted this year at the Mori Art Museum. British artist, composer and filmmaker Oliver Beer, who is currently the biennial’s first artist-in-residence at the Sydney Opera House, will continue his ongoing Resonance Project (2007– ), which explores the relationship between sound and space, based on the principle that every empty space has its own note.

Lebanese-born, Sydney-based Khaled Sabsabi will show Bring the Silence, a five-channel video installation developed after he received the Sharjah Art Foundation Grant in 2016. The film, shot in New Delhi, explores the doctrines and practices of Sufism and that which is “seen and unseen.” Vietnamese-American artist Tiffany Chung, whose practice explores forced migration, will show several works at Artspace, including an embroidered textile map delineating the patterns of diaspora.

The 21st Biennale of Sydney will take place over 12 weeks in 2018, from March 16 until June 11.

AI WEIWEI, Law of the Journey, 2017. Photo by Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio.
AI WEIWEI, Law of the Journey, 2017. Photo by Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio.


Art Gallery of New South Wales

Eija-Liisa Ahtila

Sydney Ball

Oliver Beer

Miriam Cahn

Francisco Camacho Herrera

Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) with Baloji and Renzo Martens

Roy de Maistre

Lili Dujourie

Luciano Fabro

Marlene Gilson

NS Harsha

Noguchi Rika

Sa Sa Art Projects


Roy Wiggan

Riet Wijnen

Samson Young

Biennale of Sydney Archive



Ai Weiwei

Michaël Borremans

Tiffany Chung

Geng Xue

Tanya Goel



Chen Shaoxiong

Sam Falls

Marco Fusinato

Laurent Grasso

Trinh Thi Nguyen


Michael Stevenson

George Tjungurrayi


Cockatoo Island 

Julian Abraham “Togar”

Ai Weiwei

Abraham Cruzvillegas

Anya Gallaccio

Ryan Gander

Ami Inoue

Mit Jai Inn

Suzanne Lacy

Nicholas Mangan

Prabhavathi Meppayil

Kate Newby

Tawatchai Puntusawasdi

Koji Ryui

Khaled Sabsabi

Yasmin Smith

Dimitar Solakov

Su-Mei Tse

Martin Walde

Wong Hoy Cheong

Yukinori Yanagi


Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Brook Andrew

Marc Bauer

Marjolijn Dijkman

Simryn Gill

Hsu Chia-Wei

Sosa Joseph

Jacob Kirkegaard

Yvonne Koolmatrie

Tuomas Aleksander Laitinen

Liza Lou

Tom Nicholson

Ciara Phillips

Svay Sareth

Maria Taniguchi

Esme Timbery

Nicole Wong

Haegue Yang

Yarrenyty Arltere Artists


Sydney Opera House

Oliver Beer

Rayyane Tabet


4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Akira Takayama

Jun Yang

Michael Young is a contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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