Biennale: Cockatoo Island

To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what Biennale was until last year. I had heard little snippets of information about it prior to this but never took much notice. During an Exhibition Development course, our lecturer spoke about installations that have featured at Biennale in the past.From then on I desperately wanted to see the installations for myself.


Spread across a variety of venues, Biennale is essentially a huge art festival featuring contemporary art from all over the world. It is held in places like the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Art Gallery of New South Wales and Cockatoo Island. It is running until June 5 and most of the venues have free entry! A pretty perfect day out. Today I went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the artwork displayed on the Island. Not to sound biased at all, but, I reckon if you are going to see Biennale then Cockatoo Island is the place to go. Firstly, unlike the MCA etc the entire Island is filled with artwork. It’s not separated off nor is it confined to one specific area. Secondly, due to the nature of the buildings on the Island huge installations can be displayed. The Turbine Hall in particular can support some pretty amazing pieces. Last, but not least, the mix between the old and the new on the Island is amazing. Think of contemporary art installations inside Convict Barracks.

Huge installation inside the Turbine Hall

The theme for Cockatoo Island is Embassy of the Real. Each piece of artwork brings into question what is real? Who is our real self when we co-exist both in real life and in the virtual world? It is a very interesting theme to see played out in the various artworks.

Highlights for me. I cannot go past the video installation next to the Convict Barracks in the old hospital. It shows a small village in Turkey completely cut off from electricity etc. When someone wants to make a call they must hike to the top of a mountain for mobile reception. The video shows the locals hiking, making calls, and engaging with their technology. It calls into question the main theme of Biennale ‘the future is here just not evenly distributed.’

I also enjoyed the installation by Shanghai artist Xu Zhen. Zhen has combined the Elgin Marbles with Asian sculptures to represent the literal clashing of heads between different cultures. It simultaneously has a very clear message yet is still open for interpretation.



In the future I will definitely take the opportunity to experience the virtual reality tunnel. One at a time visitors are sent through the tunnel with video googles and headphones to experience an alternate reality. Probably best to steer clear if you’re claustrophobic.

There is so much more on the Island worth exploring. I loved the way it has opened up Cockatoo Island for the public to explore and engage with on a whole other level. Experience each space and see what it has to offer. If you are there Thursday – Sunday make sure you enjoy some wine tasting on top of the Island as well.

My introduction to Biennale has been eye-opening and filled with curiosity. I’m not a massive fan of contemporary art, but, seeing it interact with the heritage of the Island is truly something special.

More information can be found here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s