21 artists revealed for the 21st Biennale of Sydney

Since its inception in 1973, the Biennale of Sydney has showcased the work of nearly 1,800 artists from more than 100 countries, building a reputation as one of the leading international art events. Now, an additional 70 artists will help celebrate the organisation’s 45th anniversary from 16 March to 11 June, 2018 at various locations around the city.

Semiconductor, Earthworks, 2016, 5-channel computer generated animation with four-channel surround sound, 11:20 mins. Installation view (2016) at SónarPLANTA, Barcelona Commissioned by SónarPLANTA Produced by Advanced Music. Photograph: Semiconductor Courtesy the artist

Commenting on the curatorial premise for the 21st Biennale of Sydney, Mami Kataoka, Tokyo-based Chief Curator of the Mori Art Museum, and Artistic Director of the 21st Biennale of Sydney, said: “Next year’s Biennale will explore multiple viewpoints in search of a state of equilibrium. With a holistic view, the 21st Biennale of Sydney will also seek in-depth engagement with individuals and communities while exploring a range of perspectives and meanings of abstractions. Rather than focusing on a specific concept or theme, the exhibition will suggest multi-layered perspectives of the world and its histories simultaneously. In July this year, the exhibition title will be announced along with details of the themes and concerns informing this edition.”

The exhibition will revisit the Biennale’s rich history through a close examination of its Archive, drawing on 45 years of art and encounters. Kataoka described the Biennale experience as: a journey; a walk through microcosms of the world today based on the stratum of history, human knowledge, emotions, desires and beliefs, as well as the mysteries of natural phenomena and the whole of the universe.

The first group of artists selected for the next biennial edition, including one artist duo, ten artists from throughout Asia, five European artists, four Australian artists and one artist from North America:

Eija-Liisa Ahtila experiments with different approaches to narrative, creating films and cinematic installations that question the traditional rules of storytelling. Recent films investigate the processes of perception and the attribution of meaning, often set against the backdrop of larger cultural and existential themes such as colonialism, faith and post-humanism.

Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Studies on the Ecology of Drama, 2014, four-channel projected installation, 25:40 mins Copyright © Crystal Eye – Kristallisilmä Oy, Helsinki. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York Paris and London Photograph: Copyright © Marja-Leena Hukkanen

Ai Weiwei‘s work exists in the space between art and activism, often blurring the boundaries between the two. He creates works rich with symbolism and metaphor that expand the definition of contemporary art, frequently encompassing actions that highlight social injustice and scathing criticism of the Chinese Government. 

Brook Andrew creates multi-layered works that scrutinise the dominance of Western narratives relating to colonialism, deliberately placing Australia at the centre of a global inquisition. His works highlight alternative histories that are too often neglected, hidden beneath the legacies of modernist narrative and colonialism. 

Oliver Beer works across the auditory, visual and performative; exploring complex relationships between sound and space, often involve the viewer as a participant by the mere fact of their presence. 

Oliver Beer, Making Tristan (for Watermill), 2015, Live sound installation based on the harmonics of antiques from the collection of Robert Wilson, NY, resounding at Wagner’s Tristan Chord The Watermill Center, NY Photograph: Oliver Beer

Anya Gallaccio and her ephemeral, site-specific installations; temporary works that often comprise materials informed by local industries and economies such as bronze, flowers, chocolate and ice. 

Laurent Grasso’s films, sculptures, paintings and photographs immerse the viewer in an uncanny world of uncertainty. Creating mysterious atmospheres that contest the boundaries of what we see and believe, Grasso employs anachronism and fusion as methods by which he reshapes reality according to his own rules.

NS. Harsha’s oeuvre spans a range of mediums and genres comprising painting, paper-based works, intricate miniature drawings, sculpture, site-specific installations and community-based public projects. Deftly interweaving observations of everyday life in the community of Mysore where he lives with broader socio-political, global narratives.

NS Harsha, Charming Journey, 2017, installation view at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. Photograph: Shiigi Shizune. Courtesy the artist and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

Mit Jai Inn is considered by many to be a pioneer of Thai contemporary art whose idea of painting defies conventional boundaries, both physically and conceptually. His abstract paintings bring to mind reflections of light, the colour spectrum and the molecular structure of the universe.

Mit Jai Inn, Junta Monochrome #1, 2016, oil on canvas, 800 x 800 x 50cm. Photograph: Jirat Ratthawongjirakul. Courtesy the artist, Gallery Ver, Bangkok and Cartel Artspace, Bangkok

Kate Newby creates site-specific projects that form relationships with locations through actions. Often minimal and unassuming, her works question the nature of contemporary art – asking the viewer to reconsider how an art object should be exhibited, viewed and archived. 

Noguchi Rika creates images of the world which are often described as painterly and poetic. Inspired by different photographic processes, or sometimes just by a word or a title.

Noguchi Rika, Catching Water #5, 2001, digital chromogenic print 96 x 240cm. Courtesy the artist and Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

Nguyen Trinh Thi’s works evoke memory and remembrance as alternative ways to access obscured or unwritten histories. Deeply informed by engagement with socio-cultural concerns, Nguyen’s films draw attention to confronting and often polarising local issues, despite the many restrictions and limited artistic freedoms in her native Vietnam.

Ciara Phillips often invites members of the public or different community groups to participate in her projects through the act of making art, transforming galleries and exhibition spaces into a studio space or open workshop.

Ciara Phillips, Every Woman a Signal Tower [Laura], 2015, screenprint on linen 119 x 84cm. Photograph: Alan Dimmick. Courtesy the artist

Koji Ryui contextualises everyday materials and found objects; repurposed and transformed into sculptural creations that blur the border between animate and inanimate, seen and unseen.

Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) blend art and science to create visually and intellectually engaging artworks that examine natural phenomena and the materiality of the world around us, i.e. the evolution of technology.

Yasmin Smith‘s site-specific installations source materials and elements directly from the local environment. Meticulously investigating the geography, ecology and geology of a particular region, Smith also engages with the social history of the area.

George Tjungurrayi‘s abstract canvases, derived from the distinctive painting style of the Papunya Tula Artists of the Western Desert, and are often interpreted as reflections of the desert landscape; ancestral country and traditional stories deeply rooted in sacred law.

Nicole Wong adopts a process-driven approach to investigating philosophical questions associated with time, the tenuous connection between word and object, and the limits of communication. Often quiet and unassuming, Wong’s works invite introspective thought through their appeal to universal sentiments and desires. 

Wong Hoy Cheong reimagines and reconstructs histories in an effort to transfer power and authority to marginalised groups. Wong’s artistic practice is assertively political; permitting the existence of multiple versions of any one story and suggesting that historical accuracy is neither possible nor desirable.

Nicole Wong, Until I Get It Right (detail), 2014-16, ink on paper, 95 x 251.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi, London

Yukinori Yanagi explores fundamental questions of human existence through site-specific installations that negotiate a diverse range of media. Recent works pose questions relating to the consequences of modernisation in his native Japan, and the uncertain future of the inhabitants in regions where commercial production has ceased and industrial progress has ground to a halt.

Haegue Yang explores the language of visual abstraction through the diverse range of materials she selects, Yang often employs manufactured objects that reference the history of industrialisation, while alluding to social and political histories, as well as her personal stories.

Jun Yang works across a range of mediums including film, installation, performance and public engagement, creating multi-layered artworks that investigate the position of the foreigner in relation to processes of assimilation and acculturation.