It is fitting then, that his 20th Biennale of Sydney (20BOS) piece is part of the Embassy of Transition at Mortuary Station – a former train station and service that would carry the dead and the bereaved. The work consists of a series of aviaries made from native materials but housing the introduced species, the myna bird. “I wanted to create a piece that worked on various levels, a work that could talk about more spiritual ideas but underneath had a subtle politically charged message,” says Chiandetti. “Using myna birds was an interesting way to open up this dialogue around what is native and what is not, and how we perceive those from somewhere else and the kind of world we are creating socially and ecologically. The fact that myna birds are reviled in Australia added another dimension to how ‘the other’ are viewed. One ornithologist I spoke with, that has studied myna birds, felt that people’s reaction towards this bird was actually to do with an ingrained racism because they are basically not from here.”
Can you tell us a bit about your Biennale work?
I feel an artwork can talk about quite fundamental ideas about the human condition and at the same time have broader social or political undertone. It has been interesting to try to make a work for a mortuary station where I really had to quite clearly respond to ideas of death; the passage from life into death and a kind of final journey. So I have tried to make work that has a certain amount of pathos to it. In various cultures and mythologies birds are often associated with death. Through their ability to fly birds have been seen to connect earth with the heavens, carrying human souls onto the afterlife. To use a bird in the context of a mortuary station became an interesting way to talk about this passage of life into death. Choosing the right bird needed a little more thought, but when I found out myna birds were an introduced species and reviled in Australia because they are highly invasive I knew that it was myna birds I wanted to use.
We are all quite aware that migration and immigration in Australia and globally is a huge issue. So I kept challenging myself to make a work that on one level looked closely at the transition of life into death, but also ideas of migration and displacement. The experience of the migrant is an experience of being ‘in transit’ to something better. Throughout the work there are references to what is native and what is not. All the timber used, the trees, the grasses that are growing for example are native, andÂ the birds, which are captive, quite obviously are not. So the bird is used as a metaphor.
How do you begin a work?
Drawing, always drawing. It frees the hand and the mind. You can never get away from the immediacy of drawing.
There is a performative element to your work, how will that materialise for the Biennale?
I have made work that I have performed, or had others perform. This is very conscious and as a protagonist you know you are performing. But my interest has shifted to working with animals, where the piece is performed by something not human. Though they are engaged in some way in this performance they have no idea really that they are partaking in something which is performative or art. I really like this thought and I want to make more of this type of work.
You studied with Ai WeiWei, what did you learn from him?
Everyone is fascinated by Ai WeiWei. I have been asked this often. I really learnt about accuracy from him. As an artist you have to have real clarity in what you are saying and how you are saying it. It’s so important. So you have to be very accurate. Otherwise don’t put it in the world, because otherwise it’s just hot air. There’s way too much work that goes out in the world that really says nothing. I talked with him at length of the economy of the artwork. Not in a monetary sense, but more to do with efficiency, how to say something with very few words or gestures. I like to think of it as an economy of language. Its something I strive for in everything I make.
The hand of the artist in bird seed, 2015, bird seed, 40 x 10 x 9cm
Photograph: Marco Chiandetti
Courtesy the artist
Sculpture for a Bird (Barn Owl), 2015, ceramic, Barn Owl, 14 x 15 x 19cm
Photograph: Willem-Dirk du Toit
Courtesy the artist