Cockatoo Island’s charismatic post-industrial backdrop is perfect for contemporary art. Ever wondered what it takes to get Australia’s biggest contemporary art festival into 16 different venues? Gina Hall, the 20th Biennale of Sydney’s Head of Exhibition sheds some light.
What does your job entail?
As Head of Exhibition I manage a team of specialist staff and in consultation with the Artistic Director, we work with the artists to present their projects across multiple venues and public spaces. My role is one of constant conversation and negotiation! A large part of my role involves working with our exhibition partners, the Art Gallery of NSW, the MCA, Carriageworks, Artspace, and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust for the successful delivery of the exhibition. On any given day, I may be assisting artists in choosing materials for their new commission, negotiating the logistics of the delivery of major works from collections across the globe and balancing up to 100 project budgets – all at the same time!
What is the biggest challenge with working with multiple venues and in non-museum spaces? What does this allow the Biennale and artists to achieve?
Finding the time to meet and communicate with all the various stakeholders, whilst building and maintaining relationships with the 80 plus artists/artist collectives from 35 countries is a constant juggling act – especially when the artists actually start to arrive in the country enmasse! Determining the best location for each project requires a detailed level of understanding of the spaces as well as the artist’s practice, particularly taking into consideration site-specific factors. In many ways, the Biennale allows Sydney to act as an extended gallery for contemporary work. It provides a terrific opportunity for our leading institutions to collaborate in presenting as a creative capital When it boils down to it, it is extraordinary opportunity for Sydneysiders and visitors to our city to experience the finest artists working today.
Can you talk about why venues this year are called ‘embassies’?
The exhibition is structured around a series of thematic clusters, conceived as ‘embassies’. Each exhibition space provides a transient home for particular constellations of thought. Traditionally, an embassy functions as a state within a state: a place offering protection and safety to the citizens of its home country. For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, these Embassies are not related to colonial or imperial history, diplomatic missions, cultural and linguistic boundaries, or capitalistic power structures. Instead, they provide all visitors to the exhibition with safe spaces for thinking.
What are some not-to-miss ‘in between spaces’? Why were these included?
They are all really remarkable and central to the thinking behind the 2016 Biennale – if I were pressed I would recommend Brown Council at 86 George Street, Redfern and Keg de Souza at 6 Vine St Redfern – two important Sydney-based artists/artist collectives who live and work in our city.
What do you love/not love about Cockatoo Island?
I love the rawness and uniqueness of Cockatoo Island and it’s the extraordinary scope for presentation offered by its spaces. However, being surrounded by water poses its challenges when installing, as everything needs to be barged onto the island. The island embodies something of the history of this city from colonial past to working harbour to an extraordinary nature beauty and vista. The ferry ride to the island never fails to give me a sense of calm, tinged with anticipation of what we are delivering as part of the Biennale.
See the full program of events and venues at biennaleofsydney.com.au/20bos.