I recently had the good fortune of visiting the Sydney Biennale, a free art installations in 7 venues across the city.
Cockatoo Island, the first prison in Australia and former military barracks, was a provoking backdrop as a major venue, not to mention the generous free ferry service providing beautiful views of the Opera House, Harbor Bridge, and the skyline.
The Biennale theme, "THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE, Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age", as artistic director David Elliot writes, "Distance allows us to be ourselves despite the many capacities we share. We are all the same, yet different and it is our differences that make us...[the subtitle] explores the affirmative power of art in the face of unprecedented threats: conflict, famine, inequity, environmental despoliation and global warming."
Indeed, the theme felt particularly relevant to challenges we face and the building web of connections in which we are immersed, as we come to understand the nature of globalization. Many of the installations embodied this theme well, expressing the challenges and voices of a multi-cultural and ethnic world, of overlapping expectations, and of new views of traditional cultures through a different window.
I also took part in a intervention called "transumer", organised by pvi collective of Perth "...that encourages audiences to clandestinely take over their city in preparation for an anti-consumerist uprising...revealing strategies for a a modern day insurrection." I set out to explore The Rocks, a historic district including markets and a variety of activities, a place that is billed as "the ultimate shopping experience" and duly overrun by tourists such as myself.
Supplied with an iPhone programmed with a customized app, a calm voice invited me to wander through the Rocks and f*** things up. What didn't I like about the city, what should we change?
In the end, the experience helped me to view things differently, to interact with other user's tags and ideas, and to imagine a different future. Did I take myself a little too seriously? Of course. Do I think this is the best way to engage folks? Maybe. I wonder about the effectiveness of our virtual guide, the freedom that goes along with that, and the confusion as well. How much direction is helpful, how much is too much? What about interacting with a real live human at some point? Does that make it too personal? The balance between distance and connection.
Back home in Seattle, things tend to move at a different pace. How can we envision a different future, a new environment? How do we describe it, and how can we get there? How do we survive in a precarious age?