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17th Biennale of Sydney: The Beauty of Distance - Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


12 May 2010 to 01 Aug 2010


Adel Abdessemed, Makoto Aida, John Bock, Conrad Botes, Louise Bourgeois, Enrique Chagoya,Jake and Dinos Chapman, Dana Claxton, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Shane Cotton, Folkert de Jong, Beau Dick, Claudio Dicochea, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Angela Ellsworth, Brett Graham, Rodney Graham, Gonkar Gyatso, Susan Hiller, Shirazeh Houshiary, Tiina Itkonen, Martin Jacobson, Christian Jankowski, Kim Jones, Dapeni Jonevari, Mala Nari, Tsang Kin-Wah, Rachel Kneebone, Steve McQueen, Nandipha Mntambo, Kent Monkman, Alex Morrison, David Noonan, Roxy Paine, Fiona Pardington, Christopher Pease, Annie Pootoogook, pvi collective, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Håkan Rehnberg, Berthold Reiß, Hiraki Sawa, Shen Shaomin, Penny Siopis, Kamen Stoyanov, Angela Su, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Fred Tomaselli, Mette Tronvoll, Salla Tykkä), Mariana Vassileva, Bill Viola, Gunnel Wåhlstrand, Mark Wallinger and Larrakitj Yolngu Artists: Gunybi Ganambarr, Gawirrin Gumana AO, Malaluba Gumana, Waturr Gumana, Yinimala Gumana, Bakuḻangay Marawili, Djambawa Marawili, Marrirra Marawili, Napuwarri Marawili, Dhurrumuwuy Marika, Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Wanyubi Marika, Baluka Maymuru, Galuma Maymuru, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Djawuḻuku Mununggurr, Djutjadjutja Mununggurr, Marrnyula Mununggurr, Minyipa Mununggurr, Buwathay Munyarryun, Gunumuwuy Munyarryun, Malalakpuy Munyarryun, Mathulu Munyarryun, Dula Ngurruwuthun, Boliny Wanambi, Garawan Wanambi, Wolpa Wanambi, Wukun Wanambi, Yalanba Wanambi, Yilpirr Wanambi, Dhukal Wirrpanda, Mänman Wirrpanda, Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda, Djirrirra Wunungmurra, Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Yanggarriny Wunungmurra, Yumutjin Wunungmurra, Deturru Yunupingu, Guḻumbu Yunupingu, Miniyawany Yunupingu, Yälpi Yunupingu,


David Elliot

About the exhibition

The 17th Biennale of Sydney was curated by David Elliot, and presented across all four floors of the Museum of Contemporary Art along with other venues around Sydney Harbour, including Cockatoo Island, Artspace, Pier 2/3, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Sydney Opera House. Accompanying the exhibition on level 4 was a small MCA Collection exhibition, selected and curated by David Elliot, We Call Them Pirates Out Here.

The 2010 Biennale was sub-titled The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age and was inspired by experimental film maker, anthropologist and musicologist Harry Everett Smith (1923–91), whose compilation of historic recordings, Anthology of American Folk Music, appeared in 1952 at the height of the Korean war and Senator McCarthy’s political witch hunts in the USA.

Elliott noted that 'Smith’s offbeat intuition, integrity, unique sense of popular history, and eye and ear for quality provided inspiration and guidance for generations of future musicians, listeners and artists. The breadth of Smith’s interests and his commitment to all forms of art – from abstract films, to folk music, blues and Native American dance rituals – are a guiding example I have followed in conceiving this Biennale. I have also tried to reflect his political belief that creativity – and the honesty that it demands – is the liberating birth right of us all.’

Elliott said of the exhibition:
'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 – according to the circumstances – beautiful, terrifying, attractive, boring, sexy, unsettling, fascinating, challenging, funny, stimulating, horrific or even many of these at once. The idea of distance also expresses the condition of art itself. Art is of life, runs parallel to life and is sometimes about life. But for art to be art (a medium of numinous, sometimes symbolic power), it must maintain a distance from life. Without distance, art has no authority and is no longer special.’

'In a land that has traditionally regarded distance as a disadvantage, the art specially chosen for this exhibition will celebrate the many different beauties of distance by showing contemporary perspectives from all around the world. It will be an exceptional experience – challenging, but above all enjoyable.’

'There is no more suitable stage than Sydney for this exhibition. It takes place against the iconic backdrop of the harbour and Sydney Opera House at the site where British explorers first encountered the local inhabitants. At that time, colonial powers believed western civilisation was invincible and that they had the right to collect and possess universal knowledge. We now recognise such an ambition is both infantile and dangerous.’