17th Biennale at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour

No overseas travel involved in this trip today, but there was an early start beginning with an hour train ride from Cronulla at 8.14am to the city so that we could be on the first ferry to Cockatoo Island for the 17th Biennale of Sydney, being held 12th May to 1st August. My art teacher mum had given us the heads up that the crowds are huge so you have to be on that first ferry from Circular Quay at 10am or forget it. I was thinking this better be good after not having much sleep all week with all this world cup soccer TV viewing and Sunday mornings are my sleep in mornings!

You hop on the free ferry at the wharf stop just out the front of the MCA, it was a full boat with a mixture of locals, tourists, quite a few kids which I was surprised about and people of all ages.  Great day to be on  Sydney Harbour with blue skies and no wind and it just reminded me of how I don’t visit the city enough and enjoy all it has to offer.

It is about a 20 min ride to Cockatoo Island which is a major venue of the Biennale artworks, other host venues include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Royal Botanic Gardens, Art Gallery of NSW, (Grand Court) and the Sydney  Opera House. The theme of the Biennale is “The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age. Cost of entry? Nix

Having never been to Cockatoo Island it was great to be given the free guide as we stepped off the ferry and to read that Cockatoo Island was once a former prison and shipyard, is the largest island in Sydney Harbour and the convict-built prison buildings have been nominated for World Heritage listing! Seconds later when my sister said “I wonder what this island was used for?” I was able to impress with my local knowledge!

Cockatoo Island is in its element hosting this art festival, there are 56 artists with works on display here and the buildings, machinery, that make up Cockatoo Island – decaying and fabulous are an artwork in themselves.

I am no artist, can barely do stick figures, and sometimes think contemporary art is disgusting, weird and useless but when I see a piece I like, that makes it all worthwhile. Everyone has different taste and I don’t want to spoil some of the surprises so I will just give you a quick list of my highlights:

Cai Guo Qiang – Inopportune: Stage One – huge installation involving 9 cars (Location – Turbine Hall, Industrial precinct, 150 on map)

Daniel Crooks – Static No. 12 (seek stillness in movement) – video (past Turbine Hall, Industrial Precinct, 146 on map)

Robert MacPherson – Chitters: A Wheelbarrow for Richard, 156 paintings, 156 signs – text based paintings (Industrial Precinct, 144 on map) – This was my favourite!

Kader Attia – Kasbah – microcosm of contemporary reality (Industrial Precinct, 140 on map)

AES+F – The Feast of Trimalchio – 9 channel animation of over 75,000 photos (Dock Precinct, 67 on map)

Choi Jeong Hwa – Hubble Bubble – industrial design – (not at Opera House as the guide states, in Biennale Performance Space – Dock Precinct)

Isaac Julien – Ten Thousand Waves – multi channel video installations (Convict Precinct – 6 on map, upper floor)

Throughout the island there are stunning views, several cafes serving coffee and gourmet sandwiches, burgers and other delights, there are parks, covered areas to relax and lawns to picnic which is what we did. The bathrooms are spotless and positioned throughout the island. If you bring your own food, it really is a cheap day but the cafes also are reasonable so if it is a last minute decision to go, don’t worry you won’t go hungry and you won’t get ripped off like at some amusement park junk food joint. Finally I am happy to see something worthwhile done with our taxes!

In summary my tips are:

Go early

Go on a good weather day

Pick up the free guide as you get off the ferry at the island, but keep in mind it is a bit hard to cross reference artists info from map so I recommend as you get off the ferry going south to the jumping castle installation and then into the building behind (Turbine Hall) and then go in a circle clockwise around the island.

It was cold even on a sunny day, especially in some of the halls so take your winter coat

Take lunch if you feel like lazing on the lawns and looking at the vistas

Its kid friendly so take them!

Want to stay longer? Pitch a tent on the island and stay the night in the middle of the harbour. Or hire 1 of the luxury holiday accommodation properties (heritage listed) that accommodate 10 (2 available).

And on the way back feel sorry for the people in the queue at Circular Quay who didn’t get up early and are waiting in an impossibly long line waiting for the next ferry!

And don’t go to Guerlain Café underneath the Toaster building near the Opera House like we did on the way home.  I had the most disappointing, tasteless, pricey Belgium waffle I have ever wasted money on! The only blight on a superb day!


If you enjoyed reading this article, help let the world know about it by sharing it on your favourite social networking site


Henk Emans

The SMH today (4/8/10) confirms just how good the Biennale was this year with attendances up, particularly at the Cockatoo Island venue, a staggering 82% on the 2008 event.. Cockatoo Island’s next big ticket drawcard is the comedy festival, World’s Funniest Island on October 16 and 17

Some interesting stats in that article in the SMH today including the estimated economic contribution of $53 mil for Sydney. I noticed they mentioned the clear favourite was the Russian collective AES+F collective with that amazing circular cinema! Can’t wait for the next Biennale

Say Something