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The Sydney Biennale - My body is my home

Reason and Emotion is Sydney Biennale's theme, curated by Isabel Carlos. The Sydney Biennale is based on the work of Portuguese neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who believes that feelings, emotions and reason are connected and inseparable, and mind and body influence each other. The artist Lygia Clark says "my body is my home", a quote that sums up the Biennale idea.

Jimmie Durham Still Life with Stone and Car (maquette), 2004. Car, granite boulder, acrylic paint

Reason and Emotion are not new terms, they are linked to what we already know from Postmodern thought. It reinterpretates the Cartesian sentence "I think, therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum) transforming it into "I feel, therefore I am" and gives major importance to the body, sentiments and sensory perception as knowledge and learning forms.
For many years, the arts have been based on perception and emotion. The Sturm und Drang Romanticism, Vincent Van Gogh's impressions in his letters to his brother Theo, Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographies of ritual dances in Bali are just some examples of it. Following Postmodern Thought, body and mind are a unity of knowledge and the Biennale's theme brings it up-to-date and goes beyond the usual artistic borders. It is interesting and attracting, challenging the audience and making them immerse themselves in the work.
The curator gives us a fresh exhibition, selecting works of 51 young artists from 32 countries, among others Jimmie Durham, Frank Thiel, the Russian AES+F Group, Susan Norrie, Bruce Nauman, Helen Almeida, Mario Rizzi, MP&MP Rosado brothers and Javier Téllez.

Javier Téllez Renée Falconetti as Joan D'Arc. Film still from Carl Th Dreyer's La passion de Jeanne D'Arc, 1927-1928

Corporality and perception are the basis of what we understand under reason and emotion. One of the most representative pieces is the work from Venezuelan Javier Téllez. The artist synthesizes the biennale's idea with La Passion De Jeanne D´Arc. The video is about an intense immersion into the world of mentally ill patients of Rozelle hospital, inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer´s film about Joan of Arch. Téllez translates the mystic experience of the passion that the patients feel. The parallel presentation of Dreyer´s mute, black and white film contrasts with the voices and movements of the patients, leaving the audience almost speechless. Téllez investigates the link between mental illness and art. His work uses psychiatry as background and explores what he considers as equivalent between a psychiatric institution and a museum.
One example where the body is the basis for transmitting emotions is the work of Portuguese artist Helena Almeida. Like Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, Almeida uses the body as material for her work. She creates a series of pictures as sequences, that give us an insight into movement or a performance. The relation with colours accentuates our perception and we are fascinated by its simplicity and profoundness.

Mario Rizzi Untitled from, The Sofa of Jung, 2004

Italian artist Mario Rizzi with the sound installation The Sofa of Jung, a piece created especially for this Biennale explores the topic of passion. Rizzi recreated the psychiatrist Carl Jung´s studio in two rooms with different ambients. The sound spaces are permeated with words extracted from Sabina Spielrein's diary, who was Jung's patient.
The venues are the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Artspace, the Museum of Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney; the Sydney Opera House, in this latter we can appreciate Jimmie Durham´s performance sculpture Still Life with Stone and Car, commissioned for the Biennale opening. There will be many public programs such as film sessions, conferences, performances, artist's talks and panel discussions.
The curator for the next Sydney Biennale has already been announced, namely Charles Merewether, who has curated over 20 major shows in Europe, the USA, Latin America, and Australia. His new book Conditions of Uncertainty just came out and he is currently curating an exhibition of Japanese art from 1951 to 1970 at the Getty Center in USA. It is a good opportunity to view not only kangaroos and beautiful natural landscapes, but also high level of Contemporary Art.

Biennale of Sydney: June 4 - August 15 2004

Text: Katerina Valdivia Bruch
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