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19 May 2014 / leggypeggy

Sydney’s Biennale enjoys the great outdoors at Cockatoo Island


Waterfall by Eva Koch

Realistic waterfall—indoors

We were in Sydney earlier this week—on our way to joining another overland jaunt following the Silk Road and cruising through the Stans—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

We timed this stop in Australia’s biggest city well because we were able to spend a whole afternoon exploring Cockatoo Island and the Biennale exhibits located there.

The Biennale of Sydney is a non-profit organisation that presents the largest and most exciting contemporary visual arts event in Australia.

A biennale comes around once every two years and this year it involves five major locations across the city, as well as some one-off special-event sites. Another day we visited the biennale exhibits at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (more about that later), but ran out of time to visit Carriageworks, Artspace or the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Each biennale—they started here in 1973—lasts for three months, and this one ends in early June. Amazingly, all the shows are open to the public at no charge.

There are lots of related events with artist talks, forums, family days and guided tours. One of our daughters recently did a Biennale Boot Camp, which combined a tour of the Cockatoo Island artworks mixed in with some heavy-duty exercises.

Biennale of Sydney, 2014

Dancing with a skeleton

Poor John and I took it a bit easier, walking from exhibit to exhibit, but got a mini workout at the playful artwork built around old gym equipment, created by Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger. They should feel highly complimented because I think it’s the first time Poor John ever got anywhere near a weight machine.

Sydney presented the Asia–Pacific region’s first biennale and, along with similar events in Venice and São Paulo, is one of the longest running exhibitions of its kind in the world.


Zilla's House by Zilla Leutenegger

The projected woman taps the light to make it swing

Since its start in the 1970s, the Biennale of Sydney has showcased work by almost 1600 artists from more than 100 countries. Today it ranks as one of the leading international festivals of contemporary art.

The Biennale of Sydney was also the first to focus on Asia and the contemporary art of our region, the first to show Indigenous art in an international contemporary art context, and the first to present an online presence.

So stroll along with us for some of the highlights at Cockatoo Island.

The village by Randi and Katrine

The village isn’t quite so sinister in this light

Bubbles by Mikala Dwyer

Catching the light around sunset

Besides the gym equipment, my favourites were the waterfall by Eva Koch the village by Randi and Katrine of Denmark, the bubble shapes by Mikala Dwyer, and many more that were sound-oriented or impossible to photograph.

The gym equipment is just plain fun—pull down to make a bubble machine work, pedal to get a skeleton to dance, hoist a leg up to bang the drum and push forward to fan yourself.

The waterfall is thunderously overwhelming. It’s a gigantic video and sound projection set up at the end of a long, tall, narrow building. You approach from perhaps 75 metres away and are immediately struck by the realism. The sound helps. It gets louder and louder as you approach. Libby, who did the Cockatoo Island Boot Camp, says she was told the soundtrack includes cascading water as well as the beating of horses’ hooves.

Room within a room by Christine Streuli

New walls were built to create this room within a room

The village is in another long, tall space. My pics don’t quite capture the lighting or mood, but the buildings have an ancient, dark and rather sinister quality about them.

Dwyer’s bubbles are all about lightness and light. Placed in the corner of a low, darkish industrial building, the taller-than-me ‘bubbles’ captured a glow from the setting sun when we were there.

Sydney ferry

Ferry arriving at Cockatoo Island

This biennale continues until 9 June. Go if you can. And in case you didn’t know, you need to take a ferry to get to Cockatoo Island (wharf 5). It’s a great way to see Sydney Harbour.

Stop back soon to see some of the biennale works shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

P.S. Just letting everyone know we have had three days in China with no access to the blog. I suspect my connections in the days ahead may be limited. Wish me luck


Leave a Comment
  1. BikeHikeSafari / May 19 2014 4:46 pm

    Good Luck and have a great trip.


    • leggypeggy / May 20 2014 2:47 am

      Thanks Brad, I’m watching your travels too.


  2. weggieboy / May 19 2014 8:04 pm

    Sounds fun!


    • leggypeggy / May 20 2014 2:47 am

      Yes, it was great fun—the art AND the ferries.


  3. suchled / May 19 2014 9:58 pm

    You certainly get around. The Biennale is truly a great event. Enjoy the stans.


    • leggypeggy / May 20 2014 2:48 am

      You never know where I’ll pop up next. This is our second jaunt through the Stans, so we must have liked the first one.


  4. Derrick / May 19 2014 10:38 pm

    who is this trip with ?, looking forward to the blog


    • leggypeggy / May 20 2014 2:48 am

      Thanks Derrick. Travelling with African Trails this time.


      • Derrick / May 20 2014 3:01 am

        I think you have travelled with them before, havent you ?


      • leggypeggy / May 20 2014 1:37 pm

        Yes, we did Africa with them. Have chosen this trip because it includes Mongolia and the Altai Mountains in Russia.


  5. David York / May 24 2014 12:01 am

    The ferry to Manly Beach is also another great ride and a wonderful tour of Sydney Harbor along with the Zoo Ferry! For the little they cost the ferries are a wonderful source of entertainment and photo ops! ‘

    The memories! You and Poor John are going to collect so many more for yourselves!


    • leggypeggy / Nov 25 2015 9:43 pm

      Oh my goodness. Can’t believe I missed this comment last year. The Sydney ferries are amazing, and if you are from New South Wales, you can ride almost everything there (buses, ferries and trains) for $2.50 a day. We have cards for it, so let us know if you come to Sydney.


  6. barkinginthedark / Oct 31 2018 11:35 am

    I have so many dear good friends in Sydney and have always loved being there. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 31 2018 2:32 pm

      It’s a wonderful city. Please speak up the next time you’re down this way.



  1. Sydney Harbour and that famous coathanger from a few angles | Where to next?
  2. More biennale and the Art Gallery of NSW | Where to next?

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