Three institutions, 70 powerful contemporary artists and one explosive new edition of The National. The cross-institutional biennial exhibition that’s kind of like the cooler version of the Sydney Biennale went off with a bang—literally, in the form of a cloud of steam outside Carriageworks with Fremantle-based artist Tom Mùller’s epic and eerie installation Ghost Train.
Set across three of Sydney’s biggest art museums and precincts—Carriageworks, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art, the second iteration of The National out of three across six years, is open and we are here for it.
Centred on the very best contemporary art being produced in Australia right now, it’s an exciting window into the art of our time—and a reflection on life in Australia now and where we're heading. Each of the three venues has a distinct flavour, so grab your walking shoes and opal cards, and spend a day or two exploring the best of contemporary art in Australia.
Kick off at Carriageworks for a creepy, dystopian world and some very (very) large art installations.
As well as Mùller's billowing fog (which is inspired by Carriageworks steam train past), you can't miss Wiradjuri artist Amala Groom's video work, The Union. The artist engages the contemporary culture of a wedding and turns it into a nightmarish vision, as she pulls herself through the Australian bush on a vivid red string in a white dress and veil. The whole thing is pretty freaky: the horror theme, complete with crows squawking and spooky voices, edited with a stop motion vibe—think Tim Burton.
Also at Carriageworks is Sean Rafferty’s towering installation of fruit boxes, Cartonography (FNQ) and Tony Albert's House of Discards—a literal oversized pyramid of playing cards.
At The Museum Of Contemporary Art
The MCA has become a bit of an art playground with a couple of inspired interactive (even edible) exhibitions. Fort Thunder: An Electro-Acoustic Playground by Lucas Abela feels like a 90s nightclub. It's basically a giant synthesizer and you're encouraged to drop in, touch and dance in order to "play" the instrument. It's loud and intense and will make you think about playing, rather than observing, music.
Hannah Brontë has brought her version of hip-hop into the gallery for an installation called Heala, expanding on what you think art can look—or sound like. She collaborated with female hip-hop artists to create the piece, which pushes female empowerment via visions embedded in Indigenous traditions, nature and First Nations women.
Melbourne-based artist Eugenia Lim’s The Australian Ugliness offers a sweet little meditation spot—complete with canary yellow bean bags, yellow curtains, and yellow light. A three-screen set up plays soothing videos of gentle (and quiet) construction, Dada ballet performances, and slow melancholy dances in geometric costumes.
If you're in need of a sugar fix, don't miss Hobart-based artist Willoh S Weiland's Lick Lick Blink. It's a collab with Messina that involves you sitting solo in a cinema, a 10-minute film and your choice of a boob-shaped ice cream cone in a seriously diverse range of flavours. What happens in the cinema is a bit of a surprise, but we can tell you that the ice-cream is milk flavoured with caramel and biscuit.
When the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) asked us to design a gelato 'choc tit' as part of their new exhibition, we didn't think twice. Created as part of The National 2019: New Australian Art, the MCA commissioned artist Willoh S. Weiland in her new work, LICK LICK BLINK. The 10-minute cinema experience has been designed to enter solo, yes... that means you enter the MCA Theatre all by yourself with your 'choc tit' and become an active participant in the performance work. How do you get one? It's completely free to experience Weiland's artwork and taste our limited-run of 'choc tits', but they're only accessible by booking into a session at the MCA info desk (level 1) on the performance day. Running from the 29th March - 23rd June, exclusively at the MCA.
At The Art Gallery Of NSW
Head to Art Gallery of NSW for the Sydney-based painter with a penchant for beautiful rich blues, Tom Polo's enormous site-responsive wall painting. When windows are walls features his signature Yves Klein blue and a series of cartoon faces peering out at you. With the incredible light and peaceful setting, Polo’s painting feels like a dreamscape; like you are floating through the clouds.
Mira Gojak's Exhaled Weight is a landscape of blue yarn shapes, set against a coral backdrop. And don't miss Bundjulung and Ngapuhi dancer and artist Amrita Hepi's new dance piece Tender. Performed in the gallery forecourt, it's based on the motif and metaphor of a rope.
On The Internet
This year, The National has also embraced the digital realm and internet art, with an online piece by Sydney based arist Agatha Gothe-Snape. EVERY ACT OF READING PERFORMS THE WORK is a monolithic virtual reality sculpture, watch the trailer here:
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Image credit: Eugenia Lim, The Australian Ugliness, 2018 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Jacquie Manning.