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Between Myth and Reality - Victor Man's Existential Painting
"The Contemplative Art Experience no Longer Takes Place" - Olaf Nicolai on the Future of Biennials
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Hide and Seek: The Self-Portraits of Annina Lingens
An American Affair - A Visit to the 2014 Whitney Biennial
Let's talk: Dayanita Singh & Gerhard Steidl on the High Art of Making Books
Six Feet Under - Why does contemporary art love to spotlight Old Masters and forgotten outsiders?
"Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset" - An Interview with Biennale of Sydney Curator Juliana Engberg
Rethinking the Language of Art - The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse
The Man Who Invented Pop Art - London Celebrates Richard Hamilton
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - "Colors were never strong enough for me": A visit with Nicolas Fontaine
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Lena Ader: A Certain Strength

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“Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset”
An Interview with Biennale of Sydney Curator Juliana Engberg


The Deutsche Bank-sponsored 19th Biennale of Sydney, the biggest art event in the Asian-Pacific region, gets underway under the programmatic title “You Imagine What You Desire.” Visitors can look forward to a celebration of the artistic imagination, says director Juliana Engberg, herself an all-round talent as curator, author, designer, and artistic director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne. In an interview with ArtMag, Engberg explains why we should place our bets on art’s revolutionary power—especially today.


You emphasize that this will be a very optimistic biennial, an “exploration of the world through metaphor and poesis.” When they look at the state the world is in, a lot of people don’t think there’s all that much reason for optimism, finding instead cause for anger, depression, and frustration. At one time, art was one of the most progressive forces in modernism—it was revolutionary. Today it has much less impact on society than technology and science. How can art offer us optimism today?

There’s a danger that if you continue to look at the world and see only its problems, you will eventually capitulate to a kind of paralyzing negativity. Lately, I think art has been cast as a kind of mirror to despair, a mirror of woes … and worse, often as a mere razzle dazzle in the art fair world of commodity and spectacle. It’s seen as a placebo effect, like a momentary bubble of entertainment. For me at this time, it was important to break out of this cycle of negativity or “bling” and attempt to once again engage with art that has energy, narrative, and metaphor and calls an audience into its energy. For me, the title You Imagine What You Desire gives license to both artist and audience to reignite their sense of possibility and find the motivation to act upon it. Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset, and I wanted to push beyond the postmodern endgame. To achieve this, I use all the tactics at my disposal: fun, activity, participation, and artistic ingenuity—and invite the audience to become involved.

There’s a great diversity among the artists participating in the Biennale of Sydney. How did you select them? Did you have certain themes or artistic practices in mind when you started? Is there something the positions have in common?

I always look for several things. For me to be interested in an artwork, I have to be able to find the psychological, the perceptual, and the anthropological entwined. The work needs to know its own artistic history; it needs to indicate something of the human history that makes it important at this moment, and it needs to deliver that in a compelling way. It needs a kind of intensity of spirit. I want to feel confident in its technical aspect, even if that is intentionally shabby or de-skilled. You very rarely find this, but of course it’s wonderful if you can see a rupture, a shift of some kind that disturbs the easy flow of ideas without breaking it … evolving it, I suppose. As I’ve said, this happens rarely, because most things work within a trajectory. So you hope to find the ones that have combined the other three elements very successfully. I look for the metaphors of collective consciousness, and I seek out the ways in which they resurface or translate between cultures. I am not shy about the poetic, sublime, and spectacular—and I tend to avoid the didactic.

For this edition of Sydney, I’ve had a very short turnaround, as we’re transitioning from a June launch to a March launch. Effectively, if you take into account the northern hemisphere summer and the southern hemisphere summer, this has meant a planning and delivery time of about 12–13 months. So I have worked very quickly and with a clear purpose in selecting.

Here in Sydney we have very idiosyncratic, iconic, and deregulated venues at our disposal, and so I developed schemes based on the character of those spaces. On Cockatoo Island: fantasy and feral, anarchistic energies; in the museum and gallery spaces: air, earth, water, and fire poetics; at Carriageworks: the dream factory of theatrical and cinematic languages; at Artspace: flights of fancy. And in the city: navigations and activations. I bring this all together under my title You Imagine What You Desire, which for me bridges the art and audience to bring them together in the active pursuit of possibilities and the amorous procedures which I believe to be at the heart of the art enterprise.

The Biennale of Sydney celebrates art and imagination for three months. Once it’s over, what would you like to remain of the biennial?


I hope to inspire younger generations to feel they have some power over the way their environment is shaped ecologically, ideologically, and collectively; that they can be forces for positive change and equal participants in a society that is generous, openhearted, and future-thinking. I hope the oldies will have had fun witnessing young people engage with art, and will themselves have found uses for their excess energies. Ultimately, I hope to have added some art memories for the Biennale-going public who keep a trace of each edition in their art-visiting DNA. The Biennale of Sydney is a great and generous multiplicity of an event and I’m hopeful it will grow once more into the hearts and minds of the public. And who knows … maybe one of your wealth-creating clients will step up to buy Danish artist duo Randi & Katrine’s installation The Village!




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