“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” — George Bernard Shaw
An Icelandic waterfall, a village of Danish houses complete with human faces, an art gallery reimagined as a quasi, dreamlike forest—these are just a few of the immersive exhibitions curator Juliana Engberg has brought together for the 19th Biennale of Sydney, which this week begins its three-month run in Australia’s southeast coast. Borrowing its title from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, “You Imagine What You Desire” follows the theme of artistic imagination and desire through an exhibition dispersed across Sydney and a variety of distinct venues; highlights include: the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), and what Engberg calls spirited and “feral” locations including Cockatoo Island, a former prison and shipyard, and Carriageworks, a former railyard.
On Cockatoo Island, Engberg has created a magical and immersive “fun-park,” filled with performative, interactive, and kinetic works. Look for the trademark anthropomorphic houses of Danish duo Randi & Katrine’s Village, and fellow Dane Eva Koch’s life-sized, slow motion projection of an Icelandic waterfall—complete with the sound of roaring water. Skip over to the MCA and you’ll find British video artist Douglas Gordon’s dramatic mixed-media installation, Phantom, where Rufus Wainwright’s piercing eye and two Steinway pianos are set to the sound of the singer-songwriter’s haunting voice. At AGNSW, Chinese artist Yingmei Duan will live for no less than 12 weeks within the forest she built inside the gallery, handing out written wishes to passersby. And along city streets, Lithuanian artist Eglë Budvytytë has choreographed a group of men who, running through Sydney’s business district, will pantomime a gamut of emotions, from shame to seduction.
“For me artists are active philosophers who seek to engage the audience and viewer in an exploration of our world through metaphor, narrative and poetry,” Engberg said. “They do this so that we might find inspiration in the sensations and intensities produced by art, and so that we might, temporarily, step aside from our commonplace experiences and feel something uncanny and unusual.” This week, explore the Biennale of Sydney on Artsy and see for yourself—and if you’re in Sydney, spend time with Engberg’s magical and immersive environments that have temporarily, and delightfully, taken over the city.