Cockatoo Island & The Biennale of Sydney 2012

We couldn’t have chosen a better day to wonder around Cockatoo Island and indulge in a bit of art. Every second year, the city of Sydney hosts one of the most prestigious contemporary arts festivals – The Biennale of Sydney, now in its 18th year. The festival runs for a number of months and showcases the works of some of the leading contemporary artists from all over the globe. In addition, the festival organises artist talks, film screenings, performances, family events, and so on. This year the Biennale of Sydney is spread over five major venues, including the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art (don’t forget to have a look at its recent refurbishment), Pier 2/3, The Carriageworks and Cockatoo Island. This year the Biennale is held between 27th June and 16th September. And since I’m going overseas for 2 months in a week’s time, and had not yet had the chance to see it, I though I better make use of this stunning day, head into the city and check it out.

Since I had never been to Cockatoo Island – my friend Kylie (a talented artist herself – keep an eye out for the name Kylie Barber over the next few – we’re expecting some amazing work from her) could not believe this – we decided to dedicate the day to exploring the island, whilst admiring the art on display.

Cockatoo Island is easily accessible from Circular Quay. For the duration of the Biennale, there is a free ferry from Wharf 6, which departs every 45 mins. The line for this ferry service tends to be rather long, especially on weekends, and there is a good chance that you may have to wait for one or two ferries before reaching the front of the line. If you do not want to wait, there is the regular Circular Quay-Cockatoo Island ferry, departing from Wharf 5, which only cost $5 each way. And for those who’d like their own silver service and are happy to pay for it, you can take the water taxi across from most of the wharfs and jetties in Sydney Harbour.

Cockatoo Island is located in Sydney Harbour/Parramatta River, about 2km west from the Harbour Bridge, between Woolwich and Birchgrove. The island has an interesting and varied history. From the first settlement of Sydney, it was utilised as a jail, where inmates were put to work building barracks, military buildings and official residences. From then it became an industrial school for girls and a reformatory in the 1870s, and a site for naval dockyards and a ship building facility from 1900. The island was left abandoned in the 1990s, until in 2001 it was taken in the care of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and major restorations took place. Today the island is used  for art exhibitions, concerts, comedy nights and other special events, are as simply a nice spot on the harbour to spend a day (or camp out at night).

We were so incredibly lucky to have such a stunning day to visit the island. Although it was a rather cold day, the winter sun shone with all its might. There was hardly a cloud in the sky to dampen the day. Aside from some amazing artworks, most notably the works of Philip Beesley, Monika Grzymala and Jonathan Jones (see photos below). These were by far my favourites of the day. Philip Beesley’s work especially. It was absolutely stunning, and worth the visit in itself. I was fascinated with the island. Its history, its geography, its stunning views, its old industrial architecture and objects (such as the old cranes which are the subjects of a number of the photos below), I found the entire place incredible (poor Kylie had to listen to me oooh and ahhh for a good half of the day). So maybe enough of me expressing my awe and amazement for one day – instead of listening to me, take a look at some of my photos in the post, enjoy, and get out to Cockatoo Island yourself on the next sunny day you don’t have anything better to do – and hopefully that falls before September 16, so you can see the collection of artworks on display as part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney.

Susan Hefuna, Celebrate Life, 2011

Jonathan Jones, Untitled (oysters and tea cups), 2012

Cal Lane, Domesticated Turf, 2012

Philip Beesley, Hylozoic Series: Sibyl, 2012

Monika Grzymala and Euraba Artists and Papermakers

Ed Pien with Tanya Tagaq

Latifa Echakhch

Ricardo Lanzarini

Words and images by Jade Spadina

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