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


Le Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

When people talk about art galleries in Paris, Le Louvre is always mentioned, usually closely followed by Le Musee d’Orsay. These two galleries attract millions of international tourists each year, wanting to see Mona Lisa’s smile, Gauguin’s Tahitian Women, works by van Gogh, Degas, Caravaggio, Delacroix, Ingres, Renoir, Monet, Vermeer, just to name a few. However, where do you go to see celebrated modern art (usually classified as art of the 20th century, post WWI art) in Paris? Where can you see the works of Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, etc.? Hidden amongst the Haussman-styled apartment buildings in the 4th arrondissement of Paris – well known for it’s cafes, shops and expensive real estate – is Le Centre Georges Pompidou, the hub for modern art in Paris. On weekends, the forecourt of the centre is usually filled with street performers of every shape and size, who seek the attention of visitors and passers by alike.

Note: For those who don’t know, Paris is broken up into 20 administrative districts know as arrondissements, each with their own mayor and council, as well as their own individual character and atmosphere. When Parisians talk about where they live, they always mention their arrondissement. Your arrondissement places you, socially speaking, into a box. It tells others of your social and economic standing, your interests and even your political persuasions. For example, the 16th arrondissement is know to be very upmarket, chic and conservative. In contrast, the 18th arrondissement is known to be very liberal, artsy, with a large population of North African immigrants and descendants.

The exterior of the Centre Georges Pompidou appears to be somewhat of an eye-sore when set in contrast to the surrounding neighbourhood. In a very ‘un-Parisian’ manner, the original buildings on the site were demolished in the 1960s to make way for this ‘hideous’ structure (Paris usually has a great reputation for retaining and transforming existing structures, which as allowed to city to retain its old-world charm – the Louvre Museum was originally a royal palace and the Musee d’Orsay is a converted railway station. On my first visit to Paris, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Parisian government created a new suburb on the outskirts of Paris, known as Le Defense, to accommodate a growing need to establish a business district in Paris, rather than demolishing the existing buildings and neighbourhoods). So, steering away from tradition, is Le Centre Georges Pompidou. The steel frame, the glass facades, the coloured pipes and the tres moderne look of the site ensure that no passerby fails to miss it. The design and construction of the centre has since become and has remained a topic of heated criticisms amongst many Parisians.

As you can see from the photos above, the view from the top floors of Le Centre Georges Pompidou is unquestionable Parisian. Seeing the unmistakeable rooftops of Paris and the Parisian skyline dominated by the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame from this perspective was a unique experience. The colours, the textures, the design of the structures, just thinking about all those hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit this unique city. All those individuals who glance through those little windows to see life in Paris unfolding day by day.

Ok, so the main reason people go to the Centre Georges Pompidou isn’t to criticised the bad town planning/architectural decisions of the then French President Georges Pompidou, nor to be bewildered by the beauty of the panoramic views, but rather to appreciate the amazing art which is on display in the light-filled, warehouse inspired, gallery spaces. The Centre hosts many temporary exhibitions throughout the year, but it’s their permanent collect of Fauvist, Cubist, Expressionist, Surrealist (to name a few) works which I found absolutely amazing, especially in comparison to the ‘poorly’ collections of many of the large, state-run galleries in Sydney. Le Musee d’Arte Moderne in the 16 arrodissement – just up the road from where I was living and which I frequented regularly – also has a great collection of modern art, it is no where near as impressive, in quality and quantity, as the exhibits at the Pompidou Centre. All the big names of 20th century art are there – everywhere you turn you see art works you’ve read about and the closest you came to seeing them was on the pages of a poorly printed high school textbook (or a better printed and much more pricey university textbook). Picasso, Kandinsky, Braque, Matisse, Dali, Miro, Wahol, Pollock….the list goes on and on and on.

As you gather, if you’re an art-buff, an admirer of modern art, or a art history student seeking cultural gratification in such a culturally rich city as Paris (I put my hand up here), then Le Centre Georges Pompidou is a must on your next visit to Paris.

– The Centre is located on the opposite side of Les Halles to Le Louvre, and take one of the many metro lines which intersect at Les Halles/Chatelet and exit here.

Photographs from my personal collection