The venue was more interesting than the art. 17th Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

I went to Cockatoo Island (one of my favourite places in Sydney) on Sunday with some friends to check out part of the Sydney Biennale. I was instantly reminded of something a set designer once said to me about a detail on a set I’d spotted (I used to be a set builder in the theatre) that needed to be sorted out. She said to me, “oh don’t worry about that, if the audience notices, it will be a sign that the play is a flop”.

I remember being stuck by what she (the set designer) had said, and how true it was.

Not long after, I was involved with the complicated construction of a set that was built on two revolves that when rotated would break the set in half and then produce another scene as the old scene rotated off stage. There were three amazing set changes that happened with the audience watching . It was all a very magical theatrical experience and an excellent piece of set design.

The trouble was, that the play was so bad that the only thing the audience applauded were the set changes!

I’m not kidding.

Cockatoo Island is an old dockyard from the early 19th century. It’s now decommissioned as a dockyard but a lot of the old decaying buildings are still there. The whole place is a sort of monument to a shabby kind utilitarian brutalism that has almost been malevolently designed to be as ugly as possible. The strange thing is that now that the paint is peeling and iron is rusting Cockatoo Island has to my mind become a wonderful place.

Visual roughage for the eyes, if you will.

As part of the Sydney Biennale a free art exhibition is currently showing on Cockatoo Island in the various buildings. The only problem was, was that most of the art was so weak that the venue totally overwhelmed what was being shown.

I didn’t see anything that I thought was particularly interesting, never mind anything mind blowing. A few pieces were O.K. but there was nothing that I saw that I thought required more than a few seconds to look at.

Oh well, at least the buildings were interesting.

9 thoughts on “The venue was more interesting than the art. 17th Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010”

  1. I see I have some catching up to do. But before I rest my grading-sore eyes on some lines of decent text, let me just say that the top photo is simply gorgeous. Ok, this might not be the most appropriate term but don’t get distracted as it comes from someone who loves the picturesque decay of industrial sites.

  2. Grasswire

    Yes you do!

    Now get back to work so we can see some more of you.


    Welcome and thanks for dropping by with the kind words.

  3. Too bad the art wasn’t more interesting. Avoiding the competition with mediocre art is probably one reason why the interiors of most galleries are so plain. These are great photos and great colors! I bet this site has enough interest to keep someone like me busy for months!

  4. “Visual roughage”
    I like that description.

    Visual roughage is necessary for a normal diet.

    Are there any cockatoos on the island still … or is it like Falkland island with no Falks left on it … or Malvinas for that matter.

    note: if the French won a few more wars in the past, I’m sure it would be England Island. hee hee!

    double note: make fun of other people’s countries on a third party’s blog.

  5. Seriously, I remember last year’s photos from the same place. ( think you were camping there as well?) Provide a link so folks can see that this is an ongoing rapture with this place) This is for you (and I suspect Donald is right, for himm as well) like landing directly on your muse!

  6. Donald

    You’d love the place. If you ever come to Sydney, I’d be glad to show you around.


    No Cockatoos on the Island but there’s plenty out near my place.


    There is a link in the first sentence. It’s the bold in the brackets. I think you’d also like the place.

  7. So it’s a cockatooless island then…
    I did some time there in the Navy back in 1979 when my ship was in refit there for a while.
    It always amazes me how you can get such great looking photos from any old thing. Who’da thought a rusty old corrugated iron wall could look so good. If I photographed that it would just look like an uninteresting rusty old corrugated iron wall. Well done Mr. artistic photographic bloke

  8. Tony

    There may not be any cockatoos but there sure is a heck of a lot of seagulls.

    As for the rest of your comment, “you sir, are too kind”.

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