Category Archives: Artists

BoS artists’ statement of withdrawal

26 February 2014

We are five of the 37 artists – Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt – who signed a letter to the Board of the Biennale of Sydney in relation to their founding sponsor, Transfield.

We make this statement in light of Transfield’s expanding management of Manus Island and Nauru immigration detention centres. We act in the wake of the death of Reza Berati from inside Manus Island detention centre on February 17. We are in urgent political circumstances with a government that is stepping up their warfare on the world’s most vulnerable people daily.

We have received indications from the Board of the Biennale and Transfield that there will be no movement on their involvement in this issue. In our letter to the Board we asked for action and engagement, but we are told that the issue is too complex, and that the financial agreements are too important to re-negotiate.

And so we make this statement from a critical juncture of political urgency and artistic autonomy.

This is a statement of our withdrawal from the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

We have revoked our works, cancelled our public events and relinquished our artists’ fees. While we have sought ways to address our strong opposition to Australia’s mandatory detention policy as participants of the Biennale, we have decided that withdrawal is our most constructive choice. We do not accept the platform that Transfield provides via the Biennale for critique. We see our participation in the Biennale as an active link in a chain of associations that leads to the abuse of human rights. For us, this is undeniable and indefensible.

Our withdrawal is one action in a multiplicity of others, already enacted and soon to be carried out in and around the Biennale. We do not propose to know the exact ethical, strategic or effective action to end mandatory detention, but we act on conscience and we act with hope.

We have chosen to redirect our energies into multiple forms of action: discussions, workshops, publications, exhibitions and works that will continue to fuel this debate in the public sphere. In this, we stand with our local and international communities that are calling for the closure of Australia’s offshore detention facilities. We ask for their active support in keeping this issue at the forefront of our minds, in the warmest part of our hearts, in the most urgent of discussions and in the most bold of actions, until the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru close.

We withdraw to send a message to the Biennale urging them, again, to act ethically and transparently. To send a message to Transfield that we will not add value to their brand and its inhumane enterprise. Finally, and most importantly, we withdraw to send a message to the Australian Government that we do not accept their unethical policy against asylum seekers.

We ask that the Biennale of Sydney acknowledge the absence of our work from the exhibition. As the Biennale has offered to provide a platform and support for our dissent, we request that our withdrawal be registered on the Biennale website and signposted at the physical site of our projects. In the pervasive silence that the Government enforces around this issue, we will not let this action be unnoticed.

We act in solidarity with all those who are working towards a better future for asylum seekers. We hope that others will join us.

Libia Castro
Ólafur Ólafsson
Charlie Sofo
Gabrielle de Vietri
Ahmet Öğüt

More here.


Balthus, 'The Room', c.1953

Balthus, ‘The Room’, c.1953

Hisaji Hara, from the series 'A Photographic Portrayal of the Paintings of Balthus', 2009

Hisaji Hara, from the series ‘A Photographic Portrayal of the Paintings of Balthus’, 2009

Promotional still from Lars von Trier's forthcoming film, 'Nymphomaniac'

Promotional still from Lars von Trier’s forthcoming film, ‘Nymphomaniac’, 2014

Hot Photo Friday – Elina Brotherus

Elina Brotherus, still from 'The Black Bay Sequence', 2010

Elina Brotherus, still from ‘The Black Bay Sequence’, 2010

Some recent work by Lynne Cohen

Lynne Cohen 2013
Cohen 2013
Lynne Cohen Untitled 2013
All works, ‘Untitled’ 2013, 132.0 x 155.0 cm

An open letter to the Board of Directors, Biennale of Sydney

19 February 2014

To the Board of Directors of the Biennale of Sydney,

We are a group of artists ­— Gabrielle de Vietri, Bianca Hester, Charlie Sofo, Nathan Gray, Deborah Kelly, Matt Hinkley, Benjamin Armstrong, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Sasha Huber, Sonia Leber, David Chesworth, Daniel McKewen, Angelica Mesiti, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Joseph Griffiths, Sol Archer, Tamas Kaszas, Krisztina Erdei, Nathan Coley, Corin Sworn, Ross Manning, Martin Boyce, Callum Morton, Emily Roysdon, Søren Thilo Funder, Mikhail Karikis ­— all participants in the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

We are writing to you about our concerns with the Biennale’s sponsorship arrangement with Transfield.1

We would like to begin with an affirmation and recognition of the Biennale staff, other sponsors and donors, and our fellow artists. We maintain the utmost respect for Juliana Engberg’s artistic vision and acknowledge the support and energy that the Biennale staff have put into the creation of our projects and this exhibition. We acknowledge that this issue places the Biennale team in a difficult situation.

However, we want to emphasise that this issue has presented us with an opportunity to become aware of, and to acknowledge, responsibility for our own participation in a chain of connections that links to human suffering; in this case, that is caused by Australia’s policy of mandatory detention.

We trust that you understand the implications of Transfield’s recent move to secure new contracts to take over garrison and welfare services in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres on Manus Island and in Nauru. We have attached for your information, a document that outlines our understanding of the links between the Biennale, Transfield and Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

We appeal to you to work alongside us to send a message to Transfield, and in turn the Australian Government and the public: that we will not accept the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, because it is ethically indefensible and in breach of human rights; and that, as a network of artists, arts workers and a leading cultural organisation, we do not want to be associated with these practices.

Our current circumstances are complex: public institutions are increasingly reliant on private finance, and less on public funding, and this can create ongoing difficulties. We are aware of these complexities and do not believe that there is one easy answer to the larger situation.

However, in this particular case, we regard our role in the Biennale, under the current sponsorship arrangements, as adding value to the Transfield brand. Participation is an active endorsement, providing cultural capital for Transfield.

In light of all this, we ask the Board: what will you do? We urge you to act in the interests of asylum seekers. As part of this we request the Biennale withdraw from the current sponsorship arrangements with Transfield and seek to develop new ones. This will set an important precedent for Australian and international arts institutions, compelling them to exercise a greater degree of ethical awareness and transparency regarding their funding sources. We are asking you, respectfully, to respond with urgency.

Our interests as artists don’t merely concern our individual moral positions. We are concerned too with the ways cultural institutions deal with urgent social responsibilities. We expect the Biennale to acknowledge the voice of its audience and the artist community that is calling on the institution to act powerfully and immediately for justice by cutting its ties with Transfield.

We believe that artists and art­workers can — and should — create an environment that empowers individuals and groups to act on conscience, opening up other pathways to develop more sustainable, and in turn sustaining, forms of cultural production.

We want to extend this discussion to a range of people and organisations, in order to bring to light the various forces shaping our current situation, and to work towards imagining other possibilities into being. In our current political circumstances we believe this to be one of the most crucial challenges that we are compelled to engage with, and we invite you into this process of engagement.

We look forward to hearing your response and given the urgency of this issue, hope that we can receive it by the end of this week.

Thank you for your consideration.


Gabrielle de Vietri, Bianca Hester, Charlie Sofo, Nathan Gray, Deborah Kelly, Matt Hinkley, Benjamin Armstrong, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Sasha Huber, Sonia Leber, David Chesworth, Daniel McKewen, Angelica Mesiti, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Joseph Griffiths, Sol Archer, Tamas Kaszas, Krisztina Erdei, Nathan Coley, Corin Sworn, Ross Manning, Martin Boyce, Callum Morton, Emily Roysdon, Søren Thilo Funder, Mikhail Karikis

NOTES 1. Please note that in this document we use the name Transfield to refer to three branches of the Transfield brand: Transfield Holdings, Services and Foundation. Please refer to our information sheet for our understanding of how these are linked.

Pots, dropped

Ai Weiwei, 'Droppin a Han Dynasty Urn',

Ai Weiwei, ‘Droppin a Han Dynasty Urn’, 1995

Maximo Caminero has been charged with allegedly destroying an artwork by Ai Weiwei at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. The local artist picked up and smashed the million dollar work from Ai’s 2006 series Colour Vases in protest against the museum’s lack of local artist displays.  He now faces felony criminal mischief charges.  It’s a curious case of life imitating art; one of Ai’s most notorious works, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) is a series of three silver gelatin prints featuring the artist doing just that.  Describing his protest, Caminero stated: “I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei’s photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it. And I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest.”  The act was apparently spontaneous.

(And if you’re interested in seeing some of Ai Weiwei’s Colour Vases  in the flesh, there is a suite of them in QAG/GoMA’s collection)

Car parks are nice

Here’s a video from 2012 that New Zealand born, Brisbane based artist Chris Bennie made in the Chermside Shopping Centre car park in Brisbane.  The sweeping footage captures the mundane, perfunctory architecture and vast expanses of concrete that typify these kinds of spaces, as well as revealing some unexpected inhabitants.  The car park is an unlikely home to hundreds of swallows who flit through the space, seemingly invisible to the mall’s distracted consumers, too preoccupied with their latest purchases from DJs.  The video is strangely relaxing, and beautiful.  In 2012 it was shown rather appropriately at Sydney artist run space Alaska (located in a car park in Kings Cross).  If you’re in Brissie you can see it at Spiro Grace Art Rooms as part of the group exhibition ‘presence/absence’ which opens there next Friday.

So long, Nancy Holt

Nancy Holt in Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor, England in 1969, photographed by her husband Robert Smithson

Nancy Holt in Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor, England in 1969, photographed by her husband Robert Smithson

Visionary land artist, photographer, writer and film maker Nancy Holt has died aged 75.  She is perhaps best known for her Sun Tunnels (1973-76), situated in Utah’s Great Basin desert.  The work is comprised of four, five and a half metre pipes, aligned according to the sunrises and sunsets of the Summer and Winter solstices respectively.  Each tube bears perforations that, when in full sunlight, project the constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba and Capricorn upon their interiors.

Nancy Holt, 'Sun Tunnels: Sunset,' 1976

Nancy Holt, ‘Sun Tunnels: Sunset,’ 1976

Holt was only recently the subject of her first retrospective, Nancy Holt – Sightlines, organised and toured by the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University.  Her last project was the editing of her film, The Making of Amarillo Ramp (2013) (currently on display in the Dallas Museum of Art’s Robert Smithson in Texas show), which details the creation of her late husband and fellow land artist Robert Smithson’s sandstone earthwork in Texas in 1973.

Good GIFs

scorpion dagger
Tate Britain are throwing a  GIF party.  They’ve commissioned a bunch of digital artists including Zack Dougherty aka Hateplow, Hilary Faye and James Kerr aka Scorpion Dagger to revisit artworks in the 1840s room at Tate Britain and turn them into animated GIFs.  The project officially launches this Friday but some previous examples by the aforementioned artists above will give you a taste of what’s in store…

Hot Photo Friday – Jacob Aue Sobol

Jacob Aue Sol

Jacob Aue Sobol, from the series I Tokyo 2008