If it’s Tuesday, it must be media preview day

May 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm

The chair of the Biennale said this morning, in his comments to the media before we all swarmed through the Museum of Contemporary Art to take in the sights, that the Biennale is like a kind of art United Nations, creating and sustaining connections. After a day of watching people from around the world greet each other like favorite relatives at a family reunion and then introduce old friends and acquaintances to new people, I would have to agree.

I would also have to agree with David Elliott, the Biennale’s creative director, who said in his remarks this morning that he considered his competition to be the sunlight glinting off the water of the harbor just outside the MCA and the bats swirling around like a vortex in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens, and to say that Elliott has given the bats a run for their money. This “End of Enlightenment’ show,” as Elliott dubbed it, contains moments and pieces that will, as promised, invite visitors to “connect the dots” in their own pattern, and change the way they see the world.

Much of what I saw is still percolating through my heart and my brain, but the pieces that rise to the surface at this moment are Bill Viola’s 2008 video installation “Incarnation,” and  Isaac Julien’s video installation “Ten Thousand Waves,” which premiered here at the Biennale. Julien’s installation occupies the second floor of a building on Cockatoo Island, a former penal colony where, today, hundreds of art media types traipsed off the ferry and through dilapidated buildings to meet the artists and see their work — but not before an official “Welcome to Country” by Auntie Millie, a.k.a. Millie Ingram, representing the Aboriginal elders.

According to Millie, The purpose of the Welcome to Country ceremony is “to make people feel good.”

“People can’t just enter your home,” Millie says, and by home she means Australia. “The owner has to invite people in.”

Millie and I talked a little after the welcome, and she told me that she’s been to Flagstaff, on a trip with her sister, where she noticed that all First Nations people look related; she and her sister spotted someone there who could have been their brother. Her sister is the first Australian Aboriginal ever to graduate from Harvard, with a master’s degree in education. She  is now back in Australia, where she can’t get a job. “This country has a hell of a long way to go,” Millie said.

Millie’s words are a stark reminder of what Elliott said in his opening comments — that the indigenous peoples of the world saw the dark side of the European Enlightenment. That thread weaves through much of the art on display here, from a collection of memorial poles by Yolngu artists from Australia’s Northern Territory to the work of Enrique Chagoya. Chagoya notes that in his “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Political Theory,” one of two codices on display at the MCA, he painted a picture of indigenous Australian Yolngu artist David Malangi and put a Mexican hat on him, or, as Chagoya puts it, he “made him a Mexican.” Strange and funny how the dots connect.

Illustrations to follow, as well as an account of Angela Ellsworth’s “Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” the mesmerizing performance by Ellsworth’s stately, sexy sisterwives that kicked off the media preview.

– Deborah Sussman Susser

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Dispatches from the future (a.k.a. Australia) Aunt Millie and Malangi

May 2010

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