By Vita Forest
Last weekend, Max, Lucy and I ventured across the water by ferry to visit the 20th Biennale of Sydney at its Cockatoo Island Precinct. The theme of the Biennale is “The Future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed“. Venues are organised into different “embassies” with Cockatoo Island being the “Embassy of the Real”. Cockatoo Island has served many functions over the years including Penal Colony, Home for Orphan boys, an industrial site for shipbuilding and even the setting for a Wolverine movie. Its industrial past means that it contains some absolutely HUGE industrial/warehouse type spaces and the the artists have taken advantage of these.
“I need a massive space large enough to hang a silver zeppelin and a life size three-dimensional rendering of a hot air balloon,” Lee Bul might have asked.
“Sure!” Would have been the answer.
“Oh, and a life size illustration of a merry-go-round.”
In a not quite so cavernous (yet still very spacious) rectangular room, William Forsythe’s Nowhere but Everywhere at the same time can be experienced. This is the kind of art my kids like, it’s not “stand back and look at something” but “get in and experience it” art. First we lined up for a few minutes peering beyond the doorway to the room which clacked gently with the swing of hundreds of weighted, pointed pendulums which swung at slightly different tempos in slightly different orbits. People moved up and down the long room, attempting to navigate their way without bumping into any of the pendulums. The pendulums were attached to frames set on runners into the high ceiling and these were controlled electronically to move in slightly different formations to the ones around them.
Once the requisite number of people had exited, we were allowed through the doorway and given our instructions – we had to leave bags in the storage area and were not supposed to touch. Also – no running! Off we went, into the airy room.
Watching the metal pendulums put me in mind of armies – advancing and retreating. Or the opening credits of Game of Thrones – another complicated machine with parts that rise and fall. Moving through it felt like being out on the harbour again – the pendulums rising like the swell of a wave. It was a moving maze, with no fixed path and no one solution.
The simple aim of moving from end to the other, was not so simple. You could see where you wanted to be, but getting there involved side-steps, diversions and unexpected obstacles. Some people strode purposefully through the swinging pathways, others found small spaces of calm to stop and look around.
As a participant, you were very aware of the space you were in, of every step, of the floor, of the ceiling and the space between. You had to concentrate and be right in that place, in that time. There was no point concentrating on the final destination.
Afterwards, we stood at a doorway open to the harbour breeze and looked back inside. A mother seemed to skate side to side through the swinging points, while the baby strapped to her torso held out her hands to try and catch the silver streaks. Two small children walked forward with great concentration, holding Beanie Boos in front of them, as if they were being guided by them. And a tall man lolloped in zigzags, taking tight angular turns to avoid the pendulums smacking him on the back.
Max set up his phone and did a spot of slo-mo filming, while I read that the work was by William Forsythe. The name rang a bell. Then I read that he was also a choreographer and remembered his work with the ballerina Sylvie Guillem. He designed this artwork to turn everyone into a choreographer, everyone into a dancer. Go and try it out – it’s fun!