Be part of the Biennale of Sydney at the MCA

Gina Fairley

Discover more about the 21st Biennale of Sydney's public programs at the MCA, as Superposition becomes an opportunity for super engagement.
Be part of the Biennale of Sydney at the MCA

Ciara Phillips, Workshop (2010–ongoing), installation and print studio. Installation view (2013) at The Showroom, London with Justice for Domestic Workers Commissioned by The Showroom, London. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Ciara Phillips

Sydney, under Artistic Director Mami Kataoka, has a different agenda. Drawing on the collections of partner venues and the legacy of past exhibitions has been critical in extending the notion of engagement beyond a mere 12-week exhibition period.


At the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) that idea of engagement and equilibrium – two key themes introduced by Kakaota – has been extended through tailored public programs, artist talks, panel discussions and workshops.  

Learn how you can attend one of MCA’s Biennale public program.

Blair French, Director Curatorial and Digital at MCA said: ‘The works in the Biennale openly engage with ideas around democracy, around collaboration and collective identities, around assertion of Indigenous cultural presence and self-determination, around ongoing cultural reckonings with the oppressive legacies of colonial history.’

A good example is Glasgow-based artist Ciara Phillips, who said she is always questioning authorship. It is a curious comment for an artist, but for Phillips – who has been collaborating since her undergraduate degree – the engagement of others in her work is critical.

Phillips says that engaging with other people makes you question the things that matter to you as an artist. ‘What do you fight for in a negotiation, and what are they things you take for granted in making? I enjoy that challenge,’ she said.

When visitors walk into the Level 1 galleries at the MCA, the pristine white cube they have become accustomed to will be transformed. Phillips has created a production space where people can see her in the printmaking process.

‘It will be messy!’ said Phillips. ‘The thing about this project is that it looks like an education project or a community engagement project – things that are not considered the most important in relation to art history and its presentation. So having this project within the Biennale exhibition – and not the education room – is about taking a pedagogical position. It is about challenging perceived notions of what we think art is, and how it should be seen.’ 

Many different social and cross-generational groups from Sydney have already signed up, and Phillips expects that to escalate over the Biennale period.

‘The project I am doing is specifically related to engagement, where the public and the private, the individual and the artist work in collaboration to realise this project. It is about negotiating those balances that are often seen as opposing,’ she told ArtsHub. 

Nominated in 2014 for the Turner Prize for her project Workshop, 2010–ongoing, Phillips presents a new iteration of it here in Sydney.

She is among three international artists who will speak about their practice in a panel discussion on Saturday 17 March, 10.30 – 11.30am.

Tom Nicholson, Untitled wall drawing, 2009–12 (detail), pencil wall drawing, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Photograph: Alex Davies

Showing also in the Level 1 galleries at the MCA is Melbourne artist Tom Nicholson, who has remade an artwork held in the MCA Collection.

Untitled wall drawing 2009-2018 is a 17-meter long drawing and a chronological list, handwritten in pencil, which documents the creation of national boundaries.

Nicholson’s work has taken 10 days to recreate and update. ‘You could just do in vinyl lettering but the drawing is a critical part optically; there is a type of pulse or shimmer that it creates.’

Nicholson said that the shimmer produces a kind of inability to view the whole thing at once, a little like history and its repercussions. ‘To stand close enough to read the text you can see the entirely of its reach, and if you stand back you see the reach but you can’t discern the words any more. That sense of it being an ungraspable thing is important,’ he told ArtsHub.

‘For me what is loveable about drawing is its physical economy and lightness. If I were to scrape the graphite off the wall it would only be about the size of a golf ball and yet it articulates a wall 17-meters long and animates it in a particular way so that’s physical,’ he said.

‘My hope would be that people encounter the work and think of other ways that we imagine into the past and its ramifications of the present,’ concluded Nicholson.

How histories shape our futures; how time and space seemingly concertina and connect; how cultural and political ideologies offer trigger points – these are the essence of Nicholson’s wall drawing and Kataoka’s greater thesis for this Biennale.

Such ideas will be explored at the MCA through a series of artist talks, panel discussions and workshops. 

More than on the walls


As part of the Sydney Preview Day on Wednesday, 14 March, three artists will share insights about their practices from 5.30 – 6.30pm: Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, Jacob Kirkegaard and Marc Bauer. These talks will take place in the vicinity of their work in the Level 3 Galleries.  Free, no booking required. More details.

MCA Assistant Curator, Megan Robson will moderate a panel discussion with 21st Biennale of Sydney artists Haegue Yang, Ciara Philips and Svay Sareth on Saturday 17 March, 10.30–11.30 am. Reserve your seat.


Finnish video and sound artist Tuomas Aleksander Laitinen will activate his major new commission Dossier of Osmosis (2018) with performers every Wednesday evening in the gallery from 6-8pm. Learn more.


Join senior Aboriginal artist Esme Timbrey in a shell working workshop on Wednesday 4 April 6 – 8pm and learn the history and an important of this cultural practice. Book here.

Learn embroidery with artist Liz Payne and create your own work inspired by the 21st Biennale of Sydney artist Lisa Lou. Recently Payne has collaborated with the iconic fashion label Gorman clothing for their Autumn ‘17 collection. Her workshop will be held on Wednesday 2 May 6-8pm. Book here.

Art + Film Program

Tapping into 21st Biennale of Sydney themes about notions of conflicting ideas across all levels of humanity, political ideologies and cultures, catch screenings of the documentary, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time on Wednesday 18 April at 6 – 8pm and Sunday 22 April at 2-4pm. Tickets, and film details.

After-hours events


Join guest curators for an immersive experience that transforms all levels of the MCA.Friday 23 March with Fijian artist Salote Tawale, Friday 27 April with sound/video artist Tina Havelock Stevens, and a special VIVID Edition on Friday 25 MayDon’t miss out. Book here.


This after-hours, all-access, festival-style event is free and strictly for young people aged 12–18 years. GENEXT special 21st Biennale of Sydney event: Sunday 15 April, 6–9 pm. Learn more, and discover related dates. Free, booking required.

The 21st Biennale of Sydney, SUPERPOSITION:  Equilibrium & Engagement will be held at the MCA from 16 March 2018 - 11 June 2018. Entry to the exhibition is free.

The artists showing at the MCA for this year’s Biennale of Sydney are: Brook Andrew, Chia-Wei Hsu; Sosa Joseph; Tom Nicholson; Ciara Phillips; Esme Timbery; Marc Bauer; Marjolijn Dijkman; Simryn Gill; Jacob Kirkegaard; Yvonne Koolmatrie; Tuomas Aleksander Laitinen; Liza Lou; Svay Sareth; Maria Taniguchi; Nicole Wong; Haegue Yang, and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.