In The Financial Times, 24 March 2018: ‘Sydney harbours a treasury of art’

by Jane Ure-Smith

[Excerpt] The 21st Sydney Biennale […] brings together 70 artists from 35 countries in seven venues, including the once-controversial Sydney Opera House, whose opening in 1973 coincided with that of the first biennale. Twenty months in the making, this year’s exhibition, entitled Superposition: Equilibrium & Engagement, is directed by Mami Kataoka, chief curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum […]

Other sound works are thrilling too, most notably those by Oliver Beer, who believes that every architectural space has its own notes, which can be brought to life by the unamplified human voice. At the Opera House, small groups can experience his remarkable “Composition for Tuning an Architectural Space”, in which four singers, their faces turned to the wall, release the music of an unremarkable, concrete stairwell, and send shudders down your spine.

The performance is complemented by a film at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in which Beer has persuaded two male and two female professional singers to explore the “architecture” of each other’s faces. Locked mouth-to-mouth in a big onscreen close-up, they sing through each other’s noses. Those viewers who stumble in unawares will puzzle over what must seem a strange erotic encounter.

Beer wove his singers’ earliest musical memories into his “staircase suite” and a similar notion underlies Akira Takayama’s “Our Songs” project at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. In a variant on kabuki theatre, he invited Sydney residents to perform a song or poem passed down through their family in the city’s (empty) town hall, while Hikaru Fujii filmed them. In the fragment I watched, people sang in Russian, Mexican, Polish and Spanish: as Australia embraces the past of its indigenous citizens and feels increasingly at home as an Asia-Pacific nation, here were some unexpected exotic pedigrees to add to the social richness.


… The Biennale of Sydney runs to June 11,

Pictured: Oliver Beer, Composition for Mouths (Songs My Mother Taught Me), 2018 [still].