Mami Kataoka to bring fresh Asian perspectives to Biennale of Sydney 2018

The Japanese curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum will be the Biennale of Sydney’s first Artistic Director from Asia.

Mami Kataoka takes over the title from German curator Stephanie Rosenthal.

Mami Kataoka, Artistic Director of 21st Biennale of Sydney. Photo by Daniel Boud. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

Mami Kataoka, Artistic Director of 21st Biennale of Sydney. Photo by Daniel Boud. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

First Asian Artistic Director

The Biennale of Sydney announced last week that Japanese curator Mami Kataoka, Chief Curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, was appointed as the biennial’s next artistic director. As various publications were quick to note, Kataoka’s appointment makes her the first Asian artistic director to take the reins of the 40-year-old biennale. Kate Mills, Chairwoman of the Biennale, remarked in the official press release:

As one of the region’s most accomplished curators, Mami will bring a truly fresh perspective and an Asian sensibility to the exhibition in 2018, enabling Biennale artists and audiences to explore in greater depth our relationship with the Asia Pacific region and challenge conventional wisdoms.

Charwei Tsai, 'Spiral Incense – Hundred Syllable Mantra', 2016, spiral incense made of herbal materials, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at Mortuary Station. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy Biennale of Sydney.

Charwei Tsai, ‘Spiral Incense – Hundred Syllable Mantra’, 2016, spiral incense made of herbal materials, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at Mortuary Station. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy Biennale of Sydney.

Mami Kataoka has an extensive CV, starting out as Chief Curator at Mori Art Museum and serving as International Curator at the Hayward Gallery in London from 2007 to 2009. She is also familiar with the Biennale of Sydney, having served as one of the 13 international advisors to its 2016 edition. Kataoka was also one of six directors of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Kataoka said it was “very natural” the Biennale had looked to Europe when it first began in 1973, but it had been recently

a little bit outdated to only bring artistic directors from Europe or particularly the UK. And it’s been quite a long time.

Lee Bul, 'Willing To Be Vulnerable', 2015–16, heavy-duty fabric, metalised film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

Lee Bul, ‘Willing To Be Vulnerable’, 2015–16, heavy-duty fabric, metalised film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at Cockatoo Island. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

Asian sensibility with a global focus

Kataoka insists, however, that the Sydney Biennale should not be an Asia-focused exhibition. Noting that such a focus would place the Biennale in competition with Brisbane’s Asia-Pacific TriennialSydney Morning Herald quotes the curator:

Naturally I have more experiences and knowledge in this region so it’s probably natural to bring in some of the artists I know. But it doesn’t mean I only look at those regions.

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, 'Bathala', 2012, natural earth pigments on hollow log, 257 x 30 x 30 cm. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley.

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, ‘Bathala’, 2012, natural earth pigments on hollow log, 257 x 30 x 30 cm. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley.

Kataoka notes in the same article that in 1973, the Biennale of Sydney was Australia’s “only window to the international world”. Since then the landscape has changed dramatically with the establishment of various art institutions across the country. She says:

Now the MCA, Art Gallery of NSW, Artspace, all these existing spaces do really international exhibitions. So I think it’s a really good time […] to look at where the Biennale is going. Particularly after 20 times.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, 'Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3', 2015–16, HD video, denim, foam, wood 24m:55s. Performance with boychild presented at Cockatoo Island, 18 March 2016. Courtesy the artist; C L E A R I N G, New York and Brussels; and Carlos Ishikawa, London. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, ‘Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3’, 2015–16, HD video, denim, foam, wood 24m:55s. Performance with boychild presented at Cockatoo Island, 18 March 2016. Courtesy the artist; C L E A R I N G, New York and Brussels; and Carlos Ishikawa, London. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

No. 21: A new phase for the Biennale

In an interview with The Australian, Kataoka reveals that she has not yet decided on a theme or concept for the biennale. She is leaving her options open, and hopes to tackle socio-political issues beyond the art world. Speaking to Sydney Morning Herald, Kataoka says:

Now Biennale’s are about everything. It’s not only about the development of contemporary art but Biennale’s are for tourism, diplomacy, so many things are interrelated. We’re not only looking at the practices of art, we’re looking at the social changes climate changes and all these refugee issues.

Taro Shinoda, 'Abstraction of Confusion', 2016, clay, pigment, ochre, tatami mats, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

Taro Shinoda, ‘Abstraction of Confusion’, 2016, clay, pigment, ochre, tatami mats, dimensions variable. Installation view of the 20th Biennale of Sydney (2016) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy the artist. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photo: Ben Symons. Image courtesy the Biennale of Sydney.

The 21st edition of the event will be Kataoka’s first biennale as sole artistic director. The curator came to the field via an earlier career as an art consultant – a job that strategically informs her artistic programming. Kataoka tells The Australian:

I am very happy to be No 21, it sounds like a new phase for the biennale, a perfect time to consider the role of the biennale in the region.

Michele Chan

1207

Related Topics: biennales, curatorial practice, events in Sydney

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