“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs”

Last June, I was in Sydney for the Biennale. The 2016 theme was ‘The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.’ The title is a quote from celebrated science fiction writer William Gibson (he of Neuromancer fame), and – as is perhaps self-explanatory – acts as a thematic lynch-pin for art which challenges dominant social, political, and economic ideologies and which shifts focus away from centres of power and privilege.

Under this banner stood the Biennale’s seven ‘Embassies’: Embassy of the Real (at Cockatoo Island); Embassy of Spirits (at the Art Gallery of New South Wales); Embassy of Disappearance (at Carriageworks); Embassy of Non-Participation (at Artspace); Embassy of Translation (at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia); Embassy of Transition (at Mortuary Station), and; Embassy of Stanislaw Lem (the Biennale bookshop). Between each of these major exhibition sites, one could also keep an eye out for the ‘In-Between Spaces’; interstitial pieces by exhibited artists which lay hidden amidst the streets of Sydney – a magical treasure hunt through the city.

Scattered across the town, the Biennale makes for a great excuse to see almost all that Sydney has to offer on foot. Walking from Embassy to Embassy, searching through streets and up hidden staircases for the In-Between Spaces, catching the ferry out to Cockatoo Island – it was a brilliantly exhausting weekend.

For me, the smallest Embassy was also the most exciting: the Embassy of Transition at the abandoned Mortuary Station. Though, to be completely honest, I think my excitement had more to do with the venue than the exhibition itself. An abandoned train station through which funereal trains used to pass on their way to the Rookwood necropolis is just my kind of place. You can walk up and down the platform, admire the rusted tracks, and hang out in the still furnished waiting rooms. It’s a pretty special place.

In a similar vein, Carriageworks is a phenomenal exhibition space. Also related to trains (it used to be where they were built) the sheer size and the low lighting of the space makes for an incredibly eerie atmosphere that lends itself well to much contemporary art, especially video pieces and anything that requires audience participation. It feels like you’re really stepping into another world, and makes for a wonderfully different feeling from the usual white cube gallery space. It’s open for exhibitions year around, and I would definitely recommend a visit.

And then there’s Cockatoo Island (which I’m pretty sure is where Cleverman was filmed). An old industrial site turned tourist attraction, it is an overwhelming site in terms of both space and material. My words cannot do it justice. I recommend spending a whole day there if you ever get the chance. But take a packed lunch – the food vans are ludicrously expensive. And this in a town known for its pricey food!

One of my favourite places to go to eat in Sydney is a bustling Izakaya in one of the shopping centres. It has everything you can imagine and, the last time I was there, I gorged on natto sushi, wakame salad, noodles, inari, nasu dengaku, mushroom skewers, and agedashi tofu (for the record, I did share). And to wash it all down, there was white wine, beer, and warm sake – and yes I had them all at the same time as is traditional (I just sipped them all very slowly).

And then there’s brunch. Ah Sydney – you do get brunch. Seriously, have brunch in Sydney. It genuinely is a breakfast/lunch replacement (and this coming from someone who can eat so much at a breakfast buffet that even the staff will ask if I’m sure I want another helping). My recommendation: Israeli brunch. Falafel, hummus, sabzi, shakshuka – what more could you want?!

This post is fast turning into a food tour (which is kind of not what this blog is meant to be about, and yet it keeps happening…) So I might just leave it there for today. Pics (mainly of food) below!