A ‘gem’ in my own backyard.

An older style Sydney ferry, the Borrowdale approaches Cockatoo Island having set out from Sydney’s main terminal at Circular Quay.

The main gateway building to Cockatoo Island saw a record 157,000 visitors pass through to see and experience the 2012 the 18th Biennale of Sydney.

Overshadowed by gantries and long disused cranes, visitors to the Biennale loose themselves in the relative coolness of the dry mist used in the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya’s exhibit entitled Living Chasm.

In the shipyards General Store, pigeon hole style shelving, still carries markings denoting the specific items once carried.

This massive laser cut styrofoam sculpture (20 times large than what is shown here), the largest exhibit at the Biennale, was created by New Zealand artist, Peter Robinson. Its representation of the islands sandstone base being shaped by convicts, and the huge links of chain signifying the shipyard itself.

This close up shows the precision detail of the laser cut technique in Peter Robinsons work.

Challenging to some, Colombian artist Maria Fernanda Cardosa exhibit in the ‘Museum of Copulatoty Organs’ proved fascinating to those that made it through the entrance. The exhibit showed highly finished larger than life plaster casts of many of the insect worlds sex organs.

The church style windows, some with aqua coloured glass, cast mixed light on Australian artist Monica Grzymala’s cotton rag paper and twig representaion of the cycle of life.

Inside the entrance of the Front Machine Shop, this constantly moving projection of ‘cats cradles’, engaged children whith its interactivity.

Based on the belief that all matter in the universe has a life of its own, English born Philip Beesley, created an amazing work, a hybrid that combined engineering, experimental chemistry, sculpture and architecture that in several ways, physically responded to the human presence.

Architectural detail of the Joinery Shop on it’s northern side.

The geometry of these neon tubes seemed to contrast greatly with this convict dug tunnel excavated around the mid 1800’s. There are two such tunnels which provide acess from one side of the island to the other.

A group of Japanese tourists realax after spending an afternoon on the island. In the background, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and rising above the CBD at 300 metres in height, Centrepoint tower.

Ria Verhaeghe ehibited her work in the chapel of the old Prison Complex. Hailing from Bruges in Belgium, she combined newspaper, hair, cloth and latex to reveal the world that hides and fluctuates within images we see in the press everyday and how we correlate these in our everyday reality.

The Scar Project 2005-2012 by Montreal’s Nadia Myre, contained a great number of small works on canvas, requiring three roons to show them with great effect. Essentially, each canvass portrayed a scar in a persons life, sewn by the individual themselves, representing the physical, spiritual, psychological or emotional aspects of those scars.

This work, a reflection on the artist hersef, and her regret of the passing of her youthfull innocence and the transition into the ‘harsh’ and sometimes ‘cruel’ place that is the world of her adulthood. Jin Nu from China, opposes the collectivised thinking at the time of her growing up under the One Child Policy.

The industrial background of the Main Turbine Hall was being used as the ‘set’ or backdrop for this bride and grooms wedding photographs.

Looking south west towards Balmain area. The dock in the foreground is Sutherland Dock.

A ‘peek’ into one of the many big spaces that are a feature of the many wonderful locations used to exhibit the ‘artists works’. New Zealand born artist Sriwhana Spong works across different mediums of assemblage, video and performance. References to the body, mythology and dance combine with modernist abstraction are used in this work exhibited in what was once the Electrical Shop.

Open to the sun and wind, this work by Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuna represents the ancient form, the ceque, a system of fabric sightlines that connected all Andean communities. Five thousand years ago, they had no written language, and so a way to remember was created using textiles and knotted cords.

This exterior of the Joinery Shop is certainly an intriguing sight. Such a beautiful example of the trade. As the sign indicates, all the furniture and the fittings for the boats worked on at Cockatoo Island, were made there.

There are two docks this size on the island. This one, Sutherland Dock, was constructed in the late 1800’s and could accommodate of 22,000 tons. It was later modified so as to be able to be used by ships of the Royal Australian Navy. On good weather days, the Biennale is a very popular event, as indicated by the cues of visitors patiently waiting for the ferry home at days end.

An artist skillfully paints one of several of the historic homes on the island. They are well preserved, and have commanding views. This one of federation style, was once home to the medical officer and engineering manager in the shipyards heyday. Today it is let for holiday accommodation.

With pinpoint accuracy, the resident gulls will be ‘off with the booty’, as quick as look at ya’.

If you live in a big city as I do, then the list of ‘must does’ and places to go can be very long indeed. Many factors of course dictate just how adventurous one may become in their own ‘backyard’. Sydney is a vibrant city with a reputation world wide for its beaches and the associated surfing culture, its famous architectural icon the Sydney Opera House, and of course, the ‘old coathanger’, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, now known for its stunning views via the bridge climb ……. of course the list is long. Occassionally one can make time to get another ‘tick’ on the list.   Cockatoo Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site, lies to the west of the Harbour Bridge and a convienient 3k’m ferry ride from the CBD.

Cleared of most of it’s vegetation in the mid 1800’s, it started its European journey as a penal colony and the one of Australia’s biggest shipyards until its decommissioning in 1991. Convicts laboured hard, removing large amounts of sandstone in the construction of the shipyard. Visiting the island at the time of the 18thSydney Biennale was in itself a fantastic opportunity to see work by artists from around the globe, but nothing could have prepared me for the scale and general photogenic nature of the many buildings, both internally and externally, and large scale associated equipment. Sculptures in their own right.

From the outset, I knew I wanted to make an attempt at documenting the place. Not long into it, and so energised by the whole idea, I knew it could not really be covered in one visit, nor was I really able to appreciate all that it had to offer. While some of the exhibits at the Biennale were less difficult to capture, the island and its structures were a different exercise altogether. It seems natural to me to have people somewhere within the frame, or at least somehow represented. I find it also takes longer to make this kind of image. Of course suitable light is an important factor.

I returned one more time, hopeing for some contrasting weather, but I felt that never materialised the way I would have hoped for. Stormy weather would have been a good start. At that time of the year, and with the days getting longer, I did on the second day, fore-go the last ferry. At closing time, and additional expense, I organised a water taxi, in order to buy a little more time, to perhaps pick up some favourable light. Of course, by showing just a few photographs, it’s not doing the subjects, the biennale, and the island itself, the justice they deserve. But like any account, the are restrictions if not limitations, so I hope, short of an aerial shot to establish its location, you get a feel for what a wonderful location the place really is.

An absolute gem, in my own backyard’, and dam near on my doorstep. Dare I say it, it’s just a slice of the wonderful city that is Sydney.

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