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Ai Weiwei is taking over the Sydney Biennale with a massive inflatable sculpture

Sydney Biennale 2018, Ai Weiwei 'Law of the Journey' 2017, photo credit: Ai Weiwei studio
Photograph: Ai Weiwei Studio Ai Weiwei 'Law of the Journey' 2017

The Biennale of Sydney today announced its complete line-up for 2018, with 69 artists from Australia and around the world showing work at seven venues: Art Gallery of NSW, Artspace, Carriageworks, Cockatoo Island, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney Opera House and, for the first time, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. 

Quite a few big guns of the contemporary art world will be heading to Sydney next March, but few bigger than Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who'll be presenting two sculptures, a feature length film and deliver a keynote address.

He'll be bringing a 60-metre inflatable boat filled with 250 larger-than-life refugee figures to Cockatoo Island. The work is called Law of the Journey, and is made of the same black rubber used to make the vessels that carry refugees across the Aegean Sea.


Ai Weiwei 'Law of the Journey', 2017
Photograph: Ai Weiwei Studio


The artist, who was famously arrested after criticising the Chinese Government's human rights record, has recently turned his attention to the European refugee crisis. His feature length refugee documentary Human Flow will have its Sydney premiere at the Opera House as part of the Biennale.

Weiwei's work might seem like a bit of a throwback to the 19th Biennale in 2014, which was almost derailed by protests over refugee issues. One of the Biennale's major sponsors, Transfield, held security contracts in offshore detention centres, and several of the artists threatened to boycott if ties with Transfield weren't cut.

The act of migration is the subject of quite a few of the works in the 21st Biennale, which is directed by Mami Kataoka, chief curator at Tokyo's Mori Art Museum. The official theme is "Superposition", a term taken from quantum mechanics, referring to an overlapping situation. That's a deliberately broad notion, which Kataoka says allows artists to explore diverse concerns that may have interconnected, overlapping ideas.

Kataoka is the first Asian director in the Biennale's 43-year history and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a strong focus on Asian art in next year's edition: Asian artists make up 28 of the 69 showing work next year. Australian artists make up 21 per cent of the line-up, and half of those are Indigenous artists.

Biennale highlights

Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung will be exploring refugee issues with a series of works at Artspace in Woolloomooloo.


Tiffany Chung 'water dreamscape – the gangster named Jacky, the sleepers, and the exodus' (2017)
Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York


Across on Cockatoo Island will be an immersive, maze-like work by Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi. Icarus Container is a 100-metre long tunnel based on King Minos's labyrinth. It's made of shipping containers and uses video projections and mirrors to reflect sunlight around the space. 


Yukinori Yanagi 'Icarus Cell', 2016
Photograph: Tatsuhiko Nakagawa


A four-channel projection work by Chinese artist Chen Shaoxiong (who was a friend of Kataoka) will be shown at Carriageworks. It was completed shortly before his death in 2016 and depicts some of the scenes he could observe from his hospital bed.


Chen Shaoxiong 'The Views' (2016)
Courtesy Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing. Collection of Luo Qingmin


Yarrenyty Arltere Artists from Alice Springs will show sculpture works at the Museum of Contemporary Art.


Yarrenyty Arltere Artists Collaborative 'Every face has a story, Every story has a face, Kulila!' (2016)
Courtesy the artist and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, Alice Springs


Hong Kong's Samson Young made a big impression with his video work at the Venice Biennale this year, which will be coming to the Art Gallery of NSW. It features members of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions performing the charity single 'We Are The World'.


Samson Young 'We Are The World As Performed by the Federation of Trade Union Choir' (2017)
Photograph: Simon Vogel


British duo Semiconductor will present a five-channel video animation work at Carriageworks looking at our world from different perspectives.


Semiconductor 'Earthworks' 2016
Photograph: Semiconductor


Melbourne artist Marco Fusinato will invite visitors to bash in a 40-metre white wall at Carriageworks as the sounds are relayed throughout the space via loudspeakers.


Marco Fusinato 'Constellations' 2015
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne Photograph: Olivia Kwok


The 21st Biennale of Sydney runs from March 16-June 11, 2018.

See the best art in Sydney this month.