Cover image of the review

Kaylene Whiskey, Kaylene TV, 2023, mixed media installation. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain with generous assistance from the Australian Government through Creative Australia, its principal arts investment and advisory body. Courtesy the artist, Iwantja Arts and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. 24th Biennale of Sydney, Ten Thousand Suns, White Bay Power Station. Photo by Daniel Boud.

The 24th Biennale of Sydney: Ten Thousand Suns


1 Jun 2024
UNSW Galleries, Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), White Bay Power Station 9 Mar - 10 Jun 2024

Curators Cosmin Costinaș and Inti Guerrero stake out carnival as central to the thematic framework of Ten Thousand Suns, describing “how carnival traditions, such as music, dance and regalia, can be a form of resistance and a way of rallying against oppression.” One of the most influential accounts of carnival comes from Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s book on the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais, published in English in 1968. In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin argues that Rabelais is indebted to the popular and folkloric rituals of the Middle Ages. As a historical phenomenon, medieval European carnivals were filled with laughter, feasting, and crude humour. These were moments of rupture and renewal, involving a reversal of societal roles; the slave would be crowned king while the king was forced to dress as a pauper.

It is certainly possible to find the subversive impulse of the Rabelaisian carnival in Ten Thousand Suns. In the window of UNSW Galleries, there is a giant butt-plug, part of Maputiti Nonga (Evil Ass Dreaming) (2024) by Yangamini, a collective of Tiwi sistagirls. The work is comic and playful, but also deadly serious. The butt-plug is intended to block the exploitative spread of oil and gas pipelines, from Darwin, under the Timor Sea, to the Tiwi Islands—the “evil ass” of settler-colonialism. Over at White Bay Power Station, Dylan Mooney’s enormous portrait of South Sea Islander dancer and activist Malcolm Cole is the centrepiece of the exhibition. Cole opened the 1988 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade dressed in colonial regalia as Captain Cook, with a group of white convicts towing his float down the street. It was a perfect carnivalesque inversion of the Bicentennial celebrations, which re-enacted the invasion of the First Fleet just one month prior.

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