for hosting, Maud, and thank you, Jo-Anne, for your generous remarks. Congratulations
to you, Mami, the board and staff of the Sydney Biennale for conceiving of and
implementing the 21st Biennale of Sydney, Superposition: Equilibrium
and Engagement. Thank you for the
invitation to make some introductory remarks this evening.
also like to acknowledge that we meet on the land of the Gagdigal people of the
Eora nation and I pay respects to elders past, present and emerging.
of the Australia Council for the Arts, I would also like to welcome and thank
René Block for agreeing to travel here for the Sydney Biennale, to be amongst
friends and to deliver this Nick Waterlow Memorial Lecture. The title of your lecture, A propos of myself: Am I or is Australia far away? is so apt for the time, for the
place of our artists and our audiences in the world, for our cultural ambition
and for the themes of this Biennale. We all
greatly look forward to hearing how you navigate us through this timely
One of the privileges of my life was knowing
Nick Waterlow. He was encouraging and profound, gently and firmly compelling,
charming, whimsical. Grounded like stone but able to lean in, his curatorial work
and ideas took hold often in rocky places and they thrived, were persuasive.
The last time I saw Nick was at a dinner at the National Gallery of Australia.
He and Juliet had come to support an opening event, as they would, and we sat
in the members lounge at long tables. He was a rock star there, loved and
admired. His presence in the building
was a joy for the curators and staff. He
brought the perspective of the other, recognised the value of contested ideas,
the value of time. He saw humility as an
enabler not an inhibitor, and he knew that he could attain humility by serving
lecture is a wonderful way to honour the life, ideas, work and achievements of
an individual. As we gather for this
Biennale, we do so at a time when there seems little room in public debate about
art for gentleness, for nuance and subtlety, for connoisseurship (now there is
a word that doesn’t get much use), for thirst for knowledge, for learning from
each other, for deft curatorial practices rewarding personal discoveries,
surprises and delights. So often it’s a
case of ‘didya gettit?’ with no room left for discussion, for the paradoxes and
inconsistencies, for the relativities. Audiences
are being railroaded and, too often, are being told what to think.
all be afraid when the ‘I’ defaults to the ‘We’ with the accompanying assertion
of a singular totemic view about the worth of ideas. Don’t buy it.
You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to think differently. Don’t be scared. Speak up.
introductory remarks may seem to honour an earlier place and time when the
democracy of ideas was more widespread. Indeed,
they do serve to honour a greater spirit of cultural democracy with the warmth of inclusion and the rejection of such a totemic view,
determined by only a few.
this Sydney Biennale, it is the sum of freshly minted insights as well as the
reinterpretation of ancient ideas that should enlighten audiences, and be
thoughtful, provocative and challenging. It is the plurality of ideas, the broad views of histories and hugely diverse interpretations of the
present that save us from
the narrow views and propaganda of some. What a comfort it is to know that art and
artists play a central and critical role in this.
would want us, I think, to get busy interpreting and synthesising the ideas and
techniques of the artist to help us navigate our times, our work, our
relationships, our everyday. And I am
sure that he would want us to place centrally in our lives the quiet
contemplation of the object and the animation of our own aesthetic, imagination
and taste. We set the agenda for our own lives.
We do that by choosing, by being deliberative, by being human. We don’t do it by waiting to be told.
another place, not so long ago, I told an audience that I had the great good
fortune of living in a household of enthusiastic musicians. Our mealtimes are often taken up discussing
composers, instruments, past performances and up-coming concerts. Of course,
there are also expressions of frustrations about the time taken to practice and
rehearse. Our direct personal experience
is in complete alignment with what is endlessly researched and known
implicitly: that there is a strong positive correlation between musical knowledge
and performance with high academic attainment as well as a ‘way in’ to
contemporary culture. The evidence is
overwhelming. Too often the belief is
scant, especially amongst those that should know better.
that doesn’t tell the full story, not even half of it. The real story is that musical knowledge and
performance prepare you for lifetimes of musical pleasure and an ability to
communicate across geographies and cultures.
It is no exaggeration to say that it’s a short cut to a happy life. Participation in the visual arts, and a
wallowing in contemporary expression, ideas, enthusiasms, experiences,
experimentations, diversities, are two further ways to achieve those
gives me great pleasure to introduce Mami Kataoka, the inspired and inspiring
Artistic Director of the 2018 Sydney Biennale.
Myer AO, Chair, Australia Council
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