17th Biennale of Sydney

The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age


May 12 – August 1, 2010
Sydney, Australia


The 17th Biennale of Sydney, Australia chose 19 artists from the United States to participate in the 2010 exhibition. Three of the artists selected are represented by Lisa Sette Gallery of Scottsdale, Arizona: Enrique Chagoya, Claudio Dicochea, and Angela Ellsworth.


“Deserts and water are the most obvious “inconvenient truths” about human influence on the planet. But, it is precisely this windswept, unkempt, erotic, blasted, forsaken space – literal and imaginative – in which many artists ply their unwanted play – their burnings and yearnings – always burdened with the truth of testimony. Bertolt Brecht once posed the question, “In the dark times / Will there also be singing?” His answer was, “Yes, there will be singing / About the dark times.” In the cathartic world of art, the light often comes from a surviving ability to make palpable the incomprehensible – to make the invisible visible – to make flesh from the ethereal. To imagine the unimaginable, we are ignited to understanding by new stories and images. The desert; the water; the fantastic example of both is one such urgent, enduring imagining.”

-Bruce W. Ferguson, independent art curator and critic

Angela Ellsworth is an interdisciplinary artist whose startling performance pieces and objects often draw on her own background as a descendant of Mormon pioneers. The Biennale of Sydney will include an installation of nine of Ellsworth’s exquisitely sinister Seer Bonnets—bonnets whose iridescent exteriors, formed entirely by the pearl-tips of tens of thousands of corsage pins, belie their dangerous needle-point interiors. Titled Seer Bonnets: A Continuing Offense, each of the nine bonnets will represent the wives of Ellsworth’s great-great grandfather, who was the fifth prophet of the Mormon Church. Ellsworth is also preparing a performance for inclusion in the Biennale that will take place throughout the event space and involve dancing Mormon “sister-wives.” Writing in ArtForum magazine, Deborah Susser observes: “Ellsworth mines two seemingly dissonant genealogies—a lineage of influential female performance artists and her own Mormon heritage—to produce an unholy hybrid.”

The work of Claudio Dicochea, an electrifying mixture of pop-culture commentary and acid-hued acrylic gesture, addresses this theme in frenetic collaged paintings that take on the tradition of 18th century casta paintings (which depicted various Colonial-era racial categorizations). Dicochea turns the genre on its head by employing contemporary media idols, comic book characters and political figureheads as stand-ins for the obsolete European stereotypes. Four of his paintings, including De la Gran Madre y un Duke, la hibrida (Of the Great Mother and a Duke, a Hybrid), 2010, will be included in the Biennale of Sydney. Dicochea remarks “I think [my] work aligns itself with the curator’s idea that no one culture is able to possess an entire, complete knowledge of the world… No one society holds a monopoly on cognition or perception.  I find that a seductive concept and it’s one that’s always informed my work.”

Enrique Chagoya’s extensive and internationally known body of work also seeks to describe alternative cultural histories. Working on amate bark paper, in the tradition of ancient codices (book-like pictorial histories from pre-Colonial Central America), Chagoya uses humor to critique the current cultural and political power-struggles taking place on the American continents while referencing both ancient and contemporary aesthetic traditions. These seemingly paradoxical traditions come together in works like the poignant Illegal Alien’s Guide to Global Warming. Chagoya remarks, “I integrate diverse elements: from pre-Columbian mythology, Western religious iconography, ethnic stereotypes, ideological propaganda from various times and places, American popular culture, etc. Often, the result is a non-linear narrative with many possible interpretations.” A professor at Stanford, Chagoya has been a long-term collaborator with Lisa Sette and has been represented by the gallery for over two decades.