This year, the free three-month contemporary art festival explores the reality of the now via seven ’embassies of thought’.

One of Australia’s leading contemporary art events, the Biennale of Sydney, returns this year for its 20th iteration with a program titled The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. Free guided tours, artist and curator talks, lectures, performances and workshops will encourage innovation, experimentation and the communication of ideas across seven ‘embassies of thought’ venues when the 20th Biennale of Sydney takes over the city from 18 March until 5 June.

2016 Biennale Curator Stephanie Rosenthal has used her speciality in movement and performance-based art as a cornerstone of the innovative programme. She’s previously worked at the Haus der Kunst in Munich and London’s Hayward Gallery, and in the past year has drawn together 13 international curators and theorists – from Tokyo to South London, to New York – to co-develop this year’s programme that focuses on the idea of the ‘now’. “If each era posits its own view of reality, what is ours?” asked Rosenthal in an interview with Time Out Sydney. “One of the key ideas this Biennale explores is how the common distinction between the virtual and the physical has become ever more elusive.”

 Untitled – performance by Boychild, 2013

The Biennale Opening Night will showcase art after dark for one night only on Friday 18 March on Cockatoo Island (the ‘Embassy of the Real’). As part of the opening night festivities, San Francisco persona boychild will perform within Korakrit Arunanondchai’s installation, accompanied by a live percussion score. Cockatoo Island will also be home to a collaboration between artist Justene Williams and Sydney Chamber Opera to present Victory Over the Sun, an (anti-)opera first performed in 1913. On 29 May, the Island will host ‘Internet Yami-Ichi’ – the new age physical iteration of the internet black market, where goods or services inspired by the online world will be available for purchase.

The 20th Biennale of Sydney Keynote Address will be given by Boris Charmatz, a director of radical and innovative contemporary dance, on Saturday 19 March at Carriageworks (the ‘Embassy of Disappearance’). Charmatz challenges preconceived perceptions of dance as an art form by blurring the line between art and philosophy, which Keynote ticket-holders will be able to witness in the Australian premiere of his work, manager.

 Guernica in Sand –  Lee Mingwei, 2006 & 2015

The ‘Embassy of Non-Participation’, Artspace, is this year co-hosting The Bureau of Writing, a collaborative writing program that examines the distinctions between artist and writer. Australian and international artists, writers and academics will use themes from Biennale performances as the points of discussion for their talks and workshops.

At the ‘Embassy of Spirits’ – the Art Gallery of New South Wales – a month-long chain performance by artist Adrian Heathfield titled ghost telephone will present international artists working together to create linked performances. Each day, from 15 March until 15 April, performers will use the artworks currently on display as the inspiration for their performance. On 30 March, Rosenthal will give a free exhibition talk at the Gallery. 

 Dogwalk –  Mella Jaarsma 2016

Artist Kelly Doley will convene the inaugural 24-hour meeting of the Assembly for Alternative Futures, an event which will address the topic of ‘practical futuring’. The Sydney initiative Frontyard will host several Arts Futuring sessions, creating a community skill-sharing space to promote discussion and investigation into how arts communities can survive in the current political and social climates. Of the 73 artists and collectives performing as part of the 20th Biennale, 12 are from Australia. These include Justene Williams, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Richard Bell, Daniel Boyd, Adam Linder, Lauren Brincat, Jamie North, Mike Parr, Brown Council (Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, Diana Smith), Agatha Gothe-Snape, Archie Moore, and Keg de Souza.

The first Biennale of Sydney was held in 1973 to coincide with the opening celebrations of the Sydney Opera House. Its aim was to provide audiences with a programme of innovative and international works that challenged traditional ideas, for free. Since its inception, the Biennale has featured more than 1700 artists from over 100 countries.

The 20th Biennale of Sydney runs from 18 March to 5 June. For full programme information, visit the website.