Melbourne's Lost Biennale / by Geoff Harrison

When an art exhibition sticks in one's mind after 17 years, it tells you something.  The 1999 Melbourne International Biennale was an initiative of the Melbourne City Council, The Ian Potter Centre and Arts Victoria and the exhibition "Signs Of Life" was staged over several floors of a rundown former Telecom building in Russell Street.  It was a venue which according to reviewer Helen Stuckey came with no institutional baggage and was totally innocuous.

Shadow Of Falling Stars - Ugo Rondinone   

Shadow Of Falling Stars - Ugo Rondinone


Travelling from floor to floor was a journey of exploration and discovery and each level varied dramatically in character and light.  The most successful works were able to adapt the environment to their particular needs - there was video, installation, sound, sculpture etc.  For me, the most memorable work was "Shadow Of Falling Stars", by Ugo Rondinone.  In each corner of the room, video monitors were mounted high up (like surveillance equipment), 2 showing a figure walking, the other 2 showing a young girl dancing in slow motion.  Opposite the entrance was a wall of roughly finished timber painted dark green and in the centre a pink window overlooking the city.  Add to this the soundtrack of the artist repeating a languid dirge and it made for a very disturbing atmosphere.  I was going through a relationship breakdown at the time and he tapped into my emotions very succinctly.  

On another level, the entire floor was covered in a field of clover by Nickolaj Recke, and then there was Mariele Neudecker's aquarium sculptures - dark and mysterious.

Sadly, the building was earmarked for renovation into apartments immediately after the exhibition, thus denying Melbourne of an ongoing venue for cutting edge art from here and overseas.