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13 Rooms / Sydney

Curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist, “13 Rooms”opened in Sydney on April 11. The first two iterations, “11 Rooms” and “12 Rooms,” took place in Manchester (2011) and Essen (2012). Brought to Australia by Kaldor Public Art Projects (KPAP), it is the first time the project stands alone rather than as an annex to a larger festival. Entering Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay, visitors are invited to open the door and enter the thirteen purpose-built rooms and experience living, breathing artists. Hans Ulrich Obrist says: “The exhibition is like a sculpture gallery where all the sculptures go home at night.” Klaus Biesenbach explained the rules of the game at a press conference in Sydney: “You enter a room. There’s a sculpture. They are living people. But they are not the artists.” He adds, “It’s a simple rule and it seems easy, but it was actually very difficult. To come up with a rule like this meant that we needed to eliminate many others. Hans Ulrich and I had a conversation every day for 200 days.”

Twelve major international artists have created rooms: Marina Abramović, John Baldessari, Joan Jonas, Damien Hirst, Tino Sehgal, artist duo Allora and Calzadilla, Simon Fujiwara, Xavier Le Roy, Laura Lima, Roman Ondák, Santiago Sierra and Xu Zhen. Australian artist duo Clark Beaumont have created the thirteenth room and will be the only artists to personally perform their work, entitled Coexisting. More than 140 local Australian performers will participate in “13 Rooms.”

Kaldor Public Art Projects presents major public artworks by acclaimed international artists in sites across Australia. Art patron John Kaldor says: “We work with important artists who work in museums all the time. Working in a public space provides a challenge to them. It also connects the artists to Australia, which is part of our mission. We don’t just pick up a show and plonk it down. Allora and Calzadilla’s revolving door, for example, is completely different from what they showed in Manchester.” Obrist adds: “Yes, it’s not a fly-in-fly-out mentality.”

“For us it’s been hard to limit ourselves to only thirteen rooms and thirteen artists. John had to hold us back; if it wasn’t for John we probably would’ve had seventy or eighty rooms,” Obrist said. “But that said, we don’t want to encourage artists to take on this sort of work if it’s not already present. We don’t want to be instrumentalizing practice. Obviously there are many artists who could potentially work in this way, but we want to find those already involved. Curating always comes after the art — we follow the artists.”

So where will it be next year? Hans Ulrich Obrist says there is talk of Switzerland for 2014, and then maybe Asia in 2016.

The project runs for eleven days, from April 11 through 21, 2013, at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, Sydney.