Established in 1973 and celebrated every two years since, the Biennale of Sydney is the largest contemporary visual arts festival in Australia. The event lasts for three weeks, spanning multiple venues across the city, attracting over 600,000 national and international visitors who, this year, will get to see work from 83 artists from 35 countries. The identity for this year’s event, the 20th Biennale of Sydney, has been designed by local firm For the People.
The 3 month event takes place across Sydney in 7 key locations including a museum, a state gallery, a railway station, an island, and a multitude of in-between spaces where the virtual and the physical worlds overlap. Positioned as ‘embassies of thought’, these unique locations are individually curated around clusters of ideas. These are the Embassy of the Real, Spirits, Disappearance, Non-Participation, Translation, Transition and Stanislaw Lem.
With such a complex and futuristic theme, spread across a host of locations, the key challenge was to connect the different venues and sub-themes, while also building awareness and connecting audiences to the diverse array of art and experiences. The identity explores the larger theme and the idea of embassies, to create individual iterations of the larger identity. Each embassy has its own typographic language and lettering forms, colour palette, and stylised delegate entities, developed in direct response to the clustering of ideas within. Each embassy is represented as a section within a continuous reel of information, conveying a fraction of the total experience and the distribution of art and ideas throughout the city. As we move from one venue to the next, their individual identities begin to converge and assimilate each other’s characteristics - merging in a dialogue of cultural exchange within the in-between spaces.
Neither the 19th or 18th Biennale identities were too exciting but the 17th, designed by Jonathan Barnbrook, kicked ass so it’s nice to see the event go back to something more interesting and perhaps more head-scratching like some contemporary art. The main logo for the event is typeset in one of seven custom typefaces designed by Mathieu Reguer and on its own is intriguing enough but only begins to scratch the surface.
The main concept, if you happened to skip the quoted text is that each of the seven main locations for the Biennale has been dubbed an “Embassy”, where each is curated in a specific way, so each has gotten a custom typeface inspired by its lofty name. Some are kind of literal, like “Disappearance” and “Transition” and others, like “Spirit”, are less but they are all equally interesting. Spirit and Real are absolutely fantastic.
The fonts are deployed at each location or used to promote/explain events at that location but for larger event messaging the fonts can mix and match freely within sentences and they create some beautiful combinations.
There are also these “Delegates”, which might make for the best animated GIF we’ve had on Brand New all year. This is where the identity and concept start to jump the shark but, hey, if you can’t turn the weird up to 11 for a contemporary art festival, what kind of world do we live in? The delegates, though, are relegated to the background and come across as scribbled decoration, which is not the worse that can happen but, without seeing the animation above, it’s totally lost that these are meant to be characters.
In application, the identity is surprisingly cohesive despite the seven typefaces, as they are all unified by a standard application with the thick, small bars above and below the name. At times it feels like too much of a visual onslaught amidst the already busy environment of Sydney but it matches the intensity of the festival itself. There are a ton more images on the project page if you feel like the ton of images in this post don’t get the point across. Overall, it’s cool to see something go off the rails (with restraint) in concept and execution and the Biennale was the perfect conduit for this identity.