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A digital contemporary art project


Responding to our collective moment in time, Returning offers succinct mediations on the events, experiences and propositions prompted by the pandemic. Set over multiple chapters, Returning: Chapter 1 commissions Australian and Japanese perspectives. Returning: Chapter 2, which focuses on Australian and Taiwanese artists, will be released later in 2021.

Chapter 1 Artists: Yu Araki (Japan), Caroline Garcia (Australia), Cherine Fahd (Australia), Koki Tanaka (Japan).


As we navigate our re-entry into the public realm, we have emerged into a world increasingly drained of wonder and physical connection. After living our separate, secluded lives, we are not the same people we were a year ago. Though restrictions have relaxed and populations are gaining immunity, our present is still uncertain. Globalisation has seemingly been put on hold, the legacy of Colonialism has been brought to the fore, while radicalisation is more present and the effects of climate change more real. 

Against this backdrop, Sydney Opera House has commissioned several artist perspectives from Australia and Asia to accrue, gather and snowball the mood swings of the past year, transforming our private and societal reorientations into works that ring fresh and clear. While much of the imagery is drawn from the past twelve months, these works are more than mere artefacts of the pandemic. The artists have created enduring works that beat with a rhetorical urgency. Conceived as online moving image works, video is used as a tool to navigate forward. They have taken to individual forms of political activism and social commentary, creating works that impel us to view the recent past differently, while asking what the future might portend. 

Through poetic metaphors and expressive soundtracks, graveness and humour, focused videography and experimental moving image, the artists demonstrate that art is not only a dream or a vision, but can contain a skeleton architecture for our lives. By leaning, listening, watching and adjusting ourselves to the new rhythms of the unknown, these screen-based works offer us glimmers of how to find our way again and make sense of our changing surroundings as we return - return to the world, return to each other and most importantly, return to ourselves. 

Accompanying each artwork are behind the scenes video interviews as well as past works by the artists. A series of personal essays by a selection of writers unravelling each artists’ response will be released later this year. 

Returning: Chapter 1 is co-presented with The Japan Foundation, Sydney

Chapter 1

Yu Araki (Japan) 

Yu Araki, Bivalvia: Act II (L) (2021), HD video, colour, sound, 21:04. Commissioned by The Sydney Opera House for Returning with support from the Arts Commission Yokohama (ACY) and The Japan Foundation, Sydney and The Japan Foundation, Japan.

Continuing Araki’s interest in bivalves, the scientific name for the marine mollusc, Bivalvia: Act II (L) is an experimental film that features an intricate, singing lace oyster puppet as its centrepiece. Throughout a patchwork of intimate and comforting scenes, the oyster performs Italian composer Jacopo Peri’s opera L’ Euridice which animates the Greek myth of Orpheus, a great musician, who journeys into the underworld to revive his wife Eurydice who has been fatally injured.

Bivalvia: Act II consists of two companion pieces, Bivalvia: Act II (L) and Bivalvia: Act II (R), the latter which can be viewed on The Japan Foundation’s exhibition, 11 Stories on Distanced Relationships: Contemporary Art from Japan.

Caroline Garcia (Australia)

Caroline Garcia, Force of a .22 Calibre Bullet (2021), digital video, colour, sound, 7:55. Commissioned by The Sydney Opera House for Returning with support from The Japan Foundation, Sydney. 

Filmed on a body camera, typically used by the police force, Caroline Garcia’s Force of a .22 Calibre Bullet is an experimental mediation of grief, violence and resistance. Taking inspiration from the mantis shrimp, which smashes its victim’s shells with the force of a fired bullet, Garcia performs a series of boxing exercises, appearing as if she is manipulating footage of the mantis shrimp composited into the frame. Framing the violence of her actions is a mediation soundtrack of Indigenous Filipino instruments by Canadian fillipino group Notu. Against this juxtaposition of Garcia’s violent exercises, the calming meditation and the allusion to surveillance through her video, Garcia creates a timely statement about the relationship between power, violence and regeneration.

Cherine Fahd (Australia)

Cherine Fahd, Play Proximus (2021), HD video, 10:37. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by the Sydney Opera House for Art Assembly, with support from our Corporate Partners and Donors as part of New Work Now, project donors and the ARROW Collective.

An articulation of touch and intimacy, artist Cherine Fahd’s, Play Proximus documents the 50 public performances of Fahd’s participatory artwork, A Proxy for One Thousand Eyes performed as part of ANTIDOTE at Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room. Transforming these performances into 12 minutes of tender imagery, Play Proximus is a document of connection, embrace and yearning -- continuing the artist’s interest in portraiture, documentation and performance.

Koki Tanaka (Japan)

Koki Tanaka, Reflective Notes (Reconfiguration) (2021), HD video, colour and sound, 06:32. Commissioned by The Sydney Opera House for Returning with support from The Japan Foundation, Sydney.  

Koki Tanaka’s video essay, Reflective Notes (Reconfiguration) explores the impact from COVID-19 and self-isolation. Drawn from his recent book, Reflective Notes (Recent Writings) published in 2020, Tanaka animates his text through archival footage drawn from his film catalogue. Central to his exposition is the metaphor of “concrete” and “abstract” which he uses to explore the clear and the abstract, the tangible and intangible, the qualitative and quantitative impacts of the pandemic. Questions are posed, answers are suggested, but ultimately, Tanaka reminds audiences that real change lies within individuals and communities. Reflective Notes (Reconfiguration) features Sydney based artist Rainbow Chan as co-narrator.

About the artists

Japanese man wearing glasses standing side-on looking at camera in front of a black curtain
Woman sitting side-on surrounded by random objects in front of a white background
Woman smiling and looking away from the camera sitting in front of a wooden background
Japanese man wearing glasses looking away from camera standing in front of a fern forest

Co-presented with