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Returning A digital contemporary art project

Responding to our collective moment in time, Returning offers succinct meditations 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 commissions Australian and Taiwanese perspectives.

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

Chapter 2 Artists: Su Yu Hsin (Taiwan) & Angela Goh (Australia), Charwei Tsai (Taiwan), Riverbed Theatre Company (Taiwan), Amrita Hepi (Australia). 


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 filipino 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

Co-presented with

Chapter 2

A digital contemporary art project, featuring the works of four Australian and Taiwanese artists responding to the events, experiences and propositions of our recent times.


Following on from Returning: Chapter 1 released exclusively on Stream in 2021, Returning: Chapter 2 builds upon this meditative digital contemporary art project, this time featuring works by four Australian and Taiwanese artists responding to the events, experiences and propositions of our recent times.

Critical, engaged and historically grounded, this chapter platforms contemporary artists with particular interests exploring autobiography, mythology and culture to address a world that seems perpetually in crisis: from the day-to-day to the shifts in politics, and existential in between. Energised with cultural opposition, reclamation, and risk-taking, their responses are entwined with the politics of this time. Using the body, music, the Opera House and the virtual as their muses, the result is a broad-ranging collection of works that read as scenes, scores and states of existence: innocence, happiness, the sublime, despair, rage, confusion and imagination.

Delving deep into their responses, we find open-ended and provocative questions designed to stir us into deeper contemplation and reflection. To fully appreciate their responses, however, requires time. The more we look, the more we see — catching glimpses into fictitious worlds that move us towards an inner illumination. A place that is both simple, complex and often beguiling. Ultimately, these artists have set their ambition to challenge us to be genuinely critical and thoughtful — asking us, as thinkers, as feelers and as witnesses to the past two years, to interrogate and engage more thoughtfully with the world around us. This is their vision of how we will return - return to the world, return to each other and most importantly, return to ourselves.

Returning: Chapter 2 is co-curated with Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-LAB) and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan.

Su Yu Hsin + Angela Goh (Taiwan, Australia)

Su Yu Hsin and Angela Goh, Tidal Variations (2021), video, 14:40. Commissioned by Sydney Opera House and C-LAB, Taiwan with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan and Critical Path. Courtesy the artists.

Using the lenses of technology, ecofeminism and the body, artists Su Yu Hsin and Angela Goh have reimagined the House as a speculative data centre drifting upon water where undersea cables converge. Through language, sound, animation, dance and archival footage, their commissioned artwork weaves together a layered portrait of space, time and the virtual.

Charwei Tsai (Taiwan)

Charwei Tsai, Numbers (2022), video, 16:44. Created in collaboration with Stephen O’Malley. Commissioned by Sydney Opera House and C-LAB, Taiwan with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan. Courtesy the artist.

Filmed across Australian natural environments and Sydney Opera House, Taiwanese artist Charwei Tsai’s Numbers is an evocative black and white meditation on trauma, grief and discord. Collaborating with musician Stephen O’Malley, the soundtrack features the musician Kali Malone, and five local Opera Singers, each commissioned to sing numbers significant to each artist, recounting days of separation, to ages of loved ones, to rising death tolls.

Riverbed Theatre (Taiwan)

Riverbed Theatre, The Weight of Things (2021), video, 13:30. Commissioned by Sydney Opera House and C-LAB, Taiwan with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan. Courtesy the artists. (Craig Quintero, Lynn Yeh, Kuan-Yu Chen, John Rommereim, Carl Johnson). 

Imagined as a Surrealist dreamscape, the Riverbed Theatre's The Weight of Things transports audiences into the world of suspended belief through a series of striking scenes. Threaded together with a dramatic score, evocative cinematography and suggestive narrative, The Weight of Things stirs deep contemplation and reflection about our current moment. The film includes the same cinematic images with two different musical scores. In this Rashomon-inspired experiment, we are reminded that “the truth” is always clouded by our own perspective, that a twice-told tale will never be the same.

Amrita Hepi (Australia)

Amrita Hepi, The Anguilla Pursuit (2021), video. 4:31. Commissioned by Sydney Opera House and C-LAB, Taiwan with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

The Anguilla Pursuit takes inspiration from the migration of the freshwater eels, Anguilla Anguilla, who travel over 2 000km from New Caledonia to freshwaters of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. In this split-channel work, Hepi personifies their journey home through the Sydney Opera House and into the waters that surround, in a dynamic chase scene.  Through metaphor and allusion, Hepi’s work explores the physical and psychological dimensions of the 'oceanic feeling'. 

About the artists

Co-curated with

Supported by Cultural Division, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Sydney and