Art, meet science: Biennale of Sydney & Cicada Innovations launch sustainable materials challenge



Sydney, 22 July 2021: Australia’s pioneer deep tech incubator Cicada Innovations and the Biennale of Sydney are launching the “New & Sustainable Materials Challenge” with the work of chosen material-makers being showcased to millions of Biennale audiences, exhibition partners, and exhibition makers globally.

Transforming Traditional Materials Sustainably



The Challenge is open to any Australian and UK startups, innovators, and manufacturers who are inventing new sustainable non-polluting materials and reinventing the production of resources and products for use in exhibition site builds and the presentation of artworks, starting with the Biennale of Sydney.



It is being run in partnership with the UK/Australia Season, a collaboration between the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the UK Government (Science and Innovation Network).



The Challenge is an opportunity for artists and scientists to collaborate, design, and communicate the immense power of the circular economy and new materials to transform industries and the world, given the critical role art and design have played in helping society understand and appreciate innovation.



Examples of this include Michelangelo’s incredible contribution to the anatomical sciences, or modern-day biologists creating leather from mushrooms for fashion houses like Stella McCartney, Adidas, and Kering.



A selection of innovative new materials will be procured and used by the Biennale to create sustainable exhibition staples such as signs, frames, gates, walls, plinths, and other functional exhibition pieces, while Biennale artists may also choose to use the innovators’ new materials to produce their artworks.



Material makers themselves will also be profiled alongside artists, achieving incredible exposure at one of the world’s largest contemporary art events showcasing that every aspect of our world can be recreated to be positive for people and the planet.



By reinventing these traditional materials – plastics, glues, paints, plywood, cements – in planet-friendly ways, we could completely transform the exhibition, arts, and festival sectors, says Cicada Innovations.


Innovative Collaboration: Redefining Sustainability in Art Exhibitions


Sally-Ann Williams, CEO of Cicada Innovations, said: “When we think ‘innovation’, the art world isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. That’s what is so exciting about this project – it is reimagining all the unusual and wide-reaching ways that sustainable innovation can be used to reshape the planet we live on for the better.



“This Challenge will showcase all manner of revolutionary materials in unconventional ways: think walls made of kelp, artworks designed on mushroom fabrics, recycled materials forming 3D-printed stairwells. To launch such a unique concept within one of the world’s leading contemporary art events, the Biennale of Sydney, just brings the whole project to an incredibly exciting new scale.”



José Roca, Artistic Director of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney (2022), said: “Sustainability should be an action, not a theme. The 23rd Biennale of Sydney will acknowledge its own impact on the environment and encourage the use of non-polluting materials in the exhibition making process. The ‘New & Sustainable Materials Challenge’ connects the latest technological advancements in materials with exhibition makers, to be seen on a global scale. We hope it will alter the way in which contemporary art exhibitions, like the Biennale of Sydney, are developed in the future.”




Barbara Moore, CEO of Biennale of Sydney, said: “The Biennale has been a unifying force in the arts sector for almost 50 years, in large part because we commission and present innovative, thought-provoking art from Australia and around the world. Through this challenge we hope to find and share more sustainable materials to build exhibitions. This is about taking a giant leap forward in exhibition-making practices, creating a new normal that is more conscious and responsible for the relationship we have with our environment.”



Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to Australia, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the brightest and best UK and Australian talent to put forward sustainable science and technology materials in the arts sector. We know that science and innovation are vital to delivering ambitious climate action. As President of COP26 in Glasgow this November, we encourage partners across industry to bring innovative sustainable solutions to life.”



Helen Salmon, Director, Australia at British Council, said: “Cicada Innovations and Biennale of Sydney’s ‘New & Sustainable Materials Challenge’ is a brilliant example of the aspirations of the UK/Australia Season, which brings together the arts and education sectors to explore Who Are We Now?



“At such a critical time worldwide and as close partners from opposite sides of the globe, we must find sustainable ways to collaborate, share culture and knowledge. The British Council, UK Government (Science and Innovation Network) and GREAT Challenge Fund are delighted to support this important initiative.”



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Note: Please contact Erika Streegan for any interview requests: 0401 788 399

Application and Judging Process


  • Applications: Open from 20 July to 27 August 2021 (6 weeks).

  • Numbers: There is no limit to the number of applicants who will be accepted.

  • Judging: Will occur at an expo event from 22 to 24 September at Cicada Innovations, where participants will showcase their solutions and be assessed on usability, sustainability, and availability of products.

  • Successful applicants: Will have their materials and products procured by the Biennale, to be utilised in the 23rd Biennale of Sydney exhibition.

  • 23rd Biennale of Sydney (2022): Will be presented free of charge from 12 March to 13 June 2022.



Cicada Innovations is a Sydney-based incubator providing full-lifecycle support for Australia’s most ambitious deep tech ventures so they can discover solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.


It supports a community of innovators and high-growth emerging deep tech companies, who are building the industries and jobs of the future, by providing investment; commercialisation and acceleration programs; rich research partnerships; networks of domain experts; and specialist deep tech infrastructure through its four top Australian university shareholders, ANU, USYD, UNSW, and UTS.



Since launching in 2000, Cicada has assisted 300+ companies raise $730m+ in venture capital and government grants, file 500+ patents and trademarks, and bring 700+ deep technology innovations to market globally. It has been awarded “Top Incubator in the World” twice by the international peak body for business incubation and entrepreneurship, the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA).



The Biennale of Sydney is one of the leading international contemporary art events. It plays an indispensable role in Australia’s engagement with the world, and a meaningful role in the life of the nation. For almost 50 years, the Biennale has been a unifying force in the Australian arts sector, embedding boldly creative art exhibitions and experiences in the everyday life of the city and putting the artistic excellence of NSW front and centre on the world stage.



Led by Colombian curator José Roca, Artistic Director of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, and a Curatorium of highly respected local curators, the 23rd Biennale of Sydney (2022) will focus on waterways and weaving, representing historic and contemporary forms of community entanglement. Throughout history, rivers have been a source of both life and communication; they are the sediment of culture, while weaving is a manifestation of material culture present in all societies. The artworks will have a strong focus on sustainability, collaboration, ancestral technologies and sustainable methods of co-existence.



UK/Australia Season 2021-22 is a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Season highlights the breadth of partnership between Australia and the UK, and aims to deepen and extend cultural connections. The Season commences in September 2021, concluding in March 2022 in Australia and in December 2022 in the UK. The theme ‘Who Are We Now?’ will reflect on our history, explore our current relationship, and imagine our future together. The Season will feature programming for all ages, and will celebrate the diversity of cultures and languages in both countries. It will emphasise Australia’s First Nations voices, enable cultural exchange with Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, and the diverse societies that have emerged in both Australia and the UK through migration.


The Science and Innovation Network (SIN) has approximately 100 officers in over 40 countries and territories around the world building partnerships and collaborations on science and innovation. SIN Australia encourages high-level science co-operation between Australia and the UK, acting as a contact point for British universities, research institutions and innovation agencies, helping them achieve their objectives in Australia. This includes influencing and informing science and innovation government policies, industry and academia, and making the best use of international technology co-operation to grow the UK’s innovation potential and support emerging science and technology-related opportunities between Australia and the UK.