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"One of the arts world's most idiosyncratic and versatile figures": George Brandis.

The Sydney Biennale does not officially open until Friday, but already it has transfixed audiences with a bold, confronting series of interconnected performance works.

A loosely curated collaboration between protagonists ranging from young Melbourne artist Gabrielle de Vietri to federal Attorney-General George Brandis, Biennale Shitfight is a remorseless, disturbing and often absurdist exploration of art, politics and commercialism.

The piece was designed to unfold publicly over several weeks, tracing the escalation through social media of the ''revelation'' that the Biennale's major sponsor, Transfield Holdings, was tangentially involved through a subsidiary in the construction and maintenance of offshore mandatory detention facilities, all the way through to a full-scale battle scene with the federal government.

''It's utterly groundbreaking,'' enthused visiting critic Lydia von Cucumber-Sandwich Smyth, of the New York Institute for Performance Art. ''I've never seen an arts organisation actually engage its own bureaucracy, its sponsors, the government and the media in such a way to create a work pulsatingly real, yet also a deep caricature of art's place in the worlds of commerce and political dissent. Biennale Shitfight will redefine the way we think about the artistic experience.''

The opening work, The Physical Impossibility Of Sustained Advocacy In A Disappearing Funding Envelope, is a collaboration among nine artists, who used public statements and other ephemeral devices to protest against Transfield's business associations, its sponsorship of the Biennale, and the presence at the head of the Biennale board of Transfield director Luca Belgiorno-Nettis.

''The moving thing about the work is the implicit acceptance of its own approaching oblivion,'' says von Cucumber-Sandwich Smyth. ''Artists protest against sponsor. Sponsor withdraws, triggering the possibility the entire event will collapse, taking the artists with it, and leaving nothing but a vast detention centre, a grim monument to the transitory nature of dissent. It's grim, but the crowds are just eating it up with a spoon!''

The artists conclude with a vow to seek out and identify other unethical sources of funding for artistic events, which is expected to generate a series of random creative ''happenings'' over the course of the year, as artists stage ethical audits of champagne and canape suppliers, and conduct spot checks on theatre audiences to ensure they do not contain Scott Morrison.

The second piece in the series, Martyr: A Work In 20,000 Canvases, features Belgiorno-Nettis, the businessman and arts benefactor, slowly being rolled up in a selection of bloodstained canvas tents, while behind him, a vast screen loops footage of former prime minister Kevin Rudd announcing the reopening of the Manus Island detention centre.

''It's quite a brutal and yet tender work,'' explains visual arts correspondent Justin Timberwolf. ''Arts patronage has always involved an element of nose-holding. Think of the great Lorenzo de Medici, for instance, whose crucial support for some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance - Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli - continues to be celebrated despite his other interests, which included despotism and archbishop-lynching. The really challenging and affecting element of this piece, though, is that Belgiorno-Nettis, far from being a monster, appears as a genuine and long-term philanthropist who seems in this case very literally to have been punished for his generosity.''

Easily the most electrifying work in the series, however, is the ambitious offering from George Brandis, Jabberwocky II.

Brandis, a Queenslander, is one of the arts world's most idiosyncratic and versatile figures. Subjected to chronic persecution by the National Party and elements of his own Liberal Party, Brandis went underground during the early 2000s and became deeply involved in guerrilla movements such as the ''Lying Rodent'' school. Brandis' capacity for change and his considerable comic talent were confirmed in his collaboration with erstwhile adversary John Howard, in the 2007 work simply titled George Brandis Is Appointed Sports Minister.

In the mixed-media piece Jabberwocky II, Senator Brandis declares - first by means of open letter to the Australia Council, then in radio interviews of increasing volume and stridency - that he will hunt down and eliminate arts organisations found to be refusing money on spurious grounds. Refuseniks, he explains, will be forced to accept giant novelty Exxon and British American Tobacco cheques, and have their festivals advertised free once an hour on Kyle Sandilands' radio show.

''The playful inversion of an arts minister's orthodox relationship to mendicant arts companies - in this case chiding them for not accepting money - is quite brilliant,'' explains Timberwolf.

''The fevered hunt for a frightening, evil and largely non-existent prey is where the entire affair achieves, with enviable timing, a perfect blast-off into ridiculousness.''

Jabberwocky II concludes with a high-energy exchange between Senator Brandis and Alan Jones, during which the pair repeatedly and at some points simultaneously agree not to be bullied by loud, selfish minorities.

The Biennale of Sydney runs from March 21 to June 9.

Twitter: @annabelcrabb