The bad weather held off for the Biennale of Sydney’s opening weekend, but it was a close call — and the irony of the situation was not lost on Colombian artistic director José Roca: this Biennale is dedicated to nature and water-based ecologies.
At the rain-drenched media call on Tuesday, Roca noted: “We are hearing the voice of nature right now.”
Titled “rīvus” after the Latin for “stream” but also “rivalry”, this Biennale offers work of astounding beauty while navigating troubled waters.
Works tackle pollution, climate change, and the effect of colonisation on First Peoples’ custodianship of ecosystems.
Eight of the participants in the Biennale are rivers (including the Vilcabamba and Napo rivers in Ecuador; and the Baaka/Darling river in Australia), in acknowledgement of the global movement to recognise the rights of nature.
At Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay, The Embassy of the North Sea, a group advocating for the legal personhood of that body of water (which lies off the east coast of England), has set up a temporary outpost as part of the Biennale.
- Art Gallery of New South Wales
- Barangaroo Reserve and The Cutaway
- Information + Cultural Exchange (ICE), Parramatta
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- National Art School, Darlinghurst
- Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay Arts Precinct
Art and activism go hand in hand across the festival.
At the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Uncle Badger Bates, a Barkindji elder, artist and water advocate, presented a series of striking linocut prints and wall-mounted sculptures against a mural backdrop.
He said his key reason for being part of the Biennale was to speak about his Country and raise awareness of the ecological issues arising from government management of the Murray-Darling Basin river system.
At Pier 2/3, an installation of totem poles sits side by side with campaign posters by a group called Torres Strait 8: eight Traditional Owners from Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait Islands) who lodged a landmark class action against the Australian government for its inaction over climate change.