Highlights from rīvus: 23rd Biennale of Sydney

May 17th 2022

rīvus emerges from the rivers, wetlands and coasts of the globe to present a forward-thinking stance on a world drowning in ecological and political turmoil. Environmental activism is at the heart of this years Biennale, where the Artistic Director, José Roca has implemented recyclable exhibition signs, and made all the venues within walking or cycling distance to limit the carbon emissions of audiences to the festival. Works are sourced from around the world reflecting upon water, and the bodies that rely on it, to tell a story of a water as a life-force, as much as a point of tension, conflict and resistance. This year’s highlights include non-human participants, activist groups, First Nations artists, and intersections of art, design and science.
This is rīvus explained by FBi Radio arts and culture buffs Nadia Odlum, Victoria Hall and Alexandra Jonscher who visited this year’s Biennale.

Teho Ropeyarn Athumu Paypa Adthinhuunamu (my birth certificate)

Teho Ropeyarn, ‘Athumu Paypa Adthinhuunamu (my birth certificate)’, 2022, installation view National Art School, 23rd Biennale of Sydney. Photography: Document Photography

It is impossible not to be impressed by the work of Teho Ropeyarn. When you walk into the Drawing Gallery at the National Art School you will be struck by intricate, floor to ceiling vinyl cut prints in black and ochre brown. The bold shapes and patterned detail reference Ropeyarn’s Injinoo heritage, uniting Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal designs, knowledge and culture.

The works have a strong connection to water. In his artist statement, Ropeyarn says:

“Water is integral to the Injinoo people, present in our creation stories as it is in my nation’s identity… Injinoo (and all Aboriginal) people are at one with the land, sea and sky. We traverse the physical, the natural and the spiritual realms. My work for the biennale is a visual depiction of this philosophy…Aboriginal connection to country is not just belonging. It is a spiritually magnetic system that connects to all other human and natural elements.”

The print installation has an accompanying audio piece, which Ropeyarn spent time on Country to develop. The recording contains Injinoo Ikya language, in chanting, singing, and spoken word.

WHERE: National Art School

Latent Community, NEROMANNA

Latent Community, NEROMANNA (video still) 2017. copyright Latent Community

NEROMANNA is a video work made by international artistic duo Sotiris Tsiganos and Ionian Bisai, who work together as Latent Community. This work tells the story of the lost village of Kallio in Greece. Kallio was submerged during the 1980’s and left as an artificial lake due to the construction of the Mornos dam. The video shows underwater footage of the sunken village and engages with former local inhabitants. This work is an interesting exploration of the powers of water and the consequences of trying to control it.

WHERE: National Art School

Moré Moré, (Leaky): Variations and Leaky Tokyo: Fieldwork

Moré Moré ;(Leaky): Variations’ (2022) Hose, PET bottles, bucket, sponge, pump, acrylic resin. Installation view. Pier 2/3, 23rd Biennale of Sydney, 2022. Photography: Document Photography

The work of Tokyo-based artist Yuko Mohri is spread over two venues – the Museum of Contemporary Art and Pier 2/3. At the MCA you will find large photographs showing unintentional urban sculptures – everyday objects such as bags, buckets and plastic sheeting that are strung up in train and subway stations in Tokyo to stop water leaks. The whimsical partner to these at Pier 2/3 is an installation that forms a giant water feature, where droplets trickle and splash into inverted umbrellas, and water wiggles down clear tubes into plastic bottles. The playful use of found objects in this work will have you looking at rubbish (and rain!) in a whole new way.

WHERE: MCA Australia and Pier 2/3 Walsh Bay

Erin Coates, Never the same river twice

Erin Coates, ‘never the same river twice’ (2021). Installation view. 23rd Biennale of Sydney, 2022. Photography: Document Photography

Never the same river twice is an installation work responding to the ongoing impact of colonial occupation on the ecosystem of the Derbarl Yarrigan/ Swan River.  The installation embodies Coats ‘eco-horror’ aesthetic, with items of beauty such as river pearls alongside less pleasant additions like glass eyes and dog hair. The work reflects on the consequences of the extraction and introduction of elements within the river’s ecosystem, contemplating the health of both the environment and humanity.

WHERE: Pier 2/3

Milton Becerra, Lost Paradise – Vibrational Energy H2O

Milton Becerra, Lost Paradise-Vibrational Energy H20, Biennale of Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2022. Photography: Document Photography

Lost Paradise- Vibrational Energy H2O is a site-specific work exploring the connections of the individual with the natural environment. Becerra’s work is informed by ancestral stories and the mathematics of natural forms. Lost Paradise is formed of brightly coloured threads holding stones in a state of levitation. This immersive installation is fascinating to walk through, experiencing the vibration of the threads as a subtle humming soundscape.

WHERE: MCA Australia

Robert Andrew, Water waking country – Wulani yinamirlgan

It’s worth making the time to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art more than once during the Sydney Biennale season, to check out the continually evolving work by Robert Andrew. The artist has coated the walls with thin layers of earth pigment, then a final layer of white chalk to create a seemingly pristine gallery. Throughout the exhibition, a machine made from a modified 3D printer will move across the wall, shooting out small jets of water. The water will erode the chalk, allowing the red earth to bleed through. Over months, the red will form words in Indigenous language, which will seep forth through layers of colonisation to spread across the museum walls.

Andrew is a descendent of the Yawuru people of the Broome area in the Kimberley, Western Australia, with Indigenous, European, and Filipino heritage. In his work he is interested in “reconfiguring truths and myths”, and taking an honest look at Australia’s colonial past and present. In his artist statement he says:

“My work for the Sydney Biennale reflects on ancient systems of earth and people… Intangible long relationships of water, sea, earth and sky in the formation of culture are made visible. I speak to the terrain beneath my feet and I invite old cultural words to seep into my consciousness.”
WHERE: MCA Australia

Badger Bates, Barka the forgotten river and the desecration of the Menindee Lakes

Badger Bates, ‘Barka the forgotten river and the desecration of the Menindee Lakes’, Art Gallery of NSW foyer. Installation View. 2022. Photography: Document Photography

Barka the forgotten river and the desecration of the Menindee Lakes is an impressive print spanning the entirety of the foyer wall. There are also linocut prints and metal sculptural works like Ngatyi blowing a rainbow included in the space. Badger Bates is a Barkandji Elder, artist and environmental activist, his work is deeply intwined with the Barka (Darling River), depicting the histories and ecosystems of Barkandji Country. A captivating collection of works telling stories, relaying knowledge, and transmitting an urgent message for us to nurture the water systems of the Barka.

WHERE: Art Gallery of NSW

Leanne Tobin, We Live, We Remain: The Running of the Eels

Leanne Tobin, ‘Ngalawan – We Live, We Remain’ 2022. Courtesy of Information and Cultural Exchange, Parramatta

The 23rd Biennale of Sydney has a venue in Parramatta, at A.C.E – formerly I.C.E, Information and Cultural Exchange, now artfully rebranded as Arts and Cultural Exchange. Here you can check out the work of Leanne Tobin, a multidisciplinary artist of Irish, English and Dharug heritage. Tobin has created a new moving image work titled Ngalawan – We Live, We Remain: The Running of the Eels, which uses animation of handblown glass eels to explore migratory journey of eels between freshwater and saltwater, and their relationship to the Dharug Ancestral Creator, Gurrangatty, who took the form of an eel/serpent. Set near the Parramatta River, which flows down to the other Biennale venues at Barangaroo, Tobin’s work alludes to our environmental responsibilities by presenting a poignant reminder – “What happens upstream affects those downstream”.

WHERE: Information and Cultural Exchange, Parramatta

Jessie French, The Myth of Nature – agaG1

Jessie French, The Myth of Nature – agaG1. Installation view. The Cutaway, 23rd Biennale of Sydney 2022. Courtesy of the artist

The Myth of Nature – agaG1, is an installation including a live bioplastic lab where you can witness bubbling test tubes. French’s practice explores the capabilities of algae-based bioplastics, experimenting with concepts of reuse, regeneration, and conscious consumption. Works developed by French’s experimental process can also be seen at this site, the outcomes of this intriguing material are curiously translucent sheets that are beautifully bold in colour.

WHERE: The Cutaway

The Great Animal Orchestra

Installation view of The Great Animal Orchestra at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2016. Copyright: Bernie Krause/UVA. Photograph:Luc Boegly

The Great Animal Orchestra is an immersive experience combining the work of ecological soundscape pioneer Bernie Krause and the dynamic digital work of United Visual Artists. This work includes 15,000 animal species recorded over 50 years and will take you on a journey to Africa, North America, the Pacific Ocean and the Amazonas. Experiencing this work is a rare and moving insight into the voices of the natural world.

WHERE: Barangaroo, Stargazer Lawn

Ana Barboza and Rafael Freyre, Water Ecosystem

Ana Barboza and Rafael Freyre, Water Ecosystem (2019-22). Installation view. The Cutaway, 23rd Biennale of Sydney 2022. Photography: Document Photography

Enter a living ecosystem in the work of Ana Barboza and Rafael Freyre which combines art, design and weaving practices that are native to Peru. The installation is multi-sensory, including rain jackets, misting steam, mats and structures that bring the body closer to non-human life in a landscape that purifies water while emitting and sustaining it. Made through years of research, the woven wetland considers how nature can be utilised in sustainable ways to support systems of life through architecture, design and art practice.

WHERE: The Cutaway


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