Cover image of the review

rīvus 23rd Biennale of Sydney

20 Mar 2022
National Art School Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) 12 Mar - 12 Jun 2022

The 23rd Biennale of Sydney titled rīvus is no single stream. It spans across five venues including 330 artworks from eighty-nine participants. I wish to navigate the challenging scope of this exhibition through its inclusion of a few specific and meaningful “objects and non-human beings”, namely the Baaka/Darling, Atrato and Boral rivers. The curatorium leading the Biennale (comprising José Roca, Paschal Daantos Berry, Anna Davis, Hannah Donnell and Talia Linz) describe such inclusions as “a way of entangling multiple voices, listening to other modes of communication and asking unlikely questions”. The presentation of these objects leaves much to be desired, though their inclusion illustrates what is at stake within the frame of rīvus as a whole—the violence of legibility in the effort of coexistence.

rīvus invites several aqueous beings into a dialogue with artists, architects, designers, scientists and communities. The animating link between these bodies of water are the voices of Indigenous knowledge holders and community members advocating for the rights of their ancestors and future generations. Across multiple sites of struggle—globally and within the continent of so-called “Australia”—the “voices” of these rivers are presented through recorded interviews akin to testimonials. Each river is attributed as a participant in the exhibition in reference to international legal precedent set in Aotearoa in 2017 when the Whanganui River was recognised to have legal personhood. This was achieved after the Whanganui iwi fought for their river to be acknowledged as an ancestor since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Nevertheless, the inclusion and codification of Indigenous perspectives in Western institutions is not without risk.

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