‘Waterways have political agency’: José Roca announces participants for 23rd Biennale of Sydney

Hanna Tuulikki, Away with the Birds, 2014. Photo: Alex Boyd. Courtesy the artist

The Colombian curator José Roca has announced the initial participants who will take part in the 23rd edition of the Biennale of Sydney. They include an Australian centre that provides support to victims of torture and an environmental group that advocates on behalf of the North Sea. Roca says that he won’t be using the term ‘artists’ due to the wide array of disciplines represented in the show.

The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) is a specialist, non-profit organisation that for over thirty years has provided psychological treatment and support to refugees who have been abused or suffered profound trauma. The Embassy of the North Sea was founded in The Hague in 2018 and the group ‘departs from the starting point that the sea owns itself’.

Water is a major theme for Roca’s project, the curator says, pointing out that Sydney is situated on the waterways of the Gadigal and Burramattagal people. ‘Indigenous knowledge has long understood non-human entities as living ancestral beings with a right to life that must be protected’, his curatorial statement reads. ‘But only recently have some plants, mountains and bodies of water been granted legal personhood. If we can recognise that a river has a voice, what might they say?’

Given the idea that natural elements might have ‘personhood’, with all the rights and agency that goes with that, ‘can a river sue over psychoactive sewage?’ Roca asks. ‘Will oysters grow teeth in aquatic revenge? What do the eels think? Are waves the ocean’s desire?’

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?, 2013. Photo: Ema Edosio. Courtesy the artist

Roca is the artistic director of FLORA ars+natura in his home city of Bogotá and was previously curator of Latin American art for the Tate, for three years until 2015. He previously managed the arts programme at the Museo del Banco de la República (MAMU) in Bogotá. His biennial experience includes curating the 2011 Bienal do Mercosul in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Among those taking part in Roca’s new venture, hailing from across six continents and 33 countries, as well numerous indigenous nations, will be the A4C Arts for the Commons (Ecuador/Italy), Ackroyd & Harvey (England), Robert Andrew (Yawuru, Australia), Ana Barboza and Rafael Freyre, (Peru), Badger Bates (Barkandji, Australia), Milton Becerra (Venezuela / France), Cave Urban (Australia), Hera Büyüktaşcıyan (Turkey), Tania Candiani (Mexico), Yoan Capote (Cuba), Casino Wake Up Time (Bundjalung, Kamillaroi, Australia) Carolina Caycedo (Colombia / USA), Alex Cerveny (Brazil), Erin Coates (Australia), Cian Dayrit (Philippines), Melissa Dubbin & Aaron S. Davidson (USA), Matias Duville (Argentina), Clemencia Echeverri (Colombia), Embassy of the North Sea (North Sea/The Netherlands), Juliana Góngora Rojas (Colombia), Julie Gough (Trawlwoolway, Australia), Senior Craftsman Rex Greeno and son Dean Greeno (Palawa, Australia), David Haines & Joyce Hinterding (Australia/England), Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe (Yanomami, Venezuela), Dale Harding (Bidjara/Ghungalu/Garingbal, Australia) Joey Holder (England), Marguerite Humeau (France), Aluaiy Kaumakan (Paiwan Nation, Paridrayan Community, Taiwan), Pushpa Kumari (India), Eva L’Hoest (Belgium), Mata Aho Collective (Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Rangitāne, Ngāti Kahungungu ki Wairarapa, Aotearoa New Zealand), Clare Milledge (Australia), Yuko Mohri (Japan), Moogahlin Performing Arts with Aanmitaagzi Big Medicine Studio (Murrawarri, Biripi, Australia; Ojibway / Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, Turtle Island Canada), New Landscapes Institute (Australia), New-Territories _ S/he _f.Roche (France), Leeroy New (Philippines), Wura-Natasha Ogunji (Nigeria / USA), Mike Parr (Australia), Marjetica Potrč (Slovenia), Caio Reisewitz (Brazil), Tabita Rezaire (France / French Guiana), Duke Riley (USA), Abel Rodríguez (Mogaje Guihu) (Nonuya, Colombia), Teho Ropeyarn (Angkamuthi / Yadhaykana, Australia), Diana Scherer (Germany / The Netherlands), Dineo Seshee Bopape (South Africa), Komunidad X Sipat Lawin (Philippines), Kiki Smith (USA), Paula de Solminihac (Chile), STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors) and Jiva Parthipan (Australia), Jenna Sutela (Finland / Germany), Imhathai Suwatthanasilp (Thailand), Leanne Tobin (Dharug, Australia), Barthélémy Toguo (Cameroon / France), Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi (Tonga / Aotearoa New Zealand), Hanna Tuulikki (England / Scotland / Finland), Gal Weinstein (Israel) and Zheng Bo (Bai, China).

The exhibition takes the title rīvus, meaning ‘stream’ in Latin, and is due to open in March next year.

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