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Installation view at The Cutaway
Photograph: Biennale of Sydney/Document Photography | Installation view at The Cutaway

Your guide to the Biennale of Sydney 2022

With the Biennale back in business, exploring themes of rivers and rivalry, we lead you through the citywide art event

Alannah Maher
Written by
Alannah Maher
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Are you ready to chase arty escapades around the city? The Biennale of Sydney has unleashed a packed program for 2022, with over 330 artworks by 89 participants and 400 events, which are showing over three months from March 12 to June 13. The largest contemporary art event of its kind in Australia, as always, the Biennale is free to visit and open to the public.

Under the eye of the new artistic director, Colombian curator José Roca, the 23rd Biennale of Sydney is making some bold changes to how it has been programmed before. In a big change to previous years, creators invited to participate in the Biennale will be referred to as ‘participants’ rather than ‘artists’. This opened up the scope to more diverse talents, skills, practices and modes of being beyond the realm of the visual arts. So, expect to see experts like scientists, shamans, folk craftspeople and traditional singers amongst the throng.

The title of the 23rd Biennale is ‘rīvus’, meaning ‘stream’ in Latin. Adding another dimension, the word ‘rivalry’ also has Latin and aquatic roots. ‘Rivālis’ is derived from rīvus, and means ‘one who uses the same stream or water source’. With the near-constant La Niña deluge opening the heavens over the city and floods tearing a path of destruction throughout parts of Australia’s east, this theme takes on a whole new resonance. 

The new title will carry on from the previous theme, ‘Nirin’, where the Biennale championed First Nations artists from near and far – a brook into a river, if you will. The new theme hopes to enable aqueous worlds – rivers, wetlands and other salt and freshwater ecosystems – to share a dialogue with creators and raise unlikely questions. For example, can a river sue over psychoactive sewage? Will oysters grow teeth in an act of shuck-tastic revenge? What do the eels think? Are waves the ocean’s desire?

Another major difference is that representatives from each of the major cultural institutions involved have formed a team of curators – known as the Curatorium – and have a stronger voice in curatorial choices than ever before. Overseen by José Roca, this includes Paschal Daantos Berry from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Anna Davis from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hannah Donnelly from the Information + Cultural Exchange (I.C.E.), and Talia Linz from Artspace. This collaborative approach lends itself to a greater sense of connectedness between each Biennale location. As you explore, you’ll notice some interconnected works from the same participants shown across more than one site, as well as lots of other surprises. 

Check out our top picks across this year’s Biennale locations below.

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