Destruction of ancient harmony inspires third Freo Biennale

By PA Sinclair

Gather ‘round and watch, listen, feel Derbarl Yerrigan as she swells and churns, pulls and casts the might of the Indian Ocean into the land. Come and experience deep acknowledgement of place, take time to consider the strength and beauty of these waterways carved by time and the hand of man.

From 5 November 2021, you are invited to engage over two weeks with artworks, performances and food that draw on the spiritual, cultural and historic body of our river, the Swan River, Derbarl Yerrigan, during the City of Fremantle’s third Fremantle Biennale ’Crossings 21’, the largest collective of Western Australian First Nation and non-Indigenous artists.

Team Biennale dwarfed by our beautiful Sticks Bridge

Inspired by the destruction of the sandstone tidal bridge at the mouth of the Swan River in 1892 and the impact that has had on the harmony of the river, 18 artist’s and groups express stories of crossings, fluctuating tides, the movement of people and the passing of time through emerging digital mediums, dance theatre, food and large-scale, site-responsive artworks and performances.

Here’s some images of experiences you are likely to encounter.

* All images supplied by Fremantle Biennale.

Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Tom Muller said the destruction of the natural bridge “altered the course of history” and caused disruption to the harmonious balance and tidal rhythms between the ocean, river and people that had existed there for millennia.

Dance theatre explores the Indigenous curse that sent the engineer responsible for the destruction of the natural sandstone bridge, CY O’Connor, mad and drove him to his death in The Blessed Curse, or was it a blessing? Remnants of the bridge remain beside the Maritime Museum, a highlight of the regular Fremantle Port Walks.

Gathering Place by Penhale & Winter in collaboration with Sandra Harben invites us to sit and spend time in one of the City’s forgotten public spaces. Vespers lures us down the river with music and dance on a small flotilla of yachts and Fervor serves up native foods in a culinary feast prepared by native food expert and cook, Dale Tilbrook. Customs House will be transformed into a space of sound and light connecting us to the water in Aquiferous, and the City of Cockburn have sponsored the spectacular Moombaki, “where the river meets the sky” in a 160-drone light show re-creating the first stories of Whadjuk Nyoongar Country. It will be hard to miss AC4CA’s 500-meter walkable geometric painted pathway tracing the Derbarl Yerrigan between the two Bridges, or Andrew Sunley Smith’s Overload, a partially submerged vessel beneath Fremantle’s Traffic Bridge.

The focus of activity will be between the two Bridges, one of which may be lost to the new bridge development planned to replace the historical Fremantle Traffic Bridge – another heartbreaking destruction the community are advocating to protect. Other venues will be along the estuary and Cockburn Sound.

Crossing 21 will turn the City of Fremantle into an art gallery from 5-21 November 2021, and is free to attend with some ticketed events. The City is expecting to attract 40,000 people to this year’s Biennale.