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Reviews/Multi-arts/Visual Art

Breathtaking Moombaki is festival’s crown jewel

10 November 2021

As if channelling the famed breeze of its hometown, Fremantle Biennale is a breath of fresh air for Jaimi Wright as she explores a handful of its offerings.

Selected works from Fremantle Biennale, various artists ·
Various venues, 7 November 2021 ·

Art can be intimidating when it’s presented in the traditional white-walled gallery. That’s why exhibitions that break away from these constraints – whether it be into public spaces or more inviting venues – are so important.

Enter the Fremantle Biennale.

Extending along the shores of the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River), the Biennale sees art take to Walylup/Fremantle’s footpaths, parks, forgotten buildings and even the sky. Embracing a spirit of openness and healing, the Biennale’s site responsive artworks are a triumph in ingenuity and public engagement.

‘Overload’ by Andrew Sunley Smith is an eerie and pensive spectre. Photo: Supplied

Directed by West Australian artist Tom Mùller, this is the third iteration of the Biennale. This year’s theme is CROSSING 21, in remembrance of an event that occurred over one hundred years ago.

A metal arm with a disc on the end extends in front of a limestone wall that is decorated with what almost looks like colourful graffiti. The floor is gravel.
Terrestrial and alien: ‘Transitions’ by Nathan John Thompson and Matt Gingold. Photo: Supplied

In 1892 engineer C Y O’Connor destroyed a natural crossing at the mouth of the river – used by the Whadjuk people for millennia for safe passage, ritual, and ceremony – in order to expand the Swan River colony. In processing the trauma of this memory, Fremantle Biennale forms part of the city’s healing, by sharing stories and connections about Walyalup in engaging and innovative ways.

The shoreline between Walyalup’s traffic bridges on Riverside Drive is absolutely jam-packed with artworks. At the water’s edge towards Stirling Bridge, for instance, rests Overload (2021) by UK and Australian artist Andrew Sunley Smith. Here, a pale and unmarked boat finds its final resting place in the river’s shallows, overladen with limestone rock spall. Like a held breath, it is an eerie and pensive spectre of the consequence of modern society’s consumption, overestimation and restriction.

Close by, in the Plympton Pumphouse building, is Transitions (2021), by Perth-based artist Nathan John Thompson. Created in collaboration with Australian transdisciplinary artist Matt Gingold, Transitions takes the historic location of the pumphouse, which originally belonged to a brewery in the 1900’s, and explores Fremantle’s stories as told through vibration.

At the centre of the Pumphouse, a robotic arm rotates and extends of its own accord, the liquid gallium it holds recording and translating man made and geological vibrations in the earth. In its movements, Transitions makes our connection to earth curiously both terrestrial and alien.

A view down a dark and narrow corridor - at the end is an image of a river which reflects onto the shiny black surfaces of the walls and ceilings.
Audience members navigate tunnels in a wheelchair in Bruno Booth’s ‘Tightness Times Toughness’. Photo: Supplied

Further up the shore is Tightness Times Toughness (2021) by Fremantle-based artist Bruno Booth. Booth has used a wheelchair for most of his life and its use is the core of this artwork.

Two dark tunnels with blinking lights echo the proportions and dimensions of the two traffic bridges and the river between them. Via the effect of perspective and illusion, the audience navigates the tunnels in one of Booth’s wheelchairs, exploring ideas of connection, place, and the anxiety of travel in the wide variety of places not designed for wheelchair access. Tightness Times Toughness is an arresting experience, and one participants are not likely to forget.

But the crowning glory of the Biennale is without a doubt Moombaki (2021) by Noongar/Kungarakan woman and artist Ilona McGuire.

Using 160 drones, coordinated in both light and movement, McGuire conveys site-specific stories and knowledge of the Whadjuk Noongar traditional owners. Moombaki is the Noongar word for “where the river meets the sky” and it is difficult to put into words the deep spiritual connection this light show above the water inspires. In seemingly effortless grace the drones hang in the deepness of the night sky, shifting into waves, faces, and animals in glittering blue and purple hues.

Moombaki is cultural storytelling at its grandest scale and in its most breathtaking form.

Art at its best is quite often artless, in that it lacks pretentiousness and engages its audience with open arms. A breath of fresh air along the coast, Fremantle Biennale invites all who come across its beating heart of innovation and generous storytelling.

The Fremantle Biennale continues until 21 November 2021.

Moombaki will be presented at Dyoondalup (Attadale Reserve, Attadale), 12-14 November and at Derbarl Nara (Coogee Beach), 19-20 November 2021.

Pictured top is a couple enjoying Ilona McGuire’s ‘Moombaki’. Photo supplied

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi Wright is your friendly neighbourhood art historian. She has just completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at UWA and dabbles in curating, local arts writing, and 19th century French history. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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