Art Guide Australia | Brook Andrew on biennales, the art world and new ways of seeing

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Brook Andrew. Photo by Leah Jing.

As artistic director of NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, artist Brook Andrew is bringing together over 90 artists, creatives, collectives and communities from Australia and across the globe.

Tiarney Miekus: The Wiradjuri word NIRIN is the title of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. Can you talk about the meaning of NIRIN and how it emerged as a frame for the Biennale?

Brook Andrew: I think firstly we needed a name that was not English, and because I’m Wiradjuri I think it makes sense for that word to be in Wiradjuri. While NIRIN translates to ‘edge’ in English, when you’re doing translations there’s always different understandings of a word. I think the interesting thing about nirin, and how it talks to the edge, is that it can also be the edge of a silhouette, or the edge of a carving, in a culturally specific and active way. Translations take us in many directions depending on perspective and circumstance, and within these different understandings of nirin, suddenly there are many edges and a playfulness, but most importantly it challenges what is the centre and what is the edge. While it’s a particular Wiradjuri word, in its reception, nirin takes on an endless number of meanings around and to do with the edge, all interconnected, and in this way the word is both a concept and a methodology, and conceptually a call to action of how we can see and be different instead of being separated and distant. There are seven themes underpinning this Biennale, each from Wiradjuri language and behaving in the same way. Wiradjuri language is extremely complex as it connects to ceremony, season and ways of being that are not linear as in most Latin languages. I think it’s reflecting on this complexity that assists with understanding what this Biennale is about.

TM: Unpacking that complexity, can you explain the idea of the ‘edge’ and how it relates to what is typically viewed as the centre in contemporary art?

BA: We often talk about the centre. We think we know the context of the centre in regard to the art world, but also generally within culture by referring to cities such as Paris, Dubai, Beijing or New York—but what is the centre? And what is the outside? We can become accustomed to the dominant historical legacies of cultures that see themselves as more progressive or first world in some cases, and we forget about a lot of cultures that are seen as being on the edge or not the centre, and we forget that they have ancient cultures and ancient roots, as well as new and vibrant trailblazing cultures. Like the Haitians, for example. They were the first country to free themselves from slavery and they are the trailblazers of this incredibly important change within history and slavery, yet they suffer natural disasters such as the recent commemoration of the devastating earthquake and have leading arts movements such as Atis Rezistans—though they are not seen as a centre. It’s points like these that I think need to be highlighted around creative practice internationally, where it doesn’t come from a historically, military or financially powerful centre…

Originally published by Art Guide Australia, read the full interview here.