Making waves at the Fremantle Biennale

The fourth Fremantle Biennale looks toward the ocean and beyond. From the Fremantle foreshore to Rottnest Island (Wadjemup), the festival makes use of the city’s varied environments with specific intention.

“We’re looking at the shared histories between the coast and the islands, which were once connected to the mainland,” says festival artistic director Tom Mùller.

Included in this year’s program is Kastoms—an immersive installation by Taloi Havini. First exhibited as Answer to the Call at the 2021 Venice Biennale, it has been reimagined for its new home in the heritage Old Customs House. Mùller describes it as “a parallel world between [Havini’s] ancestral understanding of Oceania at large, and a scientific voyage she’s undertaken aboard a research vessel. She brings two readings together: one of the seafloor topography around the island of Buka in Papua New Guinea, and her ancestral oral traditions through song.”

Taloi Havini © Zan Wimberley, Courtesy of Artspace, Sydney.

The experience takes place on an elevated blue platform, representing the island of Buka from Havini’s homeland of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The ‘island’ is surrounded by blue drapes, and 22 speakers convey a soundscape of ocean chants and Indigenous instruments, composed by musicians Ben Hakalitz and Mario Celestino. It’s a 20-minute journey through the depths of an oceanic world.

Along with Havini’s Kastoms is a dazzling strobe-lit installation by Nonotak; a drone and light sound performance by First Nations artists Yabini Kickett, Tyrown Waigana, Ilona McGuire and Cass Lynch; and a durational performance installation aboard an historic pearl lugger.

With over 70 events and 80 featured artists, Mùller hopes the festival instils “a sense of appreciation, a sense of gratitude for where we are, and also an understanding of the layered and shared histories formed in the places we live”.

Fremantle Biennale: SIGNALS 23
Various Fremantle locations
3—19 November

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Sally Gearon