Marjetica Potrč: Soča River Drawings: The Time of Humans on the Soča River and The Rights of a River (2021), and
Lachlan River Drawings: The Time on the Lachlan River and The Life of the Lachlan River (2022)
rīvus, 23rd Biennale of Sydney, 12 March–13 June 2022.
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.
The drawings tell of the struggles of two rivers in different parts of the world: the Soča River in Slovenia and the Lachlan River in Australia, in New South Wales. In the time of late capitalism and extreme environmental challenges, the rivers are threatened by plans that would exploit them to benefit the few. The characters in the drawings call for a more egalitarian relationship between humans and nature, in which the rivers are shared by all, to benefit the living world of plants, animals and humans. New agreements bring hope for the future survival of our common world. When working on the rīvus project, I met many inspiring individuals who are standing up for the Rights of Rivers and the Rights of Nature, while in the same breath they remind us of the natural empathy we feel towards rivers and our urgent obligation to be their caretakers. They include Andreja Slameršek, a Slovenian advocate for river rights, and Ray Woods, an elder of the Wiradjuri First Nation and a caretaker of the Lachlan River. Around the world I see environmentalists and Indigenous people taking the same stand. I am hopeful that more people will recognize their knowledge and adopt their practices in the effort to ensure a more resilient future for all of us. The drawings The Time on the Lachlan River and The Life of the Lachlan River were made in close collaboration with Uncle Ray Woods, a Wiradjuri elder, and Bernard Sullivan, who co-authored on the video Galari-dyi Bangamalagi – Sharing the Lachlan River.
The two mural drawings, The Time of Humans on the Soča River and The Time on the Lachlan River, present the balance of the living world along the rivers that is today under threat. The central images visualize a world in abundance – a pomegranate in the Soča drawing through which the river runs, a tree in the Lachlan drawing which has lakes, trees, birds and people in its branches. The texts in the murals remind us that the world of these rivers is on the brink of being lost, but it can be regained if people work together to end further exploitation. ‘When we meet at the end of our common time: What can we do for each other? We succeed or fail together, in oneness with Nature.’ (From the Soča River mural.)
The two visual essays, The Rights of a River and The Life of the Lachlan River, show us that the life of the rivers can be protected and revived by addressing imminent challenges. In Slovenia, citizens overturned a law that would have allowed private business to exploit protected rivers for profit, while the caretakers of the Lachlan River are trying to stop the raising of the wall on the Wyangala Dam, which would deprive the country below the dam of water. The fundamental challenge is to end the overexploitation of the natural world. For this to happen, people must stop seeing rivers as objects, to use, abuse, buy and sell, and start seeing them as relatives or friends: ‘The living world is a family. We feel for each other. It’s a life of sharing. When we take, we give back.’ (From the Lachlan River mural.) The drawings propose new agreements between humans and the natural world.
Uncle Ray Woods and Bernard Sullivan
Galari-dyi Bangamalagi – Sharing the Lachlan, 2021
digital video, colour, sound
duration: 15:00 minutes
Courtesy the artists
The House of Agreement Between Humans and the Earth, 2022
wood, fibre rope and drawings on wood
The Time of Humans on the Soča River, 2021
acrylic paint on wall
wall drawing from original drawing The Time of Humans on the
Soca River, 2021
The Time on the Lachlan River, 2022
acrylic paint on wall
wall drawing from original drawing The Time on the Lachlan River, 2021–22
The Time of Humans on the Soca River, 2021
The Rights of a River, 2021
The Life of the Lachlan River, 2021
The Time on the Lachlan River, 2021–22
ink on paper
Courtesy the artist & Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin/Stockholm/Mexico City
Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with generous support from Goethe-Institut Australia and with assistance from Alenka Tindale
For the Biennale, Slovenian artist and architect Marjetica Potrč and Wiradjuri man Uncle Ray Woods have collaborated to share the stories of two rivers; the Soča River in Ljubljana, Slovenia and the Galari (Lachlan River) on Wiradjuri Country in western New South Wales. The project includes a series of drawings by Potrč as well as a film Galari-dyi Bangamalagi – Sharing the Lachlan co-created by Uncle Ray Woods and filmmaker, Bernard Sullivan. The project advocates for the rights of these two rivers in light of ongoing struggles against privatisation and commercialisation.
The stories of the rivers are brought together with Potrč’s architectural case study, The House of Agreement Between Humans and the Earth. The timber construction of the house bound together with rope is inspired by palafitas, a type of housing developed by communities in the Amazon region. The construction joins built architecture with the notion of social architecture (society) in dialogue with nature. The base, symbolizing the Earth, supports the house – the world of social agreements and agreements between humans and nature. But the house is also dependent on human coexistence with nature, as represented by ropes that extend to the gallery ceiling, connecting floor (Earth) and ceiling (sky). The drawn figures on the structure show how the agreement between humans and the Earth is reflected in both society and the life of the planet, and, more specifically, they depict today’s struggle for the rights of Nature in Australia.