Until the 26th of September 2020 you can conduct your own reading at the biennale installation at Carriageworks. Onsite there is an installation of unbound booklets from the production of NIRIN NGAAY – you can take a selection and do your own reading. Go visit!

Reading NIRIN: Andrew Rewald

In this video, Andrew Rewald reads 'On the Movement of Plants' from NIRIN NGAAY. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Karla Dickens

Karla Dickens reads her contribution, 'Ready, Willing and Able'. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Gladys Milroy

In this video, Gladys Milroy reads her story, 'The Black Feather'. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Jessyca Hutchens

In this video, Jessyca Hutchens introduces us to the book. Watch here

Printed matter & NIRIN publications

Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter speak with Brook Andrew about their own artistic processes in printed matter and how they came to collaborate and produce two publications for NIRIN. The two publications, the exhibition catalogue NIRIN (edge) and the 'reader' NIRIN NGAAY (see the edge) were created in collaboration with (editors) Jessyca Hutchens (Assistant Curator to the Artistic Director) and Brook Andrew. Watch here

An artist’s book by Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter.
Edited by Jessyca Hutchens, Brook Andrew, Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter.
Commissioned for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

The Biennale of Sydney team and authors of this publication acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation; the Boorooberongal people of the Dharug Nation; the Bidiagal, Dharawal and Gamaygal people, on whose ancestral lands and waters NIRIN gathers.

NIRIN is a safe place for people to honour mutual respect and the diversity of expression and thoughts that empower us all.

NIRIN NGAAY is a compilation, a collection, a volume, an Artist Book, a Reader, an artwork, a sprawling, excessive heterogenous space of connections. Published as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), titled NIRIN, A Wiradjuri word meaning ‘edge’, this book is a space where ideas, themes, research, and experiments arising out of NIRIN find places on pages. Traversing many disciplines and forms, encompassing new and previously published works, complete works as well as excerpts and fragments and responses, each piece may ask for new modes of reading and seeing. Instead of disorienting, we see many lines darting and weaving across these works, beautiful moments of syncing and overlap, affective and abstract resonances, moments of density, as well as pauses to breathe deeply. Read and see and touch at random or with resolve – we hope that you will appreciate the way these works unfold and twist together, creating movements of meaning between them. ‘NGAAY’ is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘see.’ To really see ‘edges’, might also be to sense and feel and trace them, they come into view with clarity, hover in the periphery, or drift away like memories.

Buy the book

Copies of NIRIN NGAAY can be purchased at the
Biennale of Sydney Shop

Book credits

First published in 2020 by the Biennale of Sydney Ltd.

Published with generous support from Aesop and the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

This publication is copyright and all rights are reserved. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced or
communicated to the public by any process without prior written permission of the copyright holder.

© Biennale of Sydney Ltd
All texts and artworks © the author or artist.

Published for the exhibition the 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, 14 March – 8
June 2020.

ISBN: 978-0-9578023-9-1

Biennale of Sydney
Chief Executive Officer: Barbara Moore
Artistic Director: Brook Andrew
Editors: Jessyca Hutchens, Brook Andrew, Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter
Publications team: Sebastian Henry-Jones, Liz Malcolm and Jodie Polutele

Designed, typeset and printed by Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter on a Heidelberg GTO 52. Some sections printed by Printgraphics and Newsprinters.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Biennale of Sydney.

Biennale of Sydney Ltd
Level 4
10 Hickson Road
The Rocks NSW 2000

Film credits

Director & Producer
Amy Browne

Amy Browne
Jason Heller

Jaime Snyder

Sound by
Jaime Snyder
Ben Coe

Nirin Ngaay


Paschal Daantos Berry (P) is the Curator of Programs and Learning at the Biennale of Sydney, and Jiva Parthipan (J) works in Cultural Development at STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors). They have been working together on various activations of artist projects for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, in close collaboration with community groups associated with STARTTS. They met at 1pm on 19 September 2019, to have a conversation about their shared experiences in the realm of ‘community practice’. In the context of this volume’s concern with different kinds of ‘edges’, they discussed the institutional and cultural boundary lines and categorisations that continue to position social engagement as an addendum or which treat the ‘community as a canvas’.

So, I guess, Jiva, I feel like we need to begin within the curatorial context, we are both known for – within much more grassroots community practices, in terms of the way we create processes for community participation that go beyond passive participation. What takes a nice young man like yourself to this place?

I first started off as a dancer and I danced for a dance company for many years. But then I wanted to make my own work and felt dance wasn’t the medium that I wanted to work with, with the ideas I was interested in. So I did an MA in Fine Art and started making performance work in various mediums from performance lectures to video art, through to community practice. I did that for another eight years, and I came to Australia. I wanted to write myself out of my own work. So that’s when I really got interested in what had become community practice as art-making. Because most of my previous work has been tied in with biography and I thought I had reached what I could do with biography even in different mediums. And writing myself out of it was the starting point to what I’m doing now.

This notion of self-erasure within community practice is something that I really connect with because I feel the process of collaboration and also facilitating space and creating space requires a little bit of self-erasure so we’re not the dominant voice.


I was wondering whether you can expand on how you got to that place of understanding that you wanted to facilitate?

So, often in my previous guise as a dancer and a performance maker, I’ve been part of companies where they have a community engagement officer. So, it’s still a top-down model.

Arts companies make the work and then they engage the community to understand their work. But I was interested in a different process.

It’s coming from a different place where the community isn’t the practitioner. The collaboration is the work and then you engage with and do work with bigger institutions like the Biennale. So, in that way, I think the 2020 Biennale is very interesting because it’s not that the Biennale is engaging
with community, it is actually the community engaging with
the Biennale.

So, it’s a slight shift, but it’s a very important shift, I think.

It’s an interesting kind of switching of power structures, isn’t it? I mean, one of the things I’ve found really incredibly reassuring is the negotiation with the communities around why they want to be involved in the Biennale to begin with. And the thing that’s really heartening is the fact that communities are inherently suspicious of bigger institutional structures.

Absolutely. And quite rightly so.

So, where did it begin for you in terms of conversations with institutions, for example, your work with STARTTS, when did that all open-up to include collaborations with institutions?

J So STARTTS has been doing art-based work with various refugee and emergent communities for quite a while. But seven years ago, it took on a much more concerted effort when they received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts to run a two-year program. That’s when I started working there. And since then we’ve worked with, in some capacity or another, almost all the big institutions in Sydney to varying degrees of success.

But I think this – working with the Biennale – I would say, has been the first time, I really mean it, where it’s happened the other way around. Where it’s not an organisation who has brought in the artists, then said, ‘Now let’s engage with Western Sydney or an emergent community or an emerging artist.’ It’s actually the artist and the communities who are the centre of the curatorial practice, which is why I think it’s very interesting. I’m also slightly reluctant to call it community practice.

I would say it is the practice, just like, you know, it’s not community art or ... I am wary, even though I use it sometimes for practicality’s sake, professional art and community art – sort of, the dichotomy. But increasingly, I’m starting to talk of it as the practice itself rather than an addendum to a practice.

Yes … that the community practice does not serve a hierarchical structure. One of the things that has been really visible within Western Sydney, are the number of institutions that collaborate with STARTTS. One of the things that people don’t often witness is the centring of other philosophies. STARTTS highlights that this just happens naturally in Western Sydney because these are the communities who live there.

Can you talk a bit about moments of surprise in terms of being exposed to something really inspiring in Western Sydney?

I think I’m constantly surprised by the parallel quality of arts practice which is already happening in Western Sydney and with emergent and other communities, devoid of support from mainstream arts companies or funding structures.

For example, in my early days, because I studied classical Indian dance and then contemporary dance – I don’t practise that anymore, but I’m an avid follower of it – there’s a whole system in Western Sydney, which are presenting houses. Almost every weekend there is a concert of high-calibre artists both from abroad and from here, which doesn’t work with mainstream funding structures and curatorial practices. And I’m really surprised how many people are in this parallel economy. People are paying from $5 to $150 for tickets to go and see these things. And ... it’s unfortunate that it’s not being seen in other contexts.

I think that’s a really fantastic way of reframing that experience ... I think the fact that these communities have their own audiences and have their own knowledge around practices that they really want to engage with. I think there’s something incredible about the fact that those things are hidden and that it’s okay for them to be hidden. That they’re not missing from a landscape.

Absolutely, I think, you know, for example, I’ll go back to the example of classical Indian music. So, it’s seen within the classical tradition itself. And when it’s presented by other presenters then it’s seen as world music, which is probably not the place they want to sit in. So, in some ways, sometimes it’s okay to be hidden, I think, until and when it can be presented and worked with within its own merit.

One of the things I could imagine would be a challenge in working across different collaborations would be, I suppose, the capacity for larger organisations to co-opt the cultural magic that happens in grassroots communities. How do you facilitate these collaborations and exchanges and put systems in place that ensure the community is not co-opted by institutions?

So, for example, we’re just finishing off a three-year project with the Conservatorium of Music High School and schools in Western Sydney. And the idea is to introduce Western music and Arab music, especially Iraqi music, to the Conservatorium High School and also to introduce music-making to schools in Western Sydney. So one of the ways we did it is that we’re taking the music to schools in Western Sydney by pairing an Iraqi musician, Martin Al- Sommery, with a teacher from the Conservatorium.

They have a lot of exceptional musicians in the Iraqi community. Sometimes they lack the teaching skills required within the Australian school system. They’re then given training in order to be able to teach within schools but in partnership with a teacher from the Conservatorium. So, it’s an equal partnership rather than the Conservatorium bringing the music to the kids of Western Sydney. It’s an exchange. Not just at the kids-to-kids but also teacher-to-teacher, and musician-to-musician level. And it’s fantastic. Since then, a couple of the teachers have been the sessional lecturer at the school itself. And I think that would be the success of such a project.

So, it’s always making sure it’s not just the community as a canvas. So much of social practice these days is the community as a canvas for an artist’s idea. It’s not the point of what we’re trying to do. It’s artists from those communities who are ‘fully fledged artists’ in their own right having control over what’s being done, taught and performed. At the end of the three years, which is coming to an end, we’ve been working with the Gondwana Choirs, for example. We’re bringing them in so that there’s a legacy for this project beyond the three years. They’ll be starting a Western Sydney choir as and when we finish our project. So much of community practice can be just a one-off. We’re making sure there’s legacy beyond it, as well.

How important is the beginning of the project, setting up those structures? How do you approach the beginning of a collaboration with new leads and institutions, for example?

A lot of the time, what I do is I hang around places, a lot, really. It’s not that I don’t have a meeting to say, ‘let’s do a project’. Since starting this job, I would say I’ve been to weddings just to hear music. I’ve been to Independence Day celebrations with people from lots of countries from Rwandans to Ethiopians. And through that process you start meeting people and something happens organically rather than saying, ‘We’re going to set up this project, and be part of it,’ sort of a thing.

I think the best work happens, not in the office or in the rehearsal space, it’s all the other places. You’ll see me walking around or hanging out in the streets of Fairfield, sipping coffee. And people might think ‘What’s he doing? He’s not doing anything.’ But you meet all these people and things happen
that way.

I think one of the greatest things that I still can’t describe – or structure – is the creation of a space for beautiful accidents to happen, that sense of elasticity or alchemy, really, where the honesty of community members and artists start to create real electricity in the room, or that moment when you feel like you’re experiencing really good art that’s developing before your eyes. Do you think you could ever describe the process of creating the conditions where those things happen?

I hope I’m understanding the question right, really. For example, with the music project which we are just finishing off, when we’ve had concerts, we’ve had concerts in the theatre space which has got a precise beginning time, end time, intervals. Pin-drop silence. The whole Western idea of viewing music, which is to do with silence.

For example, I’ve had to work with institutions to say, actually, people will come in and out. And we can’t lock the door when the performance starts. And people will move elasticity between the performing area, the theatre, and the outside space. People will bring babies, which is frowned upon in a concert. So when we’ve had music, when you’re programming it in the theatre, we have this elasticity for the audience to come in and out, which also means in the foyer there’s other musical stuff happening as well.

One of the projects we’re working on, there was a booth we had created where you could go in and somebody will be singing to you unmediated by the microphone, over the period before and after the concert, a one-to-one performance. The people who get restless within the audience can actually go outside and hear someone sing in a room.

In a lot of traditions people would say ‘Shabash’ or whatever word they use to say ‘Bravo’ halfway through the performance and that’s not seen as a disturbance. It’s seen as part of the whole equality. I found it very interesting when I was at university these were the ideas a lot of the early Modernist musicians were working with: the idea of the audience, the silence and what’s noise, what’s sound, what’s music.

That’s already happening naturally in ‘community practice’, inverted commas.

I think one of the things I find very difficult to watch is, you know, when you work with an organisation and suddenly they start to do a very heavy-handed curatorial incision on very fragile works done by the community. And this sense of, within Western curatorial practice, there is such a focus on framing it within the institutional eye. In performance, it manifests itself in dramaturgy where you’re constantly kind of shaping these works to fit in within what the theatre or what the gallery wants. Or probably more insidious is their own aesthetic discrepancy particular to who they are as a brand, or as an entity. How well are you equipped to resist those impositions in terms of the tools you have to build for yourself to be able to fight hard for communities?

So this is why, I think ... I go back to the idea of something being ‘hidden’. Not every project can work within institutions. It would be detrimental for both parties. And some projects just need to happen in the living room of someone’s house.

And that’s where it’s got its own merits and if you take it out of that context for all sorts of reasons, whether it’s because they’re performance ready or because the framing is different and the politics of it might be different when it’s seen in a bigger institution.

I think, sometimes ... the work shouldn’t always engage with big institutions. Sometimes it just needs to be that, within its own context, whether it’s the living room, or whether it’s the community hall, or whether it’s in the side of a temple building, that’s probably the best place that it needs to be seen at, and to get what it needs, what it’s trying to do, in all its honesty.

Otherwise it’s detrimental for the community and the art-makers and the institutions as well. I think it’s okay to be hidden, I think, increasingly. Whereas in the early stages, it was like, no, we need to bring it out and show it to the world and get its necessary appreciation. And there’s a place for that. It needs to be done. I’m not saying no. But sometimes it needs to sit within its own parameters.

Just going off what you’re saying about the hidden, I think, sometimes we’re so lucky to be able to witness things that many people don’t get to witness. Is there a really memorable moment where you felt like that? You know, sometimes they are these accidental moments where you witness an incredible work of art that only two or three of you have seen?

I should definitely say, I mentioned someone’s living room before. It’s based on reality, you know, some of the best music I’ve seen are by artists who are not highly trained musicians but who just perform for their families. And I’ve seen that in at least three different communities. I think that’s probably been one of the greatest performances I’ve seen.

To wrap up our conversation, where do you think art within socially engaged practice is moving towards?

I think what’s really interesting in working in this way is if the institutions are working to genuinely engage in this kind of work, it would actually change the institution itself. I can really see that very clearly. It’s not just an idea. (The proposal) for NIRIN, is not just paying lip service. It actually is the work, the community engagement is not the addendum. And by that process, I think the institution itself will change. And I think I find that quite exciting.

There’s been a whole long tradition of having the community arm, or the Western Sydney arm of big institutions. I think there’s merit in that, obviously. But that doesn’t really change the institution. I think when it becomes the core of the programming for example, in this instance, that is institutional change. I think that’s where I know something interesting is happening.

Thank you, Jiva.