The concept behind the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, running from March 12 to June 13, is “rīvus” – “stream” in Latin. Works will be shown along the waterways of the Gadigal, Barramatagal and Cabrogal people, and will encompass immersive installations, site-specific projects and living works exploring water ecology and how rivers sustain life around the world, from Slovenia to the Galari (Lachlan) River and the Amazon. All installations and events are free to enter.

This year’s Biennale marks José Roca’s first as artistic director. He has co-curated the event with a “curatorium” of fellow curators Paschal Daantos Berry, Anna Davis, Hannah Donnelly and Talia Linz. This year, “participant” will be used by the Biennale in place of the term “artist”, an acknowledgment of the range of backgrounds and disciplines of those contributing to the event.

“Rivers have been the ways of communication and the givers of life for entire communities, and a growing number of jurisdictions around the world are granting rivers legal personhood rights,” said the Curatorium in a statement. “As we see waterways having a voice in the courtroom, we wanted to extend this further into the public sphere with our exhibition. Many of the Biennale of Sydney participants have worked with waterways, local and international, to share their stories and raise these important conversations.”

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For the first time, the cavernous Cutaway at Barangaroo will house works during the Biennale. An enormous six-by-six-metre LED wall will be set into a mirrored pavilion on Barangaroo’s headland. Irish artist John Gerrard will use it to display Leaf Work (Derrigimlagh) a 2020 work that depicts magnificently detailed virtual worlds and brings to life the strain the climate crisis puts on the environment.

The Cutaway will also host Flow, a 600-square-metre bamboo immersive installation – one of the largest bamboo structures ever created in Australia – made by Sydney multidisciplinary studio Cave Urban. The work is inspired by a river’s flow, and will weave between and around the Cutaway, floating above other artworks. In the same space, The Great Animal Orchestra by American soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause and London collective United Visual Artists, offers a soundscape of 15,000 animal species – both marine and terrestrial – recorded by Krause over 50 years in vulnerable habitats in Africa, North America, the Pacific Ocean and the Amazon River.

Over at the MCA, French artist Tabita Rezaire will present Mamelles Ancestrales, a video work shown on a floor-based screen surrounded by a circle of stones; it is inspired by the landscapes of Senegal and The Gambia, as well as space, debris, archaeology, astronomy and African concepts of the cosmos. And a fish fossil from Canowindra in NSW will make its first public appearance in 365 million years.

The Art Gallery of NSW’s works are based around rewilding and caring for Country. A prodigious wallpaper work in the entrance of the gallery by Barkandji elder Badger Bates – whose works speak to First Nations water management – depicts the fish kills of Lake Menindee as it dries up. And provocative contemporary artist Mike Parr’s contribution is a tribute to German artist Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks project, in which he planted 7000 trees over five years in Kassel, Germany. An iteration of that monumental work is planted outside the AGNSW (on a much smaller scale). An accompanying performance-art piece – a recreation of a 1975 work by Czech artist Petr Štembera, Asleep in the tree for three days – will happen in the Blue Mountains.

And the newly redeveloped Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay Arts Precinct is set to host Biennale works for the first time in 10 years. Many of the pieces will reflect “briny” environments, where saltwater and freshwater meet. Trawlwoolway artist Julie Gough will show 100 3D-printed replicas of Tasmanian stone tools that are held off-Country at the Australian Museum. Gough has been kayaking the rivers and tributaries where the tools were found.

A collective of Indigenous women in northern NSW, Casino Wake Up Time – which works in traditional Bundjalung weaving – will explore stories of removal via a suspended installation. And Australian artist Clare Milledge will bring together painting, water, plants, sculpture, writing and sound for a large-scale immersive installation inspired by an Irish folk tale of the forming of a river.

At Darlinghurst’s National Art School, French artist Marguerite Humeau’s outdoor sculpture will imagine a world where mass extinction has reached a point of no return. She’ll also show a sound work in a Rocks warehouse.

Parramatta’s Information & Cultural Exchange will host Manila-based artist Leeroy New – who designed the “muscle dress” Lady Gaga wore in her Marry the Night music video. He’ll create a work using recycled, organic and industrial materials, which will wrap around the building’s face.

The 23rd Biennale of Sydney runs from March 12 to June 13, 2022.