Virtual reality means linear is never a straight line story

From VR to porcelain echidna quills, Linear is a fresh reframing of line and lineage in Aboriginal culture and design, opening at Powerhouse Museum.

Artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth is one of Australia’s most celebrated image makers, perhaps best known for her Emmy award-winning immersive VR experience Collisions.

So what happens when you bring together an artist like Wallworth using current technology, with a group of nine other leading Indigenous artists, thinkers and designers to unpack what ‘lineage’ might mean within contemporary cultural vernacular?

This is what the Powerhouse Museum is doing next month with an exhibition of newly commissioned works titled Linear.

Curated by Marcus Hughes, Head of Indigenous Engagement and Strategy, he said: ‘Linear is an Indigenous-led exhibition curated with the support from a range of Indigenous cultural experts and provides an opportunity for the museum to continue to build exemplar models for the representation of Indigenous cultural material.’

Wallworth is joined by artists Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Maree Clarke, Mikaela Jade, Nicole Monks, Glenda Nicholls, Wayne Quilliam, Lucy Simpson, Bernard Singleton, and Vicki West in a diverse exhibition that examines the significance of line and lineage within Indigenous cultural narratives and practices across science, technology, design and aesthetics.

The exhibition has been designed by the award-winning Jacob Nash, Murri man and Head of Design at Bangarra Dance Theatre.

A Helpmann and Green Room award-winner, Nash said of the project: ‘At the core of this exhibition is a visual map composed of lines that link Australia together, culturally, spiritually and physically. These lines hold meaning beyond a mark on a page.

‘The idea that a line can hold such significance was the starting point for the design of Linear and it has driven the visual language of the exhibition. These lines hold Linear together, they guide us, teach us and let the objects tell our stories.’

Like Wallworth, Cabrogal woman and founder of Indigital, Mikaela Jade, has also turned to new technology to tell ancient stories.

Read: Artists take VR to the next level

Jade will present Wiyanga Bamulra Butt Butt Gurinyi (Mother Earth’s Heartbeat), a new work combining AR technology with ancient forms of communication used between Indigenous groups across Australia, told by the voices of traditional knowledge holders.

A highlight will be a suite of photographs by Wayne Quilliam, and the Men in Mourning and Women in Mourning from the series Ritual and Ceremony (2013/4) from internationally renowned artist Maree Clarke.

The geographic reach of this project is broad and powerful.

Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s Possum-skin cloak: Canoe Tree provides a monumental statement about the impact of settlement on Indigenous cultural practices, while two installations by Cairns-based artist Bernard Singleton use spears and language sticks, and Indigenous elder, Nyarri Nyarri Morgan and the Martu people of the remote Western Australian desert, speak of the devastating collision between his traditional world and his experience of nuclear testing in the South Australian desert.

Four works have been newly acquired by the Powerhouse Museum for its collection including a piece by Nicole Monks, and an installation that presents porcelain echidna quills by Yuwaalaraay woman and Sydney-based artist Lucy Simpson. 

Linear is showing from 15 November 2019 – 30 June 2020 at Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

Visual Arts Writer
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