Canberra–like every other Australian city–faces a “huge challenge” to control urban sprawl, upgrade unsustainable building…
Well, that was amazing.
I admit, I was dubious, as I’d heard mixed responses to the Van Gogh Alive experience, but there are not enough superlatives for Connection: Songlines from Australia’s First Peoples, which is showing at the National Museum of Australia until 9 October 2022.
More than curated, this exhibition is choreographed to an Indigenous soundtrack. The selection of music complements the artworks, which appear on the screens in time with the music. It’s easy to recognise the iconic voices of Christine Anu, Archie Roach and Gurrumul.
I watched the whole show once and was mesmerised. Then I watched it again. It is utterly compelling. My friend who saw it with me thought it wasn’t playing on a loop as it didn’t look the same the second time around but she was noticing different details this time. If I lived in Canberra, I’d go and experience it again and again, despite the hefty $28 entry fee. If you sat in a different part of the space, you’d have a different experience.
It was so beautiful. It made me smile. It made me cry. But most of all, it made me incredibly grateful that I am allowed to share this country with the men and women who hold the knowledge of the land, water and sky Country. The many First Nations artists – visual and musical – who feature in this exhibition are so very talented. As is the work of Aboriginal photographer Wayne Quilliam. To see his photographs of the country, flora and fauna that are depicted in the paintings really helped me understand them better. The team from Grande Experiences who animated the artworks, chose which detail of the paintings to use on which screen at the best times, and put the show together with the soundtrack deserve special praise. They make the artworks dance.
The inclusion of Celia Ross’ emu dance at the end was genius. The camera work makes it utterly compelling. Dance is a universal language and another way of connecting to Country and connecting with the audience.
This show will appeal to visitors of all ages: I saw toddlers playing in the projections on the floor through to seniors gaping with awe.
Connection is not to be missed. However, some minor improvements would make it even better. Firstly, some more cushions and low seats are needed in the space. My bum went numb sitting on the floor for more than an hour. People who can not easily get down to the floor and up again need to be accommodated in the space.
Secondly, I really wanted to see some of the original artworks which featured in the show. Even if just one or two of them were hanging in the exit corridor, that would be enough. After seeing Connection, I would appreciate them with fresh eyes.
And finally, the names of the artists and the titles of the artworks are mentioned as they come on the screens but the dates when the artworks were created are not included. The inclusion of this information would help the audience to think about the long history of Indigenous art and move beyond an aesthetic appreciation.
But these are small things.
Connection: Songlines from Australia’s First Peoples is, to use an oft misused word, awesome. Go and see it again and again.
Alison Wishart has worked in the GLAM sector for nearly 20 years. She worked as a curator at the NMA from 2008-2011.