Collisions in Melbourne: Art that stuck in my head

Happy 2017 guys! I’m going to start off the year with a short tale of a piece of art I saw last year.  One that’s stuck with me, lodged in my mind.

It contained what to me is a rare combination of qualities: an invitation to empathetic connection that struck very deep, and a joyful visual beauty. The kind of beauty that makes your heart feel lighter in your chest.

This piece of art crops up in my mind sometimes still, a small thing sending big ripples though my thoughts. And one that holds extra wonder because I came across it unexpectedly.

So I’m sharing this now, while you might have the chance to see it too!

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image

While we were in Melbourne back in November we spent a happy morning exploring ACMI: the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.  It’s a lot of fun to walk around — the main exhibition covers the history of TV, film and video games in Australia and around the world, and there’s tons of interactive stuff to play with.

If you’re looking for something to do in central Melbourne it’s a great place to lose a few hours.  I got so involved in playing a mystery solving game that I didn’t even realise I was hungry until it was time to leave.  Unprecedented.

But the absolute highlight for me, the thing that I’m still thinking about now, was the special exhibition they had on.

Collisions by Lynette Wallworth

Collisions is a virtual reality film telling the story of Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, an elder of the Martu people, and their traditional land in the Western Australian desert.  The story centers around Nyarri Nyarri Morgan’s first contact with the world outside his traditional life: witnessing a mushroom cloud during Britain’s atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s. Tests which I’m not sure I even knew had gone on before watching this film. Sobering to learn.

I also didn’t know anything about the film before watching it.  We grabbed some free tickets at the last minute, on the recommendation of one of the members of staff at ACMI.

It was a great recommendation

In short, the story was simply, rhythmically and kindly told, the film beautifully put together, and the experience of absorbing it brilliantly immersive.

It probably would have been even more immersive if I could have turned the volume up on the VR headset, but I couldn’t find the button once I’d put the mask on. Ahem…

If you haven’t seen a VR film before, the basic concept is that you can move your head to look around you while you watch.  So your perspective is standing in a landscape, able to look to all sides, rather than viewing through a fixed frame.

Flying over the Pilbarra

In this case there were some scenes where you were soaring above the landscape. This made for some really spectacular views of the remote Pilbarra desert in north Western Australia, where the film was shot. Particularly beautiful was a scene showing preventative burning of the bush, where traditional patterns are used to control the fire: a network of lines and curves of flame, slicing up the landscape.

But what really got to me were the scenes around people’s homes. The kids riding bikes, a girl sitting on a chair in the shade, dogs sleeping. Experiencing this quiet domestic scene in such an immersive way felt warm and welcoming, and touching.

Quiet power

The tone of this film could have been angry, but it’s not.  Apart from the vivid scene depicting the explosion and its immediate aftermath, it’s a very peaceful film.  Calm. Focused on and rooted in the landscape.

I thought virtual reality films were a bit of a gimmick before, but this was powerful. Being immersed in the scene made it very personal, and brought home the relationship with land that matters so much here.

It’s a brilliant use of the technology, and a story that needs to be told.

If you’re in Melbourne this week, I highly recommend it.  It runs until January 15th, and it’s free, but you need a ticket, which you can book in advance or just try and grab on the day.

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