Ten years ago, the National Gallery of Victoria launched Melbourne Now, where the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia turned inward, showing Victorian gallery goers the important, brilliant art being made in their state, at that moment. Now it’s back with over 200 Victorian-based artists, designers and creatives, spanning almost every medium imaginable. We asked five of the exhibiting artists—Amalia Lindo, Anu Kumar, Christian Thompson, Jessie French and Mark Smith— to tell us about the work they’re showing.
Christian Thompson: Taken from my 2021 series New Gold Mountain, my sound work Burdi Burdi (fire fire) is from a body of work I share with my grandmother Harriet Woods (Woods an anglicisation of Lam/Lem/Lim) and our Southern Chinese-Australian gold rush heritage.
Made during pandemic lockdowns, fire and gold became important symbols for me. As a society, our collective fire was dimmed after enduring some pretty challenging times in these last few years, so for me Burdi Burdi (fire fire) is about the fire within—galvanising resolve and persevering through, finding your fire and becoming strong again.
The references to gold come from our gold rush heritage but gold is also highly regarded and meaningful in Chinese culture. I wanted to use colour for the install to create this feeling of opulence and warmth, a place to listen to language and sound while fully immersed within this space, bringing together my Bidjara and Southern Chinese heritage.
The world moves so fast these days, too fast. Burdi Burdi will be a quiet and meditative space to reflect on our collective and personal histories; a transportive space into different threads and narratives of our recent past. I’ve been working in sound for over 20 years, and one of the remarkable things about sound for me is its infectiousness and immateriality. It’s at the core of human experience in the way that it stays with you.
Amalia Lindo: In recent years, I’ve discovered how much I value artistic collaboration, whether with creatives, academics, or, in the case of Melbourne Now, a group of globally distributed human ‘crowdworkers’. The 12-channel video installation Telltale: Economies of Time is a collaboration between myself, data scientist Dr Timothy Lynam, sound designer Dean Schrieke, and approximately 1,820 anonymous human crowdworkers contracted on the Amazon-owned crowdsourcing platform, Mechanical Turk (MTurk).
Amazon’s MTurk provides tech companies with cost-effective access to a 24/7 human workforce for tasks like content moderation and data management. By completing digital microtasks involving tagging, analysing and classifying images or text, MTurk workers are routinely contracted to teach artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms how to see, name and know our world.
Between March 2022 and March 2023, I commissioned MTurk workers to submit a short video in response to the video submitted by the worker who completed the task before them. The result is an unfolding chain-mail-style narrative, presented as an immersive visual and sonic experience that reflects the collaborative and social nature of AI through the lens of its ‘invisible’ contributors. As a durational and collective exercise, this project operates as a telltale for the evolution of the algorithm—an economic process that has divided human time, space and labour throughout recent history.
Anu Kumar: This photograph is from a larger body of work titled Ghar, meaning ‘home’ in Hindi. Ghar is the culmination of over seven years of making images in my birthplace of Kavi Nagar, India. This project began as a visual articulation of my curiosity; capturing moments slowly on a medium format camera in pursuit of understanding my Indianness.
Pictured is my Mami Ji (aunt) cutting a pomegranate in the Aangan (centre courtyard), a common occurrence in our Kavi Nagar home. Mami Ji has an Om tattoo on the front of her right hand, a remnant of her teenage rebellion. She often cuts fruit as a midday offering, a daily gesture of love in many Indian households.
I spend most of my time in the Aangan. It’s the central point of our house where all the members of our family congregate for various rituals; morning chai, fruit and veg preparation, where my uncle parks his bike, and where we lounge in the sun passing the midday hours. Looking at this image reminds me of the soft but significant moments that punctate my days in India.
Mark Smith: I often begin my soft sculpture, text works by choosing a particular word that I find evocative. I’m interested in eye-catching fabrics. For example, the bright pink of the work CONTROL, showing for Melbourne Now, is important because of the allure of first impressions, then comes the imagined narratives it may produce. Creating letter sizes and pattern stencils, and then buying amounts of fabrics, is extremely mathematical.
I also became interested in ‘happenstance’, which is defined as coincidence. Straight away I find this arouses feelings of curiosity and perceived narratives—which links to an ambiguous visual effect of creating the word in sequined material.
Prompting a viewer to think, study and contemplate—therefore broadening and opening the mind—is a particular aim for me (another of the pieces in Melbourne Now is called LOOK and it will be placed between two spaces in the gallery for this reason).
The words ‘control’ and ‘happenstance’ have an interesting relationship. During life, I think it is natural to try to control certain happenstances, whatever the situation or context may be; it’s the human endeavour to perfect circumstances to your liking. The hand-sewn characteristic of these words makes them reminiscent of the randomness of life, where the ambiguous and imperfect call for the cultivation of patience. Yet the ‘L’ at the end of CONTROL falls away, giving rise to thoughts of uncontrol.
Jessie French: Vessels are holders for things. Arteries that keep us alive. Carriers for water. Vehicles for stories. What keeps us afloat in turbulent seas.
In the 1967 book Ghost in the Machine, Arthur Koestler explains humanity’s destructive tendencies both individually and collectively. British philosopher Gilbert Ryle coined the phrase ‘ghost in the machine’ to critique the separation of mind and body. These became touchstones.
Ghost in the ‘cene, my largest vessel to date, takes issue with humanity’s pollution on planetary timescales. We use materials for momentary convenience which will become fossils of our plasticene epoch. They will one day represent ghosts in the rock, marking a time when these materials were produced.
This is global to bodily; microplastics have been found on the top of Mount Everest and in human breastmilk. More than half the hazardous chemical ingredients in plastics are known to accumulate in our blood. These materials hoard in unthinkable places in time and space.
My vessel is a placeholder of one moment of time: made of algaebased material, it supplies hope for what our material lives can be. It can disintegrate and be remade infinitely. Such a shapeshifting material captures a world in transition, where the destructive permanence of petrochemicals and plastics is reimagined through the soft strength of algae. It is a memory of the future; what we make of the time ahead we leave for those who come after we are gone.