Level 5 -12
This resource explores some big ideas in contemporary art and design through the work of NGV Triennial artists, with a particular focus on the cross-curricular priorities and capabilities in the Victorian curriculum (sustainability, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, critical and creative thinking, intercultural and ethical understanding).
It includes discussion questions, activities and resources that can be used with students both during and after a visit to the exhibition to promote critical and creative thinking about art, design and how we live, think and connect with each other.
The NGV Triennial series will survey the world’s best artists and designers and showcase works from regions that have not been strongly represented in the NGV Collection, promoting discussion, inspiration and celebration of new ideas and practices.
The inaugural NGV Triennial in 2017 is an exhibition of contemporary art and design that presents current ideas, practices and technologies in art, design, architecture, fashion and performance.
The NGV Triennial 2017 features the work of more than 100 artists from over 30 countries. It includes established, mid career and emerging artists and designers with themes of the Body, Change, Movement, Time and the Virtual.
The Triennial challenges visitors to consider new directions in art and design: immersive interactive digital environments that respond to our presence and movement; collaborative design projects that explore the connection between design, production, community and sustainability; works of art that bridge places, cultures and histories; and new ways of looking that raise questions about how we think and experience the world.
How do we make sense of contemporary art? Contemporary art doesn’t always have a fixed meaning – it can mean something different to each viewer. Sometimes contemporary art is not even an object but instead an experience or a concept, or even a smell! Contemporary art can push boundaries with new materials and radical ideas and suggest new ways of thinking or seeing things.
How do we talk about contemporary art? We can talk about art in terms of how it looks or how it affects our senses – its aesthetic qualities – through elements such as line and colour, texture, shape and form, and through principles including balance, repetition, rhythm and unity and how they create an effect. We can talk about the materials and techniques the artist has used. We can look at art through different analytical frameworks (a cultural or feminist framework, for example) to shape our perspective. We can also talk about art in terms of the big ideas, meaning and messages it might contain – ideas like sustainability, social justice, inner realities or possible futures; or themes like Body, Movement, Change, Time. the Virtual. Or we can talk about the personal meanings and messages that we take from the work.
Many works of contemporary art ask us to get involved. Our participation is what makes the work of art happen, and our experience contributes to the work of art – its appearance and its meaning. Audiences of contemporary art expect to be at the centre of the art experience. Participatory art engages them as collaborators and co-creators; the outcome is not fixed and the meaning of the work will be different to each participant. Following are some NGV Triennial artists whose works of art depend on audience participation.
Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) is one of the world’s most celebrated artists and has been awarded two Lifetime Achievement Awards in her native Japan. Kusama’s Flower obsession, 2017, is a participatory installation in which visitors are asked to place a flower – either a flower sticker or a three-dimensional artificial flower – onto any surface in the exhibition space, a house fully finished with furniture and fittings. Over time, the rooms will be entirely covered, creating a space in which surfaces blend together and objects become indistinguishable from their background. Flower obsession is conceived as an art experience for the visitor that relates to Kusama’s early memories:
One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness.
Yayoi Kusama, 1975
Kusama asks us to interact with the space, taking part in its obliteration.
Sissel Tolaas is a Norwegian artist who specialises in smells. Smell is the most primal and immediate of the senses, one which Tolaas thinks has been neglected in art museums. Her work deals directly with the aesthetic encounter, and taps into our experience on this primal and direct level. Since the early 1990s she has been developing an archive of thousands of smells. Tolaas, who has a PhD in Chemistry, collects smell samples – from the smell of grass to the smells of places and events – and then reproduces them in her laboratory using chemical compounds.
I record the smell to keep the moment, like you do a photograph. First I break down the molecules, then I identify them and reproduce the smell so it is as close as possible to the original. The result is a chemical formula. The formulas are the archive – my body of work.
(NGV Triennial 2017 Ewan McEoin, Simon Maidment, Megan Patty, Pip Wallis, editors and contributors pp 334)
For the NGV Triennial, Tolaas has created a series of abstract objects for the audience to touch and sniff. Her work SmellScape Melbourne, 2017 captures the smells of Melbourne. In her research, Tolaas investigated the history of the NGV site, from the time of the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, to modern times. She has also developed a language archive to accurately describe the different smells, making a dictionary of research and terms to accompany the Melbourne work.
Japanese art collective teamLab is an interdisciplinary creative group based in Tokyo and comprising more than 300 members. teamLab collaborates with leaders in various fields of digital practice, including artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, web and print graphic designers and editors. For the NGV Triennial teamLab have created an immersive, illuminated digital installation – Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement, 2017 – that responds to the audience, swirling around each viewer as they move through the space like vortexes and currents in water. The installation is ever changing, different for each viewer each time it is experienced, its movements accelerating or decelerating depending on the speed of the audience members.
Einat Amir’s Coming soon near you, 2011–17, is another work in which viewers are invited to participate. Audience members can register for a session during which they can view videos they have chosen – from home movies to their favourite television shows – in a lounge room setting in the gallery space, amid visitors to the NGV Triennial. Amir’s work brings together public and private domains. Her project investigates human interactions and the possibilities inherent in everyday communication between people. She envisions the installation as ‘a lab of emotional research’ in which to create interactions that blend notions of authenticity, fabrication and manipulation.
Other participatory artworks include:
Tom Crago (designer) Tantalus Media, Fitzroy (design studio) Materials, 2016–17
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Redundant assembly, 2015
We Make Carpets, Amsterdam (design studio), Hands On: We Make Carpets for Kids 2017
Questions for students
Yayoi Kusama, Flower obsession, 2017
What big ideas might be behind the work?
What decisions has the artist made and how do these affect the way the work is viewed?
In what ways is the artist in control of the outcome?
How is this recognisable as a work of art from the present time in history?
Can you think of a work of art from another time that embodies similar ideas, meanings or messages?
How does the participatory nature of the work add to its meaning?
Is the work of art the idea, the objects in the installation or the process?
Sissel Tolaas, SmellScape Melbourne, 2017
How might this work challenge our notions of what is art?
What factors might affect how each person responds to the work?
What difficulties might gallery professionals such as curators and conservators encounter with this work?
What smells would you use to capture the character of your home? Your school? Your life? You?
Write a dictionary or glossary to define the smells you have chosen.
teamLab, Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement, 2017
What defines this work as art rather than something else?
What parallels does it have with more traditional works of art? What makes it different?
What skills and knowledge were required to produce this work?
What messages might it communicate? What ideas or questions does it raise?
Einat Amir, Coming soon near you, 2011–17
Is watching TV art?
What qualities make this an artwork?
What decisions has the artist made?
How important is originality in an artwork?
How important is the artist in this work?
How could this work be analysed or described in an aesthetic sense?
What do you think Amir means by ‘a lab of emotional research’?
What are the possible outcomes of this work?
What is meaning of this work of art? What does it say about our time, our place in the world, our culture?
If you were a curator of art, would you purchase this work for a public collection? Explain your answer.
What do the works of art above have in common and how do they differ?
Create a proposal for a work of participatory art: what are the main ideas? What are the physical and technical requirements? What are the desired and/or possible outcomes?
Sustainable design takes into account the social and environmental factors involved in the creation of a product, including consideration of the product’s life cycle – from creation and use to disposal at the end of its useful life – and the systems – social and industrial – involved at all stages.
Following are some NGV Triennial projects that show how artists and designers are influenced by the desire to create a more sustainable society.
Estudio Campana / Yarrenyty Arltere Artists / Elliat Rich, Victoria Amazonica, 2017
Victoria Amazonica, 2017, is the result of a collaboration between the Campana brothers, Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, the Centre for Appropriate Technology and Alice Springs–based designer Elliat Rich. The colourful upholstered dome is a meeting point and a resting place that welcomes visitors to the NGV Triennial.
In their practice, Brazilian design duo Humberto and Fernando Campana transform discarded materials and industrial by-products into furniture and functional design. Humberto Campana describes design as
a form of humanitarian aid and aid to the planet … designers hold a very powerful tool in their hands because their product is in continuous interaction with people’s lives. It is clear that design has implications that go deeper than pure aesthetics.
In their collaboration with Indigenous designers, the Campana brothers emphasise the deeper implications of design as a way to bring people and stories together and celebrate our intangible cultural heritage.
Yarrenyty Arltere Artists is a collective of artists working from an art centre located in the heart of Alice Springs in the Larapinta Valley Town Camp. The centre brings together families, community and culture in an art program that is open to all community members. The YAA artists embroidered the soft elements of the dome.
The Centre for Appropriate Technology is a Northern Territory based–organisation that aims to build sustainable and enterprising communities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by delivering practical, integrated project design, technical innovation, training and infrastructure, and products and services to support livelihoods and growth in economic opportunities across remote areas.
The name and design of Victoria Amazonica references the giant waterlily of the Amazon, specifically the complex ‘architectural’ pattern of the veins on the underside of the leaves, a pattern said to have inspired Joseph Paxton’s design of the Crystal Palace for London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Victoria regia
Drawing upon motifs common to several cultures and geographies and with its allusion to waterways as a source of life and a conduit for the exchange of ideas, resources and stories, the Victoria Amazonica dome is a symbol of shared ideals and the meeting of hearts and minds.
Brodie Neill, Gyro,2016
Brodie Neill is an Australian-born designer based in London whose work reuses the by-products of industry and consumption in innovative ways to draw attention to unsustainable practices and to start conversations about how we consume resources. Gyro, table, 2016, takes its name from the large systems of circulating ocean currents – gyres – that act as accumulation zones for plastic waste.
Gyro,uses an inlay of blue and green reclaimed plastic fragments to form a colourful ‘ocean terrazzo’ in a kaleidoscopic mosaic that represents the earth’s lines of longitude and latitude. Neill uses digital design technologies to generate his forms.
Brodie Neill is concerned with how our patterns of consumption impact on the environment. His Gyro, table is not intended to solve the problem of ocean pollution, but rather to start a critical conversation about the issue.
Alexandra Kehayoglou, Santa Cruz River, 2016–17
Alexandra Kehayoglou’s work Santa Cruz River, 2016–17, is a 10-metre-long carpet that maps the landscape of the Santa Cruz River in her native Argentina. The river is the focus of a proposal by Chinese and Argentinian companies, backed by the Argentinian government, to build two hydroelectric dams. If built, the dams will flood an area of around 400 square kilometres, covering fossil records millions of years old, burying the archaeological ruins of the indigenous Aónikenk or Tehuelche people and disrupting the natural ecology of the region. In 2017, Kehayoglou joined a group of biologists, engineers, artists and activists to spend seven days canoeing down the river researching and documenting. The resulting carpet draws on the knowledge gained from that journey, and from Kehayoglou’s own heritage – her Greek family has worked in the carpet-making industry for many generations.
Kehayoglou uses her role as a designer as an opportunity to collaborate with others to raise awareness of vulnerable landscapes and to inspire the viewer to protect these precious regions.
Studio Formafantasma, Ore streams, 2016–17
Formafantasma is an Amsterdam-based design studio. Their project Ore streams, 2016–17, is a work that draws our attention to the environmental and social impacts of our appetite for new technology, including the consequences of the trade in rare earth minerals and electronic waste. Ore streams is a series of objects, made from metals reclaimed from devices, that asks us to question our patterns of consumption, and examine where the materials that make our consumer products come from. The Ore streams objects are formally based on commercial office furniture – namely desk, chair, side table, light and cabinet – and also explore modernist design objectives, such as standardisation, universal style, efficiency and modularity.
Questions for students
Find out about the impact of plastic pollution in the ocean:
Design an item that draws attention to the problem of marine pollution and points to a solution.
Design a possible solution to the problem of ocean plastic or one of its impacts.
Be inspired by some organisations that are working on solutions:
Look at a map of your local area to find a river or creek. Walk along its path like an explorer and document the plants, wildlife and human interventions – such as built structures or pollution – that you find there. Use your documentation to make a work of art.
How could you encourage your peers to be more aware of the issues around technology such as consumption and recycling? Create a short, attention-grabbing advertisement to raise awareness.
To be ethically responsible is to follow a code of moral principles and values – to consider the impact and consequences of one’s actions on the welfare of other people and the environment, and to make choices and take actions that give benefit to others instead of causing harm. Ethical responsibility is modelled through actions – it can be seen in an individual’s character traits and behaviour; in groups that hold strong collective ethical values and act in accordance with them; and in organisations that foster an organisational culture that maintains high environmental, social, economic and legal standards.
Many artists and designers use their art practice to highlight issues that they want to bring to the attention of others, with the intention of raising awareness or prompting a change of behaviour. Some NGV Triennial artists respond in their work to issues that arise from the current political and social climate, specifically the plight of asylum seekers fleeing conflict in their home countries.
Ben Quilty is an Australian artist whose recent work examines challenging aspects of Australian history and culture. In 2011, Quilty was commissioned as a war artist to travel to Afghanistan and record the impact of the conflict there. In 2016, World Vision Australia invited Ben Quilty and writer Richard Flanagan to travel to Greece, Lebanon and Serbia to witness the global refugee crisis. Quilty’s Triennial work High tide mark, 2016, is a representation of a single life vest, rendered in expressive strokes of thick paint, symbolising the many vests discarded by asylum seekers as they reached the shore in Lesbos. In the face of this mass movement of people, Quilty asks us to consider the importance of each life.
Candice Breitz is another artist whose work focuses on the refugee crisis brought about by international conflict. In her work Love story, 2016, Breitz asks the viewer to engage with the stories of six people who have been forced to flee their home countries due to circumstances resulting from war. In one gallery space, their stories are narrated by Hollywood actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore in a fast-paced montage. In another space, the original interviews are played in full. Breitz makes us recognise the degree to which our perceptions are mediated by popular media. Her use of famous figures as narrators draws our attention to an issue to which we have become hardened.
Melbourne-based artist Louisa Bufardeci used Google Earth to locate images of the stretches of water between Australia and Indonesia where boats carrying asylum have sunk. She has translated these images into abstract embroideries in her work The sea between A and I, 2014–15.
In his work, Incoming 2015 – 2016, Irish artist Richard Mosse used a long-range thermal imaging camera to capture footage that documents events and places related to the bombing of Syria: an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, boats carrying Syrian refugees arriving on the beaches of Lesbos, the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek–Macedonian border, and images of Macedonia, Turkey and Northern Iraq. The camera – developed for military use – is able to capture images up to 50 kilometres away in total darkness.
Questions for students
Compare and contrast the works above – think about their appearance, their use of contemporary technologies, their message. Which work represents the migrant crisis most truthfully?
Works like those of Candice Breitz and Richard Mosse capture the distress and misfortune of others in times of great hardship, using their stories as inspiration for art.
What are some of the possible outcomes of making and viewing these works of art?
What responsibility might these artists have to their subjects?
What responsibility does the artist have to the viewer?
Does the artist have any ethical responsibilities, in your opinion?
What are the responsibilities of the gallery displaying the work?
What relationship does the work of art have to the real event?
To what extent is the artist’s depiction true?
How does our media landscape affect our viewing of events such as those depicted?
How does our media landscape affect the way we read the works of art?
In what ways is Louisa Bufardeci’s work similar to that of Mosse and Breitz? How is it different?
In what ways is Bufardeci’s work similar to that of Ben Quilty?
How important is the artist’s explanation of the work to the viewer’s understanding?
Did these works of art change the way you see or think?
What roles and responsibilities are Mosse and Breitz assuming?
Richard Mosse and Candice Breitz altered their Triennial works to comment on the security company contracted to service offshore detention facilities: the same company also contracted to provide security services at the NGV. Read about the protest here.
How might the artists’ decision to retitle or alter their work affect how it is viewed?
Interview someone you know who has come to Australia from another country. Why did they come, how did they get here and what were their experiences when they arrived?
Turn your interview into a work of art – a film, a drawing, a piece of writing, for example – inspired by what you have learned.
For me design is not about making another chair or another lamp. Good design is … about clean air, clean water, clean energy.
Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde
Designers help shape the world we live in. They explore and imagine new possibilities for how we live and their work affects our actions on an everyday level. Design thinking is an approach to creative problem solving that focuses on human needs and behaviours, putting the user experience at the centre of the design process.
Joris Laarman Lab, a team led by Dutch designer Joris Laarman, explores the possibilities presented by 3D printing and robotics for design. Bridge table, 2010, Maker chairs, 2014, Microstructure chair, 2014, and Dragon bench, 2014, were all developed using generative design software that mimics the processes of nature. The designer enters goals, parameters – such as manufacturing material and methods – and constraints – for example, costs – into the design software, and the program uses cloud computing to generate a range of design solutions or alternatives, assessing from each iteration of the design what is successful and what isn’t, and refining subsequent designs.
The Dragon bench is a sculptural piece created with a 3D printer developed by Laarman Lab. The printer combines an industrial robot with an advanced welding machine, and prints with metals such as steel, stainless steel, aluminium, bronze and copper without the need for the structures that would normally be used to support a sculpture during its construction.
Maker chairs are assembled from 3D printed parts – like a puzzle. The use of affordable technology to make them ensures that good design is accessible to everyone.
The Microstructure chair series looks at the structure of chairs on a cellular level, mimicking nature – solid cells in the design create structural strength and rigidity and more open cells reduce the use of materials and decrease weight, all within one single printing technique.
All of these designs present new ideas for designing and making, suggesting a pattern for reshaping our world.
Neri Oxman is a design researcher who works at the intersection of biology and design technology, augmenting objects and architecture with biological materials that can adapt and respond to their surroundings. She directs the Mediated Matter research group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a group that works across architecture, engineering, computation and science to provide a new model for a contemporary design practice. Oxman’s team conducts research that moves between synthetic biology and art, and applies that knowledge to design.
An example of their work is Wanderers, 2014, a collection of prototype clothing, made in collaboration with 3D printing company Stratasys, designed to hold microbes that could keep the user alive in hostile environments. Another is Silk pavilion, created in 2013. A dome made out of silk fibres, it was woven by a robotic arm and finished by 6500 live silk worms.
The NGV Triennial displays Oxman’s Vespers death mask series, 2016, which comprises masks created to guard the souls of five imagined martyrs as they pass from life to death to rebirth. Each martyr is memorialised three times through interpretations of three different moments: the past, present and future. The masks were made using 3D printing technologies combined with biological elements.
Series one refers to the past. In the ancient world, the death mask was credited with strengthening the spirit of the deceased and guarding their soul from evil spirits on the way to the afterworld. In this series the masks are symbolic – a cultural relic. They use colour combinations commonly found in religious practices across regions and eras, and are embedded with natural minerals such as bismuth, silver and gold.
Series two refers to the present, the transition from life to death, and explores the progression of the death mask from an exterior surface (as in Series one) to a functional biological interface (as in Series three). The internal forms refer to the martyr’s last breath.
Series three – the future – proposes the death mask as a vessel for new life – a habitat capable of interfacing with living microorganisms.
Questions for students
Think, learn, create
Laarman is inspired by nature’s way of solving design problems. Find and share some examples of design solutions in nature: for example, for finding food, hiding from enemies etc.
What questions or ideas might the works of Joris Laarman and Neri Oxman raise? In what ways do they challenge the viewer?
Describe your vision of what the future might look like, taking as a starting point the possibilities envisaged by the artists and designers above. What other visions or predictions do you have for how the future might look?
Intercultural understanding is the ability to value, and to be receptive to, various forms of social and cultural diversity. Such understanding grows through building knowledge of people from different cultures in a variety of contexts, and by sharing experiences, meaningful communication and social relationships across different cultural groups. By understanding others we also become more aware of ourselves and the values, attitudes and assumptions that inform our own perspectives and behaviours.
Artists depict their world – its people, events, sensations and ideals – and in doing so they illuminate aspects of all human existence, helping to inform and shape our perceptions of reality and build our understanding.
Following are some artists whose work draws on their cultural or social background.
Faig Ahmed is an Azerbaijani artist who lives and works in his home town of Baku, Azerbaijan. Ahmed uses his deep knowledge of the traditions and techniques of eastern rug making to create contemporary textile works. In his work traditional rug patterns melt, bend, warp, bulge and pixelate to form works of art that are unmistakeably of our time.
Ahmed describes his process:
I make my sketches on computer and then transfer them to special engineering paper dot by dot. After that I pass my sketches to a carpet maker who weaves the carpet using the ancient techniques of the region. All threads are woollen or silken and are dyed with natural colours. The process of weaving is the same as it was 300 years ago.
In Ahmed’s work Hal, 2016, a traditional Azerbaijani carpet appears to stretch and melt into a puddle on the floor.
In 2010 UNESCO placed the art of Azerbaijani carpet weaving on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list – a list of types of knowledge that are key to cultural diversity and expression. Ahmed’s work draws attention to an old medium and, by recontextualising it as contemporary art, gives it a new audience and a new meaning.
Hassan Hajjaj is a contemporary artist and designer who lives and works between London and Morocco. He has designed furniture, fashion, interiors and album covers as well as being a celebrated multimedia artist and photographer. Hajjaj’s photo portraits celebrate the unusual and colourful characters that he encounters in the streets of Marrakesh and London, combining dazzling pattern and vibrant juxtapositions of East and West, traditional and contemporary. The images are often framed by repetitions of cans, signs, boxes or packets. They are a bright and playful mix of Pop and kitsch combined with attitude and humour, that celebrate individuality. For the NGV Triennial 2017 Hassan Hajjaj has transformed the NGV Gallery Kitchen into a modern Morroccan tea room. The title Noss Noss, 2017 translates as ‘half half’, and refers to both a coffee with half milk, half coffee and Hajjaj himself.
South African artist Kay Hassan creates large portraits using paper torn from billboard posters. His characters, such as those in Untitled 2013, Untitled 2014, Untitled 2015, Untitled 2015 are based on people he sees on the streets of Johannesburg, where he lives and works, and the images reflect the themes he sees around him – urban strife and displacement or dispossession through poverty, politics or migration – but also the strength of individuals, family and community.
Hassan’s technique of tearing up the billboard images and reconstituting the pieces as painterly portraits reflects the way in which our lives can be torn apart in various ways and then put back together. His use of advertising billboards points to our modern culture of consumption.
Even though apartheid – the system of racial segregation and sanctioned political and economic discrimination against non-whites – ended in 1994, South Africa has continued to struggle with the wide divide between rich and poor and providing universal access to basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. Unemployment is high and corruption is rife.
Hassan’s images make less visible characters more visible and highlight the human aspect of social change.
Other artists include:
Questions for students
How does each artist express aspects of their cultural identity and how might this help us build our understanding of others?
What comment might each work be making on contemporary society?
Which images would you choose to embody your cultural background(s) and experience?
Arrange a photo shoot, thinking about costume, setting and props that illustrate your cultural heritage or experience.