Learning objectives

  • Analyse and interpret how artists and designers in NGV Triennial respond to inspiration and ideas.
  • Analyse and interpret how elements and principles of art and design can be used to create aesthetic qualities and convey meaning.
  • Discuss how artists and designers have applied materials and techniques to express emotions and ideas.
  • Investigate work of Australian and international artists and designers from different cultures, times and places and how ideas are interpreted by audiences.
  • Make connections between the themes and ideas explored in NGV Triennial and personal experiences.

Links to the Victorian Curriculum

Using this resource

Before your visit

  • Introduce the four thematic pillars of the Triennial 2020 and brainstorm ideas, connections, questions and possibilities around each theme with students.
  • As a class or small group, use the cards and the themes to decide which works you are interested in/ intrigue you/ match the theme you have been discussing to visit at the exhibition.
  • Make a note of the Gallery spaces where your chosen artworks are on display and plan your route around the exhibition.

During your visit

  • View the works that your class or small group decided upon.
  • Allow plenty of time to observe, experience and contemplate each work before instigating discussion.
  • You might, with the use of Harvard Project Zero Visual Thinking Routines1 such as See, Think, Wonder, The Elaboration Game or Claim, Support, Question, to explore individual works with students.
  • Use the guiding questions on the cards to frame discussion and investigation around the work and identify areas for further exploration.
  • Encourage students to develop their own interpretations of the meanings and messages embedded in the works you view.

After your visit

  • Reflect on your visit to Triennial 2020. What else did you encounter when looking for your chosen works in the Gallery? How did they relate to your theme? What other themes or artworks interested you? How well did your plan go?
  • Ask students to make a diagram that identifies connections, discoveries and questions to pursue further for the works they saw. Ask them to present their findings to the class.

Triennial themes

The NGV Triennial 2020 presents international contemporary art, design and architecture from both established and emerging artists. Underpinned by four themes – Reflection, Conservation, Speculation and Illumination – NGV Triennial invites audiences to embark on a thought-provoking journey of exploration.


This theme offers different perspectives on the human condition and asks us to reflect on cultural narratives at both the individual and community level. Through photography, film, sculpture and architecture, artists celebrate the dynamism of life, and challenge preconceived ideas of race, gender, representation and power.

Key concepts for learning

  • Identity
  • Culture
  • Community
  • Human experience


The theme of Conservation addresses accelerating ecological decline, from the plight of rivers and oceans to species extinction, as a consequence of human activity. Artists and designers as both storytellers and activists, ask how we have separated ourselves from nature, and how our relationships with the natural world might be recalibrated.

Key concepts for learning

  • Sustainability
  • Environmentalism
  • Design
  • Human Activity


What does the future look like? What if science, biology and technology could come together to create a future that is reshaped in collaboration with, rather than in opposition to, nature? This theme investigates the future where natural, synthetic and technological worlds are interwoven and new imagined worlds emerge.

Key concepts for learning

  • Shaping the Future
  • Design
  • Digital Technologies
  • Sustainability
  • Human experience


Illumination celebrates the poetic beauty of light as a universal metaphor for a range of emotions and ideas including human spirituality, progress and creativity. Artists and designers working with light as medium and symbol take us on journeys of enlightenment, invention and self-actualisation.

Key concepts for learning

  • Light – Material
  • Light – Symbol
  • Knowledge
  • Enlightenment
  • Philosophy


  1. Project Zero, ‘Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox’, Project Zero, 2019, Harvard Graduate School of Education, <http://www.pz.harvard.edu/thinking-routines>, accessed 14 December 2020. 
  2. Adam Nathaniel Furman, Adam Nathaniel Furman, 2020, <http://www.adamnathanielfurman.com/>, accessed 19 Nov 2020.
  3. National Gallery of Victoria, ‘Triennial 2020 Media kit’, NGV2020, Victorian Government, <https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/support-us/ngv-triennial/>, p. 47, accessed 20 November 2020. 
  4. Tim Flannery, ‘The year of consequences: Climate change, pandemic and art’NGV Triennial Conservation (Volume 4), 2020, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.