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2 things you missed at Dark Mofo – A JOURNEY TO FREEDOM and SHAUN GLADWELL

juin 25, 2018

1. TMAG’s provocative prison exhibition

The good news about this exhibition is that it’s open until July 29 – so both you and Mike Parr still have plenty of time to get along. A Journey to Freedom is at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and features local and international artists exploring issues of incarceration from all different perspectives – from immigration detention to Aboriginal deaths in custody and Tasmania’s violent penal colony past. It’s a fairly small exhibition, but some of the works are hugely impactful, including Jean-Michel Pancin’s installation, which includes a prison door from the notorious ‘Pink Palace’ Risdon Prison and a concrete slab marking out a cell.

2. Shaun Gladwell’s VR trip around the world

Shaun Gladwell’s ‘Orbital vanitas’ is also part of A Journey to Freedom, although its links to incarceration are a little vague. But it’s still one of the most effective artistic virtual reality experiences we’ve seen. You start floating in space, high above the Earth, while a dark skull floats toward you. You end up taking a brief tour of the inside of the skull, staring down through the eye-holes at the Earth below. It’s dark, confronting but a surprisingly peaceful way to spend seven minutes.

And for Mike Parr, after 72 hours underground, seeing the expanse of the whole universe might be a welcome change.

Ben Neutze travelled to Hobart as a guest of Dark Mofo.

Dark Mofo is in Hobart until June 24, but there’s plenty to do in the Tasmanian capital all year-round. Read our guide to Hobart.

It’s virtually the future of film making for Shaun Gladwell

Shaun Gladwell calls virtual reality « an empathy machine » for the way it can immerse viewers in characters’ lives much more than a traditional film.

The acclaimed Australian artist is using his latest work in the format, Storm Riders, to show the lives of two young Muslim women who love skateboarding. It’s a defiant expression of their individuality after growing up with bullying and prejudice in London.

Director Shaun Gladwell with Channee Shah (left) and Farhana Hussain who appear in the film Storm Surfers at Bondi Beach.

Photo: Photo: Ashley Mar/SBS, BADFAITH and Anna Schwarz Gallery

And in keeping with his belief in virtual reality, Gladwell has a unique suggestion for an interview about the film and the VR program he has co-curated at the 65th Sydney Film Festival, which opens with the New Zealand comedy The Breaker Upperers on Wednesday night.

Both Gladwell in London and this reporter in Sydney will wear virtual reality headsets and meet in what’s called the metaverse.

Virtual reality interview between London-based video artist Shaun Gladwell, with a wooden puppet as an avatar, and reporter Garry Maddox in Sydney.

Inside a Mexican-themed online world, we will both be represented by avatars: Gladwell will be a wooden puppet (« old school Pinocchio » he calls it) and his team has chosen a futuristic cyborg crossed with a Power Ranger for me. And a – virtually – unique experience it turns out to be.

After we both arrive in a colourful Day of the Dead landscape and digitally shake hands – as other avatars zip around – Gladwell explains why he believes VR is the future.

« It’s interesting in terms of just the possibilities on a whole lot of levels, » he says. « Not only … looking at what happens visually with a story but also the idea that you can just change people’s perspective and somehow embody a space and a place. »

Gladwell, who has had his virtual reality works acquired by the National Gallery of Australia and screen at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, wanted to help Chadnee Shah and Farhana Hussain tell their stories after one approached him for advice as he skateboarded in a London park.

« What unfolded was a friendship and at some point during those first few months it seemed possible that we could make a work together, » he says. That project delves into the « Islamophobia » they faced after the terrorist attacks in England last year.

Gladwell gave the duo small VR cameras so they could film their lives, firstly in London then on a visit to Sydney to skate at Bondi Beach, where he shot the acclaimed video Storm Sequence in 2000.

While some see VR as having a future as a shared experience in cinemas as it evolves, Gladwell is happy with viewers wearing headsets for an individual experience.

« I do like the idea that these headsets that we’re wearing can lock us into a beautiful, sometimes terrifying solitary experience and that can be used creatively, » he says.

On a rainy Sydney night, digital Mexico is a colourfully diverting place to meet a filmmaker.

Shaun Gladwell with Chadnee Shah (left) and Farhana Hussain at Bondi Beach during filming for Storm Surfers.

Photo: Jenny Song Schmidt/SBS, BADFAITH and Anna Schwarz Gallery

The VR program at the festival, which Gladwell has curated with Leo Faber, includes shorts on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, NASA astronaut training, Greenland’s melting glaciers, Aboriginal dances, Yazidi women fighting ISIS and a game of backyard cricket at night.

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