The Lume’s Indigenous leap in colourful change of pace

The Lume’s Indigenous leap in colourful change of pace

May 24, 2023

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Key points

  • The Lume’s Connection exhibition launching next month will feature giant digital projections of the work of 120 First Nations artists including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Yannima Tommy Watson. 
  • The artwork is set to a score by First Nations musicians including Yothu Yindi, Baker Boy and Archie Roach. 
  • The Lume has had more than 1 million visitors to its digital exhibitions of the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet. 

More than 1 million visitors have flocked to The Lume in Melbourne’s South Wharf to walk through an “immersive experience” of the works of Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Now the digital exhibition will showcase lesser-known Indigenous artists.

The digital gallery’s new exhibition launching next month will feature giant projections of the work of 120 First Nations artists including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Yannima Tommy Watson.

Jess Peterson of The Lume explores the new exhibition of First Nations artists. Credit: Simon Schluter

It’s a change of pace for The Lume, which is one of a booming number of “multi-sensory immersive experiences” around the world, which use high-definition projectors to beam a continuous loop of images of artworks onto the ceilings and walls of a room.

In New York, there’s Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion and Monet’s Garden: The Immersive Experience, while London is showing Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, Dali Cybernetics: The Immersive Experience and David Hockney: Bigger & Closer.

Bruce Peterson, owner and founder of The Lume, operates many international immersive experiences himself through his company Grande Experiences.

“At the moment, we are in the United States, United Kingdom, Thailand, Japan, Germany and Sweden, so we have a very broad reach and we are very fast approaching our 250th display internationally, which is quite incredible as a Melbourne-based company,” he says.

Founder of The Lume, Bruce Peterson, in front of the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition that opened The Lume in Melbourne. Credit: Eddie Jim

Peterson knows he is taking a gamble with the latest installation Connection from June 23, without a big-name European artist to pull in the crowds.

“It doesn’t have the same brand pull as a Leonardo da Vinci or a Claude Monet, but the experience itself is unsurpassed,” Peterson says. “I think what social media and people talk about, and through word of mouth, it will become even more popular than the others.”

Peterson says Connection is “really special” and took two years to create with the artwork set to a score by First Nations musicians including Yothu Yindi, Baker Boy and Archie Roach.

“It is so colourful and vibrant, it is great storytelling and movement,” he says. “What is really unique is it is the first time all these artists have come together and agreed to be part of something.”

The experience was co-curated by the National Museum of Australia and will utilise The Lume’s 143 high-definition projectors to display artworks across 3000 square metres of gallery space at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre at South Wharf.

The Lume’s new exhibition showcases First Nations artists including Michelle Possum.Credit: Simon Schluter

“We think it is an incredibly important experience in Australia for all Australians, particularly for this moment in time,” Peterson says. “It is something all Australians can be proud of and to focus on our art and culture, which is really first-class and stands alongside the Vincent van Goghs and Claude Monets. It is very emotional and I think people will be overwhelmed when they come inside and see this is ours.”

The global popularity of immersive experiences has been driven by the confluence of several trends, with social media stoking an appetite for visitors to photograph and film themselves in visually spectacular settings, the continued development of digital video and projection technology and the availability of large empty pieces of real estate to house the experiences after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such is their ubiquity that New York Magazine describes immersive experiences as having reached a saturation point “in high art, tourist schlock and the blurry regions in between.”

The work of artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye is featured in the exhibition. Credit: Christopher Hodges

It’s a lucrative blurry region and while Peterson won’t reveal how much Grande Experiences makes from its exhibitions, ticket prices are steep, starting at $44 each for The Lume Melbourne.

That’s $44 more than the free entry at NGV Australia, which has a real Emily Kame Kngwarreye on its walls.

“It’s very different to the traditional art gallery museum experience,” Peterson says. “We think it is doing a great job in enhancing the arts cultural appeal for those who are inexperienced in that area or who are very new to it.”

Peterson says there is a role for both traditional art galleries and immersive experiences like The Lume.

“Nothing replaces the original, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “We are finding more connoisseurs of art are really getting the approach that we take.

“We redefine the way art is experienced by large numbers of people. It encourages them into art and culture which in turn leads more visitors to the NGV and the like.”

Kate Constantine, a featured Gadigal artist of the Eora Nation, says the immersive experience is a perfect way for First Nations art to be displayed.

“The technology Connection uses breaks down a lot of barriers to entry,” says Constantine.

“A lot of people like Aboriginal art because it is colourful or pretty, but a lot of people are quite challenged by Aboriginal art too, by not knowing or understanding how to interpret it or not feeling like they have permission to be involved. Connection is just so inclusive”.

Monet & Friends Alive finishes on June 4 and Connection opens on June 23 at The Lume Melbourne, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Wharf.

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