This week Gallery 2 at ACMI looks more like a waiting room than an exhibition space. There’s a circle of 12 swivelling chairs and several panoramas of central Australian landscapes along the walls. But Lynette Wallworth’s new immersive film, Collisions, doesn’t happen in this room. Not exactly.
Put on a VR headset and take a seat. Wallworth’s film takes viewers to the Pilbara desert in Western Australia, where you meet Martu elder Nyarri Nyarri Morgan and relive his first indirect encounter with white settlers. Five decades ago he witnessed a nuclear test. We meet the country, we meet his family, and then we are confronted with the violent eruption of nuclear light, and a billowing spectre of smoke. At the time, Morgan tells us, he thought he was meeting his gods.
Those keeping up with developments in virtual reality might have seen the showcase of VR films at this year’s MIFF, or Jess Johnson’s Wurmhaus at the NGV last summer. But this is a leap forward, pushing the frontiers of the technology ever further.
“It’s a whole new kind of film grammar,” says ACMI curator Sarah Tutton.
Rather than sitting in the cinema and being told something, Wallworth makes you a participant in events. It’s a much more emotive way of taking people into Nyarri’s world, and something conventional cinema can’t do.
By the time the falling ash cascades around you – remember, this is a 360° immersive film – you’re in no doubt as to whether this new technology is the best way to tell a story of such devastation and culture shock.
“Some people focus on the technical possibilities of it, and some people focus on the narrative possibilities,” says Tutton. “But the biggest thing about Lynette’s work is that she’s managed to bring both of those together.”
Lynette Wallworth’s Collisions is at ACMI from October 6, 2016 until January 15, 2017. Tickets are free and can be booked up to a week before each screening. The film goes for 18 minutes.