NIDA acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we learn and tell stories, the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Dharawal and Dharug peoples, and we pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.

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Immersive installation celebrates First Nations building practice in performance

NIDA’s Atrium was transformed into a healing space that celebrated earth, water, fire and air in a collaboration between students in the Bachelor of Fine Art (Scenic Construction and Technology) course and First Nations Guest Artist Nikki Boorroo Spirit.

The installation was opened by Aunty Maxine Ryan from La Perouse, an educator and artist. The collaboration was driven creatively by Nikki Boorroo Spirit, an artist, healer, traditional weaver and member of the Darug/Wawarrawarri and the Yuin/Walbunja peoples.

The art installation project speaks to healing, storytelling and spirit and asks visitors to engage with the work physically and visually. Second-year NIDA students Angus Nott and Josh Abbott worked on the concept, realisation and construction of the installation alongside Boorroo.

Above from left: Lynsey Brown, Lecturer, students Angus Nott and Josh Abbott, Guest Artist Boorroo and Nicholas Day, Production Manager, Course Leader Scenic Construction and Technologies.

Above from left: Guest Artist Boorroo and Aunty Maxine Ryan from La Perouse, opening the exhibition.

Lynsey Brown, Lecturer, BFA in Scenic Construction and Technologies, met Boorroo while production managing an event out of Sydney and noticed her skills in ceremonial events, weaving, construction and painting. ‘I connected deeply to Boorroo and her paintings and realised the potency in their healing through spirits, the land and the ancestors.  At NIDA we developed an installation project for the second-year students and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to bring Boorroo’s spirit into this project.’

‘This is my first exhibition, and I am really excited to work with the team at NIDA,’ said Boorroo. ‘I had ideas in my head, but I wanted them to work with me on it as well. I said I wanted something with the four elements – earth, water, fire, air. I knew I wanted a water feature, a tree structure, an egg in a nest, and I would like a fire pit, and I gave the students a lot of creative freedom to make that. I wanted them to test themselves so they would connect with the building process.’

Angus Nott explained that as part of the BFA course the students have to work with a guest artist to construct and present an installation. ‘This project was a big change from what we normally do,’ he said. ‘The installation is not a traditional theatre setting - it is an interactive experience. It is an immersive experience, which is where live theatre is moving to as well. It really extended our understanding of the theatrical points of view.’

The installation project taught Angus and Josh about Indigenous cultural practices, as well as collaboration and detailed construction techniques in a public or theatrical setting. The start of the collaboration began on country, with Boorroo, the students and Lynsey Brown collecting vines and sticks, with some of the branches harvested from a 400-year-old tree. The resulting four structures were about the acknowledgement of the land, the country and the spirits and were made with organic materials and practices such as weaving.

Above: harvesting the vines and sorting them at NIDA.

Angus explained that the classes about Indigenous culture already in the course explored performance and ideas. ‘This project changed that knowledge for me into learning how Boorroo wanted us to interact with her work and the installation itself.’

Josh said that working alongside Boorroo he learnt to understand the traditional symbols she used in her work. 'It's certainly extended and enriched our knowledge of cultural practices,’ he said. ‘Also, it was less about preparing something we made in the workshop and more about a free-flowing process that we made on site.’

Above: the fire circle site

Josh commented that the attention to fine detail had to be intense, as the audience come close to the work. ‘People are coming close and touching and feeling the work. Even though on a film set you have to be really detailed, in a theatre the audience are sitting a few rows back and seeing it from a distance,’ he said.

‘People can be in this installation for an hour, as opposed to a film piece which may be on view for a few seconds. It is a different level of scrutiny in terms of the level of finish and quality that the students have to produce,’ said Lynsey.

‘I am proud of them. They have done an awesome job of bringing my vision to life. It was more than what I visioned myself,’ said Boorroo.

Feeling inspired? Find out more about the BFA in Scenic Construction and Technology and register your interest for 2023 here.

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