Imagine you are sitting alone in the back seat of a taxi in the pick-up zone of an airport. It is dark. The driver gets in and asks you where you want to go. You suddenly realise the driver is a bird – a red-hooded plover to be exact – the first in a series of discoveries which challenge your reality.
Artist collaborators Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine bring their profoundly touching 360-degree stop-motion VR (virtual reality) film PASSENGER to ArtSpace at Realm from 15 February to 26 April 2020, the centrepiece of their new exhibition, Take me with you.
About the exhibition
Take me with you brings together, for the first time, a suite of multimedia works by these two talented Melbourne-based artist collaborators.
In PASSENGER you find yourself in a taxi being driven by a red-hooded plover – an Australian migratory bird that bobs its head and who sports a beguiling white nape above its collar. The driver (voiced by comedian and radio presenter Sami Shah), talks to you in a chatty, personable way.
Over the course of a single taxi ride, audiences will be guided through a new terrain that recreates and investigates the geographic and visual dislocation of arriving somewhere unfamiliar, and so begins the journey of finding a new home in a foreign land.
Your taxi driver, himself a migrant to Australia, navigates the new terrain with you, acting as your guide while also revealing small parts of his own story.
PASSENGER asks the viewer to consider these feelings associated with migrating to a new country by proposing that they have come to live in a surreal shape-shifting world made from cardboard.
The creators describe it as a work where you piece together your story – abstracted and dream-like – as you progress into the quiet shock of a new world.
“We spent the best part of 2018 filming and a good part of 2019 in post-production of this story which puts you in the passenger seat of a taxi as a recently arrived immigrant to be driven to your new home,” explains Knowles and Sowerwine.
Knowles says the idea for PASSENGER came from Van’s parents’ experience of migrating to Australia in the 1970s.
“Growing up, her parents would tell stories of when they first arrived in Australia, and the constant reminders that they were in a culture not their own. Putting on a VR headset is like being transported to a new world, and replicates the experience of stepping out from an airport in a country you’ve never known,” she says.
Why a taxi? “A taxi ride is a fairly universal experience. The safety of the car contrasts with the strange, dark and empty external environment, which takes a surreal turn in the middle of the experience,” say Knowles and Sowerwine.
“In researching this project we spent a lot of time in the back of taxis talking to drivers about their experiences of migration to Australia, and their experiences of driving recently arrived migrants from the airport to their new homes. We took elements of these conversations to write the dialogue for our driver character, who addresses the viewer throughout.”
PASSENGER is the product of nearly two years of labour, including a six-month shoot.
Using long, practical sets and a compact 360-degree camera, the pair shot over 8000 frames of footage, moving through more than 60 metres of space at 5mm intervals. The result is one of only a few stop-motion 360-degree ambisonic films in existence.
PASSENGER premiered internationally at the 76th Venice Film Festival in 2019; nationally at Melbourne International Film Festival; and won the Virtual Reality Award – Best Film at the 60th Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
Take me with you also showcases stop-motion short Clara, which won a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, along with You were in my dream, winner of the 2010 Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award – Australia’s most significant prize for new media art.
Exhibition officially opens
Speaking at the exhibition’s launch on Thursday 13 February, Deputy Mayor Marijke Graham said Council was proud to host, for the first time, a mini-survey exhibition made up of physically and emotionally engaging stop-motion installations, virtual reality, animations and film sets.
“Isobel and Van’s work is imaginative and playful but is also grounded in a melancholic tone – a combination that enables viewers to engage on many different levels,” said Cr Graham, one of three councillors on the Maroondah Arts Advisory Committee and a passionate advocate for the arts.
“Accompanying this exceptional exhibition is a suite of programs for all ages, including an opportunity to meet the artists, and a miniature making and animation workshops,” she said.
Experience Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine’s award-winning stop-motion VR work PASSENGER alongside a suite of richly imaginative temporal artworks by this highly inventive Melbourne-based duo, now showing at ArtSpace at Realm.
Exhibition and workshop details
When: Thursday 13 February until Sunday 26 April 2020
Where: ArtSpace at Realm, 179 Maroondah Highway, Ringwood. (Open Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm and Saturday, Sunday, public holidays 10am to 5pm)