Dr Nikita Vanderbyl

Melbourne Now, one bite at a time

Melbourne Now is a big exhibition, it is in fact the biggest exhibition ever mounted by the National Gallery of Victoria. It features 8000 square meters of exhibition space across the two venues of the gallery – the NGV International and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. The premise of the exhibition is that Melbourne has been uniquely shaped by its artists, designers, architects, choreographers and community groups. The exhibition seeks to engage the audience with these diverse influences and capture something of Melbourne’s Zeitgeist. Does it, however, amount to more than naval gazing?

Given the size and scope of this exhibition one review is insufficient to do it justice. I haven’t actually seen the whole thing yet either, that’s how big it is. To understand the impact of such an exhibition and answer the above question, it is necessary to break the exhibition down into its parts.

So far I have visited the ground level of the NGV International. Here, among the interactive and screen based artworks was a beautiful and haunting piece of video art. Daniel Crooks’ An embroidery of voids (2013) is located in a darkened room with comfy seat. His work is projected onto one wall and sounds play into the darkness.

The video consists of slow moving images of Melbourne laneways which have been spliced together. The camera moves forward through claustrophobic brickwork and graffiti and into more open cobblestoned sections with abandoned mattresses and milk crates. Each section is a piece of video shot somewhere on Melbourne’s north side, joined together end to end they form a kind of tunnel. Up ahead we see sections of green and it is not until the slow moving camera reaches this section that we realise it is another laneway. The variety becomes intriguing, and it is tempting, almost without thinking, to try and locate these splices of lane. Is that the famous Hosier Lane circa 2012?

This piece is the most technically and conceptually brilliant that I have encountered so far. The video can be read as an exploration of Melbourne’s subconscious. This is how it is described in the guide, but more than that you can’t escape the alternate reality feeling of the video. It grabs you. It is dreamy, the music is disturbing and high-pitched at times and the inexorable feeling of the slow camerawork made me feel like hurrying it up somehow. I wanted to see what was coming up further ahead. All of these elements feed into a sort of rendering of Melbourne’s mental state, through space and time. Sometimes a corner appears, the camera pauses, as though deciding, it turns and heads off down another lane, past more vines, garage doors, brick walls, graffiti and overhanging branches. It is a bizarre feeling, but highly enthralling too.

Melbourne Now is sure to have many more exciting encounters in store. It will close on 23 March, so if you haven’t been one of the more than 425, 000 people to see it, you better get cracking. Download the app if you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed by it all.


born New Zealand 1973, arrived Australia 1994
An embroidery of voids 2013 (still)
colour single-channel digital video, sound, looped
sound design: Byron J. Scullin
Courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney
The commission for Melbourne Now is supported by Julie, Michael and Silvia Kantor
© Daniel Crooks, courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney