By KIERAN FINNANE
As commuters move through the underground corridors of Sydney CBD’s busy Wynyard Station, this month a burst of life and colour from Central Australia greets them.
On a huge wide-format screen (23m x 3m), a video-installation unfolds. Called The Worlds We Stitch Together, it shows three Yarrenyty Arltere artists sitting together on the red earth under a peerless blue sky, a vast plain of low scrub stretching behind them, ranges rising in the distance, at work on their soft sculptures.
As they stitch, the figures come to charming life in their imagination, shown in scenes of stop-motion animation.
Then day changes to night. Under a magnificent star-spangled sky – Central Australia’s original ‘festival of light’ – the women, in the safety of their fire and each other’s company, settle down for the night.
Different figures loom, female spirits know as kungka-mamus, who connive to steal the artists’ handiwork. Luckily one woman wakes, gets it back, sleeps again.
The sun rises, smoke from the embers curls into the cool morning, the women stir and once more begin their stitching.
In just five minutes, time slows, and in the cold concrete and steel bowels of the station, warmth and delight break through.
The work, commissioned by Transport for New South Wales and curated by Cultural Capital with Alessio Cavallaro, is a collaboration between Yarrenyty Arltere Artists and Alice Springs-based artist-filmmaker Leonardo Ortega.
Yarrenyty Arltere Artists is based in the Alice Springs town camp of that name, also known as Larapinta Valley town camp. The artists’ soft sculpture practice – extending also to textiles, film and print making – has gone from strength to strength, attracting major awards, acquisitions and exhibition opportunities around the country.
Ortega, a Chilean-Australian, has lived in Alice Springs for the last ten years, working closely with Aboriginal communities on projects that support artistic and social outcomes. This follows on from his work exploring the ways colonisation and modernity affect Indigenous peoples in different corners of the world, such as the Mapuche-Pewenche struggle in the Southern Andes, and the penetration of mainstream media in Venezuelan and Brazilian Amazon communities.
The Worlds We Stitch Together is showing at Wynyard Station throughout September, on even-numbered days from 6am to 3pm, and on on odd-numbered days from 3pm to midnight.
I expect this work will plant the seeds of many dreams to come to Central Australia. Importantly also it counteracts with imagination and beauty the negativity of many media stereotypes of Aboriginal people from this region.
Producer: Yarrenyty Arltere Artists
Director, Cinematographer, Sets, Animation: Leonardo Ortega
Original Storyline: Trudy Inkamala, Marlene Rubuntja, Dulcie Sharpe
Cultural Advisors: Trudy Inkamala, Marlene Rubuntja, Dulcie Sharpe, Mervyn Rubuntja
Soft sculptures, additional props: Trudy Inkamala, Marlene Rubuntja, Rosabella Ryder, Dulcie Sharpe, Dulcie Raggett, Rhonda Sharpe, Maurice Petrick, Cornelius Ebatarinja, Roxanne Petrick, Louise Robertson
Artists performing as themselves: Marlene Rubuntja, Dulcie Raggett, Rhonda Sharpe, Rosabella Ryder, Sharee Inkamala
Yarrenyty Arltere Artists Coordinator: Sophie Wallace
Assistant set builders: Maurice Petrick, Cornellious Ebatarinja
Additional set dressing and production assistance: Parris Dewhurst, Maurice Petrick, Tyrone Wallace, J9 Stanton
Post-production, Composite: Leonardo Ortega
Post-production Assistants: Parris Dewhurst, Christopher Fitzpatrick
Filmmaking and animation trainee: Maurice Petrick