NGA’s teen takeover lets young people approach art on their own terms

Hayden Fritzlaff 20 May 2020
Yayoi Kusama's 'The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into Heavens'

Yayoi Kusama, THE SPIRITS OF THE PUMPKINS DESCENDED INTO HEAVENS (2017) National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 2018 with the assistance of Andrew and Hiroko Gwinnett © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore/ Shanghai.

Teenagers will have the run of the National Gallery this Friday, albeit virtually. Art IRL: Virtual Takeover will transform the Gallery’s digital platforms for the evening with a suite of art experiences devised specifically for 13 to 18 year-olds.

“It’s a chance for young people to connect with art and ideas even though we’re all stuck at home at the moment,” says Celeste Aldahn, producer of the NGA’s Tim Fairfax Teens & Young Adults Program.

The program is divided into two distinct experiences, each with their own unique aspects. The first is a series of Instagram Live music performances by experimental, electronic and genre-bending musicians from around Australia’s eastern states.

“We’ll also have the online art labs,” explains Aldahn. “These are with three artists who are either within the national collection or inspired by works that are in the national collection.”

Storm sequence at the NGA

Shaun Gladwell, Técha Noble & Kazumichi Grime, Storm sequence (2000) audiovisual, videos born digital media, single channel digital video, 7:59 minutes, colour, sound. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Gift of Peter Fay 2005.

Art Lab #1 is with Jess Herrington. It’s a crash-course in augmented reality, teaching teens how to create face filters for social media alongside the Canberra-based sensory artist and neuroscience PhD candidate.

Up next is Portraiture With Abdul Abdullah. As the name suggests, the second art lab will see participants experimenting with the fundamentals of portraiture and wrapping their heads around exercises they can use to develop their craft.

Finally, teens will be invited to take a deep dive into sound art and music production in Ableton 101 With Corin Ileto – a masterclass suitable for beginners in the music software used by world-renowned artists like Flume, Tame Impala and Flying Lotus.

Keith Sonnier, 'Untitled'

Keith Sonnier, Untitled (1969) glass sheets, neon tubes and electrical cables, electrical component, 306.1 h x 600.1 w x 20.0 d cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1976. © Keith Sonnier. ARS/Copyright Agency.

“It’s an experimental opportunity for young people to work closely with artists regardless of where they’re located,” says Aldahn.

Each aspect of the program is designed with teens in mind, creating spaces for them to approach art in their own way, be guided by experts in the field, and do it all away from the prying eyes of their parents.

“This is really an opportunity to explore creativity away from your family and away from school, and to do that with other artists and inspirational mentors.

“Engaging young audiences is really important. Traditionally, how they’ve been engaged with art museums is primarily through their schools. They only see one side to the story, they don’t have a chance to explore the collection, which is their history, on their own terms.

“It relates to their story and their place in the world, reflects their thoughts and positions. Sometimes they don’t feel totally at ease to do that with family or school.”

It’s an exciting prospect for the Gallery – a treasure trove of works that can seem impenetrable to the uninitiated. More than just a chance to meet with artists, the virtual takeover gives teenagers the opportunity to connect with each other.

“It’s a chance for everyone to meet each other and discuss their current inspirations and obsessions,” says Aldahn. “It’s not a massive group. Each group is tailored to make sure they have a chance to connect with the artists and each other.”

Reko Rennie, Message Stick

Reko Rennie (Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay/Gummaroi people), Message Stick (Green) (2011). National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 2012.

All that’s needed to get involved is an internet connection, computer and smartphone. That said, teens who might not have access to all three can still explore the option of linking up with friends to take part, now that visiting other people’s houses is once again on the table.

“I think it’s totally possible for people to work together on this and take notes and be virtually shoulder-to-shoulder working on their portraiture or learning how to create a spooky soundtrack together.”

Art IRL: Virtual Takeover takes place this Friday, 22 May from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Sign up via Eventbrite.


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