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Canberra Today 2°/6° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Gallery jumps into immersive art

Augmented reality experts Kingsley and Michelle Stephens at work.

As Aarwun Gallery in Gold Creek enters its 25th year, director Robert Stephens has always had a creative approach to his packed openings, mixing music and talk with fine art, but this year he’s outdoing himself.

For a retrospective exhibition of 80 original paintings by landscape artist Ken Knight, Stephens is taking a leap into the unknown.

Stephens, along with the NFSA and other national institutions, is jumping into immersive art, so that not only will visitors see Knight’s actual paintings of Australia, Venice and Antarctica, but in a back room of the gallery will be a virtual experience of his art.

Serendipitously, Stephens’s computer-nerd son Kingsley is an expert in augmented reality, virtual reality and projection mapping. 

It is Kingsley and his wife Michelle who have created the walk-in experience to be unveiled on the opening night of the exhibition, May 4. Stephens is fairly bursting with paternal pride as he talks of his son’s skills and the eight cameras involved in this exercise.

“The experience will go for about 15 minutes and be a presentation of Ken Knight as an artist, his works, and recreations of the scenes he loves to go and paint in,” Kingsley tells me. 

“This will be sequenced as a narrative that contains classical music, as well as Ken himself speaking of his love of painting.”

It is Robert Stephens’ fond hope that the entire opening night will be wrapped in music – his initial idea was six cellos – and he’s been talking with the ANU School of Music head about a live event, which will not be a formal concert but rather five-minute items spread over a two-hour period.

“I want people to come here and enjoy beautiful music and beautiful artwork,” he says.

Knight is one of Aarwun Gallery’s very favourite painters. His career as a landscape painter goes back over 40 years and he’ll be there to talk about the varied images he has created of Australia, Venice and Antarctica. 

To Stephens the most exciting thing is the idea of seeing Knight in the midst of his paintings, although the artist made it fairly clear that he thought he was crazy to be doing it.

“It’s us trying to do something different to take the gallery forward. I will be looking to see how it plays out in the room,” Stephens says.

Sales are how he lives and although his framing business is going gangbusters, he believes people need to have more than just one experience when they come into any gallery.

Going forward, he explains, a clever way of selling paintings might be by immersing people. 

“It may trigger something. I believe it would help patrons make up their minds… it would give them more background,” he says. 

Ken Knight, En Plein Air – a Modern Impressionist, Aarwun Gallery, Federation Square, Nicholls, opens May 4.

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Helen Musa

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