NGA collaborates with UAP to produce two major commissions for ‘new look’ gallery

28 October, 2010

PROJECT National Gallery of Australia “New Look” Gallery
ARTIST (Entrance artwork) Dr Thancoupie Gloria Fletcher (Thanakupi)
ARTIST’S COLLABORATOR (Entrance artwork) Jennifer Isaacs AM
CURATOR NGA, Franchesca Cubillo
DESIGN UAP Studio, Jamie Perrow
ARCHITECT PTW Architects, Andrew Andersons AO
PROJECT ENGINEER Birzulis Structural Engineers
ARTWORK ENGINEER (Fish Trap) Robert Bird Group
LIGHTING DESIGN Steensen Varming

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) last month unveiled its new Indigenous Galleries and main entrance to the public which features two unique public works.

Visitors to the gallery are greeted by Eran. The 2.7 metre spherical sculpture by renowned Indigenous artist Dr Thancoupie Gloria Fletcher (Thanakupi), and a 12 metre suspended piece interpreted from a Maningrida fish trap. Both were curated by the NGA and fabricated under the artist and collaborators’ direction at UAP’s Brisbane studio and workshop.

At the entry to a wing devoted entirely to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, the installations recognise the significance of indigenous culture in the context of contemporary architecture.

Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, said, “UAP have been fabulous to work with – they are so enthusiastic, professional and quick. The staff of UAP demonstrate a great understanding of materials, they are sensitive to artists’ wishes and have been so co-operative during the whole process.  We have really enjoyed working with them on these two projects.”

Ron Radford continued, saying “Thanakupi is Australia’s most senior female Aboriginal artist working today with a career spanning over forty years. Her beautiful Eran is the largest of her metal sculptures created to date. The Gallery was very pleased to be able to work with such a renowned international artist on the realisation of this project. The inclusion of this stunning spherical sculptural work complements the forms of the new wing and galleries very well. The fish trap is based on a 1950s Maningrida fish trap and UAP have been able to interpret and enlarge the original woven piece into a stunning 12 metre long intricate metal work. The fish trap is a feature work in the atrium and the shadow pattern it produces is almost as beautiful as the work itself.”

The Maningrida fish trap is an important sculptural commission and presents a contemporary interpretation of a traditional woven fish trap from the Maningrida Aboriginal community in Australia’s Northern Territory. Works of art from Maningrida carry a strong reputation and are represented in collections nationally and internationally.

UAP’s design team travelled to the Northern Territory to work with George Ganyjbala, Maningrida elder and skilled fish trap maker and his family. The knowledge shared in this process allowed a respectful translation of Maningrida’s distinctive weaving methods into stylised elements for casting in aluminium. UAP then consulted with PTW Architects and Robert Bird Group Engineers in order to successfully integrate the artefact within the NGA’s new wing under creative direction of Ron Radford AM.

Jamie Perrow, UAP’s lead designer on the project, said, “It was an honour to work with George Ganyjbala and the Maningrida Aboriginal community to create the Maningrida fish trap sculpture. Our intention for this piece is a reverent and symbolic interpretation of a historic and culturally important indigenous artefact. We hope that visitors from all over Australia and overseas will be inspired by the piece.”

The final installation, which measures 12 metres in length, is suspended inside the atrium of the NGA’s new main entrance. The fish trap is the focal point in the visitor’s entry into the gallery and has multiple vantage points from the ground floor and second storey walkway. Not unlike the humble tool of its origin, the fish trap functions to draw visitors in and guide them through the gallery as they become immersed in the wider collection.

In an interview with ABC’s Artworks, Franchesca Cubillo described the effect, “The beautiful thing about fish traps is that there is movement that flows in and out of the fish traps, and it’s a flow of energy. Once materials enter into the fish trap, they come out changed. For us it was a wonderful way in which we could allow our visitors to come into these wonderful new galleries and flow through this beautiful space and go on a journey, but equally to come out different.”

Thanakupi’s sphere, entitled Eran, is truly a stunning sculpture which stands in front of the Gallery’s new entrance and creates a striking entry statement in the forecourt landscape.  The Gallery enjoyed working with the artist and UAP to the creation of this exciting new sculpture.

Eran means river. The work depicts various land-based creative legends through representations of animals in the stories of the tribes along the rivers of Weipa—the Evath eran and N’Gath eran—that is the Mission, Hay and Embley rivers to give their common English names.

The galleries and entrance, designed by Andrew Andersons AO of PTW Architects, were opened on Thursday 30 September in an official ceremony by the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC.

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