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Heide Museum of Modern Art will present National Gallery of Australia exhibition Terminus, a collaboration between New York based visual artist Jess Johnson and Wellington, New Zealand based video maker and animator Simon Ward. Exploring reality as malleable and multiple, the exhibition features five virtual reality artworks situated on a full-scale tessellated floor map and was curated by National Gallery Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Jaklyn Babington. Commissioned by the National Gallery and the Balnaves Foundation, Terminus will be presented for the first time in Melbourne at Heide Museum of Modern Art from Saturday 2 November 2019 to 1 March 2020. It is the first stop of its national tour by the National Gallery of Australia.

Artistic Director Lesley Harding said: “This dynamic collaboration translates Jess Johnson’s drawings into animated virtual reality, enabling audiences to have the simulated experience of entering into the hypnotic realms she depicts. Heide is delighted to bring this experience to Melbourne for the first time.

With their pioneering use of virtual reality, Johnson and Ward hold a unique position among contemporary art practitioners. Johnson’s drawings are transformed from analogue into digital, and from solo practice into cross-disciplinary collaboration. Animated by Ward and enriched with input from developer Kenny Smith and sound composer Andrew Clarke, the result is Terminus a mysterious universe of alien architecture populated by humanoid clones and cryptic symbols, explored via a network of travellators and gateways.

An experience of Terminus is akin to a cryptic choose-your-own adventure, a physical and mental navigation of a psychedelic aesthetic and philosophical framework. —Jaklyn Babington 

NGA’s Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Jaklyn Babington said “With Terminus, Johnson and Ward have created a virtual reality work of astonishing, pioneering ambition. An experience of Terminus is akin to a cryptic choose-your-own adventure, a physical and mental navigation of a psychedelic aesthetic and philosophical framework. In the commissioning and touring of Terminus, the National Gallery of Australia is dedicated to engaging contemporary artists working at the intersection of art and technology. Terminus is a thrilling extension of the national collection into the 21st century“

Jess Johnson says: “My interests lie in world-building and the construction of new realities… The images I create are holographic meshworks of grids, brickwork, architectural monuments, humanoid clones and Messianic figures. My desire to give flesh to this world has driven my more current interests in animation and virtual reality (VR)… I think VR is the most effective conduit from one brain to another that’s ever existed. With VR, you can seduce someone into accepting an entirely new reality. VR technology has just started to be adapted by artists and has the potential to explode into new genres and artforms… It will be artists who will harness the technology and use it in ways we can’t even imagine yet, opening up new genres in storytelling, communication, expression and exploration.”

Terminus presents the viewer with a quest into the technological, and through time and space, as they explore five distinct realms: passing through Fleshold Crossing; taking respite in Known Unknown; losing themselves within Scumm Engine; bravely facing impending danger in the tower of Gog & Magog; and experiencing the brink of sensory overload in the psychedelic scenes of Tumblewych. This journey of transformation ultimately reveals an understanding that reality is not fixed but both malleable and multiple.

Describing sources of inspiration Simon Ward comments: “I had a formative experience with science fiction growing up, particularly in film. With the idea of the Terminus floor-map being an initial building block for the work, Jess and I quickly started talking about the repetitive quests, the archetypes and the monomyth that fill fantasy and sci-fi films.”

As an adjunct to Terminus, a number of Johnson’s drawings and collaborative textile works have been selected for display by Heide Curator Sue Cramer. These include quilts Johnson made with her mother Cynthia Johnson, and garments from Romance Was Born’s Summer 2016 collection Mysteria Wysteria, a collaboration between the Australian fashion house and Jess Johnson. The functionality of the garments, and handmade qualities of the drawings and quilts, will counterpoint the visitor’s encounter with virtual reality, and give a wider sense of Johnson and Ward’s collaborative processes, which involve both traditional and new media.

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