Q&A May

A monthly Digest feature celebrating 20 years of ANAT Synapse, where we ask an ANAT Synapse alumnus about their place within the art + science + technology network.

Lynette Wallworth, image courtesy of the artist.

Lynette Wallworth

Lynette Wallworth has worked in immersive non-fiction for many years winning two Emmy awards for her VR work Collisions and XR work Awavena as well as an AACTA’s Award for her feature documentary Tender and the Byron Kennedy Award for Innovation. In 2016 she was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the year’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Metaverse Governance Working Group and she sits on the Technology Committee for the Sundance Institute.

Can you tell us about your ANAT Synapse residency and where the research has led you?

My Synapse Residency allowed me to work closely with Dr Anya Salih who was investigating the fluorescent gene in coral. The residency helped consolidate a long-term relationship with Anya that has flowed throughout much of my subsequent work. In 2011 I created a series of augmented reality posters showing coral specimens collected on a trip to Lord Howe Island with Anya. The posters were activated by a phone app that showed the coral descending into an animated coral reef and the posters linked to constantly refreshed data from NOAA to indicate coral bleaching events around the world. The posters were viewed widely including a presentation at Sundance Film Festival. In 2012 I released the posters along with my full-dome film Coral – Rekindling Venus which included footage from Anya captured using confocal bio-imaging microscopes. Coral was also shown at the World Science Festival at the American Museum of History, the World Economic Forum as well as Sundance and Anya travelled with me to these presentations to speak to the science behind the works. Most recently she travelled to the Brazilian Amazon with me to locate fluorescent species for my XR work Awavena. So our partnership has been incredibly fruitful.

Lynette Wallworth, Coral poster (2012). Courtesy Felix Media.

What is the biggest challenge of being an interdisciplinary artist?

I guess it’s learning the possibilities and limitations of each new technology you are wrangling. It’s part of what makes the process of working with different technologies enjoyable but it’s equally nerve-wracking. There’s no defined path and you have to enjoy the process of finding your own way. One of the biggest challenges I have faced is in distribution of the finished work and certainly the collection of it. Museums and galleries as public institutions are more comfortable with established media and take a long time to venture into collecting work in new forms. My work is very uncollected. You have to be prepared to proactively find temporary homes for your work through forging relationships with crucial institutions or presenting partners and that is challenging and can be dispiriting. It’s also hard to keep a focus on re-exporting work as the delivery specs for devices change over time. That challenge, coupled with the slowness to collect, means many works will disappear that we may really want to re-visit in 20 years time as we look back on a period of evolution in technology. I think about this a lot but I have not solved it for my own work.

Lynette Wallworth, Hold Vessel 2 (2007). Photograph by Colin Davidson.

What kind of mentor-mentee relationships have you experienced throughout your years of practice? Is there any particular mentor or mentee that stood out for you?

I helped to develop the New Narratives Lab through the World Economic Forum which allowed me to mentor three amazing women for a two-year period. The focus of the mentoring was on cultural leadership. I found this experience to be particularly satisfying. The mentoring strayed into forms of work and particular projects each of the women was engaged with but I liked shifting the focus to leadership, to supporting these artists to strengthen their voices and their ability to hold space in the world. They have all gone on to do amazing work but our focus was on assisting them to be a voice within their communities beyond the frame of just speaking to their own projects. I think it’s important that as artists we find ways to contribute to the broader cultural discussion especially if the works we are developing are focused on issues that we must grapple with together, but that’s not necessarily easy or comfortable. I wanted to find ways to help mentor artists to step up to the table and confidently contribute their voices, even if the others at that table were world leaders or heads of industry,  and mentoring seemed to be the best way to support that.

Lynette Wallworth, Awavena production image (2018). Courtesy of the artist.

As an interdisciplinary artist, who and what are your biggest influences?

James Turrell and Lori Anderson are probably my biggest influences. I love the contemplative nature of Turrell’s work. Everything I do uses moving image in some form and Turrell’s understanding of the nature of light and human perception has always fascinated and inspired me. I would love to visit Roden Crater one day and experience his work in the Arizona desert. I know it would be sublime. He understands our experience of colour and light like no one else. For me, it’s his engagement with the viewer that is so inspiring, a continual exploration of how and what we see. The deeper thread of the way we perceive reality is something I continually reflect on in my own work so he has been hugely influential to me. 

I encountered Lori Anderson’s work when I was a very young artist and I was galvanised by her seeing a woman working with new technologies. She continually carved out her own space with her work, finding a place for it where space did not previously exist. She moves from form to form, still, engaging with emerging technologies always stamped with her very particular style. Her voice is legendary now but she had to cultivate the audience for her particular work. I just adore her. Last year in Holland I got to meet her finally as we were both presenting work at the Holland Festival invited by a mutual friend, Anohni. I saw her latest concert piece and got to spend some time with her. She was gracious and brilliant in equal measure. She will always be one of my guiding lights for the determination to persist, when no one quite knows what you are doing or why…..

Lynette Wallworth, Coral at the American Museum of National History (2012). Photograph by Craig Chesek @ AMNH.org.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a feature documentary about Australia’s first psilocybin trial with palliative care patients. End-of-Life is a subject that I am especially interested in because I think it’s a subject of concern to a very broad audience. I have chosen feature doc, which I have worked on once before, as the vehicle for this work. It’s a long process but the form means I know the pathway of getting it in front of audiences and for this subject that was important to me.