I suspect I’m not alone in saying that Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters was one of the most profound and exciting exhibition experiences of my life.
I’ll never forget the delight of seeing the virtual elders at the entrance to the show, how they beckoned me in and moved me through the exhibition as I marvelled at the art and experiences on display. Immersing myself in the Seven Sisters story, seeing the detail of woven tjanpi figures, laying down under the dome, hearing the voices of the elders, and stepping through the journey was transformative.
When I saw Songlines in the summer of 2017 at the National Museum, I didn’t yet work at the Museum. Back then I was the touring coordinator for the National Portrait Gallery, and I never dreamed I would one day be working to tour Songlines globally.
Just prior to the latest lockdown in Canberra, a team of conservators and registration staff made final adjustments before the exhibition travelled to it’s first international venue – The Box in Plymouth, England.
As I opened and closed crates with my colleague, Louise Palmer, we found ourselves inspired once more by what we saw. From the colour and scale to the techniques and professional practice used to create the paintings and sculpture. We packed them carefully to keep them safe in transit, and as a result some of the crates were very heavy!
Here’s a fun fact. The whole exhibition – including art work, crates and the dome – weighed somewhere in the region of 11 tonnes. It took around 60 crates and road cases to transport it.
As we closed the crates, we contemplated the wonder and delight of our colleagues abroad and envied them those moments of first opening the Songlines crates.
In our COVID-19 world, preparations for touring are greatly altered to adjust for uncertainty around travel. We use online spaces and video conferencing to prepare venues, and then remotely support the local team to install the exhibition.
We tried and tested this approach for the Songlines tour with the first venue, the Western Australian Museum. The exhibition was on display from November 2020 to April 2021, and due to lockdowns at different times in both eastern and western states, both the install and deinstall were supported by the Museum remotely.
As we embark on this international tour, it’s a different world than when the exhibition was first shown in 2017. But it’s a still a world that needs to experience Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters.