In launching the renewed ACMI, the continually transforming landscape of moving image production, reception and interaction poses many new opportunities for welcoming and engaging with our audience. We envision the new ACMI as a multiplatform museum, a place and space of porous borders and connectivity, facilitating discovery around the wonder and impact of the moving image. Our audience is distributed across geographical space and timeframes and links up with us in multiple ways. They might: visit us onsite at our Fed Square museum; engage with our live, recorded and curated online programming; or keep learning in our virtual exhibition and education spaces. Diverse, active and connected, the ACMI community is formed out of a network of both shared and conflicting ideas and values, specialised interests, multiple group identities and personal preferences.
The redesign of the physical space of our building is underwritten by the connections inspired by the moving image with and between our audience. With this at the forefront of our thinking, our focus is on prompting curiosity, fuelling creativity and providing opportunities for ongoing exploration. On entry you will encounter Edie Kurzer's Cabinet of Curiosities (2020), Daniel Von Sturmer’s 60-screen sculptural installation Cataract (concrete) (2020) and an exciting commission at our Flinders St entrance, all connected by a living staircase. Designed by BKK Architects, the staircase will connect the separate levels of the building but also function as a space to dwell, converse and reflect. BKK’s principal Tim Black describes it as an “urban lounge room”. The Media Preservation Lab showcases the formerly behind-the-scenes work done by ACMI Collections and the Gandel Digital Future Labs help us deliver ambitious Education programs to a greater number of students. Of course our renowned cinemas and galleries remain pivotal to our identity and our connection with established and new communities of watchers, makers and players.
Our new centrepiece exhibition The Story of the Moving Image is ACMI’s beating heart, both inside and beyond the walls of our Fed Square museum. It takes visitors on an immersive journey through the past, present and future of the moving image, where they make discoveries relating to moving image history, creative innovation and production, First Nations stories, the Australian screen, and the power and influence of screen and media culture.
This experience is framed by Vicki Couzens’ multi-part beyond the gallery to a dynamic online experience artwork Yanmeeyarr (2020) which reflects on the relationship between traditional First Peoples storytelling and the contemporary moving image. John Harvey’s mesmerising four-channel video installation Canopy (2020) sits at the centre of our exhibition and combines home videos with film to explore self-representation and the history of First Peoples on-screen.
Every exhibition visitor also gets a Lens, a device used to "collect" favourite objects, artworks and creations in the exhibition. At the last stop of the exhibition, the Lens animates the Constellation: a massive, sprawling interactive work that reveals curated recommendations based on what visitors liked in the exhibition. With Lens in hand, visitors can extend their journey beyond the gallery to a dynamic online experience based on what they have collected.
Our programming involves a growing recognition of the power of online engagement. It is all about interconnectivity, and our museum increasingly extends its reach to participate in a dynamic participative community enabled by technology and lured by our digital spaces and content. While there can be no silver lining to the tragic disruption COVID 19 has visited on our established relationships and in-person cultural experiences, it has highlighted the significance of the creative arts and motivated a range of pioneering programs, events and experiences that bring audiences together. ACMI’s response has been propelled by our commitment to innovation, inclusion and access and has incorporated the development of a stand-alone online experience The Story of the Moving Image Online, a site that branches out from ACMI’s centrepiece exhibition to tell six uniquely Australian stories around moving image history, culture and industry.
In reimagining ACMI as part of our renewal process, we have reflected on the role and purpose of our Collection. As an archive that stretches back to 1946 and the foundation of the SFC, the Collection bears witness to ACMI’s identity as a museum that celebrates the past, present and future of the moving image. As we take our Collection into the future, we are focusing on collaborating with and contributing to a global, networked community of moving image archives. Excitingly, our participation in this community has led to a productive and mutual relationship with the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre in Phnom Penh. As well as the sharing of skills and knowledge, the relationship with Bophana has inspired a section in The Story of the Moving Image: The Exhibition.
As part of our process of renewal, ACMI has taken the opportunity to formulate a Collection Development Strategy (CDS) that takes into account the Collection’s dual identity as an access collection and an archive, and provides a roadmap for our digitisation project. The fragility and ephemeral nature of moving image formats and technologies pose a pressing challenge in terms of not only conservation and preservation, but also deciding which works to take with us into the future. As a result of this thinking, we are committed to the ongoing collection and preservation of: moving image art; videogames; independent and experimental films; home movies and amateur works; and significant student productions, including videogames and interactive works. You can read our CDS on our website, and appreciate the considered nature of our approach, including principles around access, equity, representation and First Nations content. You might also like to learn more about collaborative research projects we are involved in: Play it Again relating to preserving Australian videogames of the 1990s and Archiving Australian Media Arts focusing on the preservation of our national digital arts heritage.
All of the work being done on streamlining and preserving the Collection ultimately relates to ensure that our audience can continue to access, enjoy and learn from an archive that has been 75 years in the making. In the days of the SFC, access was provided through regional and public lending services, mobile projection units and, in later years, a dynamic video distribution network. Today, along with content shared with visitors as part of our onsite and offsite programs, we are increasingly making content accessible via digital channels to an audience that extends across the globe. As part of this process, the ACMI Collections team is working on licensing works for online viewing and has developed lively and surprising curated playlists including: an anthology of independent films; a program described as “weird and wonderful”; the nostalgic and heartwarming “Stories of Victoria”; and an enticing selection of home and amateur movies.
The moving image has a powerful capacity to capture time and awaken the past, as it animates and is animated by the experience and perception of its audience. Our first creative director Ross Gibson described ACMI as an “active memory palace” a perception that highlights the intersection between the personal and the universal integral to both ACMI’s program and our Collection. In this context, home movies have an express value as “personal and cultural treasures” that “record life through a unique lens”. They connect with the significance we place on our community as creative and active participants in a shared, vibrant and inclusive screen culture. An ongoing project involves making the content of these films searchable as part of our commitment to access – a boon for researchers and historians. With this in mind, as we head into the future, we are rebuilding this part of the Collection to address Eurocentric and gender bias, privilege First Nations stories and account for the range of born-digital, first-person representations available on online platforms. Our home movie collection is also featured in our centerpiece exhibition – the Monument Garden is a sculptural installation that invites visitors to pause and reflect as they literally hold someone’s recorded memories in the palms of their outstretched hands.
We live in a time where the exponential growth of moving image and digital content is exciting, inspiring and often overwhelming. As the national museum of film, TV, video games, digital culture and art, ACMI has the role of forging dynamic and creative connections with the moving image, while also helping our audience navigate the vast terrain of screen and digital culture. Our commitment to fostering the creative industries through education, creative support and collaborative partnerships remains a fundamental part of our identity; this is particularly vital as viewers and players increasingly become makers. In the context of the ubiquity, fluidity, portability and shareability of moving image culture, ACMI is offering: curated quality onsite and online experiences and networks; support for production and creation; a safe and dynamic space for diverse perspectives and voices; and a rich outward-facing moving image archive. As we embark on this next chapter of the ACMI story, we look forward to continuing to collaborate, discover and celebrate with our community.
The History of ACMI was written by Susan Bye and Jessica Kemp.
If you are in a position to do so, please consider making a donation today. Any contribution, big or small, supports a renewed ACMI that promotes, preserves and presents the very best of screen culture. Donations are tax deductible.