Opening today at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is Warwick Thornton: Mother Courage, a striking video and sculptural installation from lauded Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton. Thornton is an Alice Springs based filmmaker and artist whose film Samson & Delilah (2009) won the Camera d’Or for best first feature at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Commissioned by ACMI for the ACMI Commissions Series, Warwick Thornton: Mother Courage is a two-channel video and sound installation presented inside a dilapidated campervan. Inspired by Bertolt Brecht's 1939 play Mother Courage and Her Children, Thornton has translated the play’s underlying theme of survival to an Australian context. Whereas Brecht's Mother Courage drags around a cart, plying her wares on the battlefields of an endless war, Thornton's Mother Courage is an elderly and impoverished Aboriginal painter who makes and sells her art from the back of a van. Surrounded by paint pots, utensils and bedding, the resourceful woman (played by artist Grace Rubuntja) applies herself to her dot painting, while her bored grandson sits listening to loud Aboriginal rock music that blares from a radio. The artist and her grandson are physically confined to the cramped space of the campervan, and yet the work invites the viewer to place the pair in a much larger context that acknowledges the influence of culture and tradition, but also the impact of colonisation.
Mother Courage made its international debut last year in Kassel, Germany at the prestigious art festival dOCUMENTA (13). Here Mother Courage was constantly on the move, roving from gallery to gallery and visible to queues of exhibition visitors around the city. At ACMI, the work finds new meaning within the rarefied confines of the museum, cutting against the grain of the white cube/black box experience offered by Gallery 2.