Australian Screen

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Dreamtime, Machinetime (1987)

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clip A marriage of cultures education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

A brush pushes dots against an all black canvas. Trevor Nickolls tells us about the influences that shape his work. Nickolls refers to the Western machinery and Indigenous cosmology known as the Dreaming.

Curator’s notes

Nickolls’ artwork speaks predominantly about the juxtaposition of Indigenous cosmology (Dreaming) and Western machinery and technology, and the coexistence of both in the land now known as Australia.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Aboriginal artist Trevor Nickolls at work painting a canvas and talking about his art practice and philosophy. The clip opens with Nickolls applying dots to a canvas while describing the meaning of the dots in his work. ‘Self portrait’ (1973) is shown as Nickolls explains its significance. Nickolls speaks directly to camera about the inspiration for ‘Melbourne Dreaming’ (1981) followed by a long shot as the camera pans down the painting and the traffic noise on the soundtrack becomes increasingly louder.

Educational value points

  • The clip illustrates how Trevor Nickolls’s art is distinguished by his incorporation of Aboriginal and Western cultural traditions. The painting ‘Melbourne Dreaming’ (1981) has symbols that for Nickolls reveal a dichotomy between Western and Indigenous cultures, including symbolic representations of what he perceives as threats to Indigenous cultures from urban values. Nickolls explains his ironic use of the Dreamtime serpent to create the dollar sign, and the tree of life becoming a dollar sign to illustrate the damage to the Earth caused by new technologies and money.
  • Nickolls’s painting ‘Self portrait’ (1973) and his discussion of it in the clip indicate his exploration of personal and wider racial identity. The painting depicts the narrative of Nickolls’s marriage, fatherhood and ‘real life’ in suburbia, and includes associated images. For Nickolls ‘Self portrait’ also reflects what he sees as a difference between African Americans and Aboriginal people. He expresses his view that African Americans have been assimilated into US society after being cut off from their origins, while Aboriginal people are still ‘connected with the land’.
  • In the clip Nickolls says that the traditional dot motif is flexible and he uses it to depict various ideas. He says that in his work, the dots may represent the ‘skin of the Earth’, ‘molecules exploding’ or a computer print-out. The documentary was made in 1987 and so he is probably referring to dot-matrix printing, which was common at the time.
  • Dreamtime, Machinetime, the title of the documentary from which this clip has been taken, encapsulates the central theme of Nickolls’s work: Indigenous experiences of combining traditional ways of living with the technological demands and values of the Western world. The title borrows from the title of Nicholls’s solo exhibition ‘From Dreamtime to machinetime’ (1978) and his 1981 painting ‘Machinetime Dreamtime’.
  • Nickolls’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Born in Adelaide in 1949, he studied art there and in Melbourne. His first solo exhibition, ‘From Dreamtime to machinetime’, was held in 1978 and, with Rover Thomas, he represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1990.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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