A mysterious universe of alien architecture populated by humanoid clones and cryptic symbols, explored via a network of travellators and gateways. That’s TERMINUS, the largest virtual reality collaboration to date by artists Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, currently showing at the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Victoria.

Jess Johnson originally hails from New Zealand, and in 2016 after twelve years of living and working in Melbourne, she relocated permanently to New York. Her drawing and installation pieces are certainly influenced by science fiction, language, culture and technology. They depict complex worlds that combine densely layered patterns, objects and figures set within architectural domains. When exhibited, her works are often displayed within constructed environments that act as physical portals into her speculative realms.

Simon Ward also from New Zealand, worked for ten years in feature film costuming, during which time he began to develop his video making practice, which has now become his major focus. He has made over 50 music videos for New Zealand and international artists and co-directs the animated Aroha Bridge, a comedic series about a suburban hip hop band with grand aspirations. Influenced by the history of cinematographic special effects and animation, his work involves generating visual imagery that mixes reality with the fantastic. New developments in virtual reality technology allow him to explore these reality warping techniques in far more immersive environments.

Their exhibition features five virtual reality artworks situated on a full-scale tessellated floor map (curated by National Gallery Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Jaklyn Babington). Commissioned by the National Gallery and the Balnaves Foundation, it is the first stop on its national tour by the National Gallery of Australia.

With their pioneering handling of virtual reality, both Simon and Jess hold a unique position among contemporary art practitioners. Jess’ drawings are transformed from analogue into digital, and from solo practice into cross-disciplinary collaboration. Animated by Simon and enriched with input from developer Kenny Smith and sound composer Andrew Clarke, the result is an unfamiliar yet high tech world.

The viewer’s journey is one of transformation, revealing an understanding that reality is not fixed, but both pliable and indistinct.

As an addition to TERMINUS, a number of Jess Johnson’s drawings and collaborative textile works have been selected for display by Heide Curator Sue Cramer. These include quilts she made with her mother Cynthia Johnson, and garments from Romance Was Born’s Summer 2016 collection Mysteria Wysteria, a collaboration with the Australian fashion house. The functionality of the garments, and handmade qualities of the drawings and quilts, counterpoint the encounter with virtual reality, giving a wider sense of the collaborative processes, which involve both traditional and new media.

TERMINUS is presented until 1 March 2020

Exhibition Details:
Terminus: Jess Johnson and Simon Ward
2 November 2019 – 1 March 2020
Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen, VIC 3105

Museum opening hours
Tuesday–Sunday, 10am–5pm. Closed Mondays
Admission fees: Members free. Adult $20 . Concession $15. Children (16 and under) free