Celebrating the extraordinary collaboration between two-time Archibald Prize winner Del Kathryn Barton and acclaimed filmmaker Brendan Fletcher, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents Del Kathryn Barton: The Nightingale and the Rose – tracing the remarkable adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 19th century classic into a hauntingly beautiful animated film.
From 21 June, this free exhibition will transform ACMI’s Gallery 2 space into an immersive and intricate Barton-inspired world: colourful, bold, enchanting, brooding, and revealing. Barton’s paintings will be displayed alongside the film for the first time.
The film itself is a landmark in contemporary moving image, voiced by some of Australia’s most celebrated actors, including Mia Wasikowska, David Wenham and Geoffrey Rush, and layered with stirring score by Australian singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko.
Audiences can view the 14-minute animation in the depths of the exhibition space, and then make their way through a lush display of objects that explore the incredible workings behind the production, spanning classic text to canvas, sculpture to screen. This will include items such as Barton’s artwork, a selection of stunning and never-before-seen handmade props, material from the animation archives, and a rare 1913 edition of Wilde’s anthology.
“Each exhibition piece shows how this classic story was interpreted at first through Barton’s sophisticated artistic lens, then enlivened by Fletcher’s brilliant filmic mind and Method Studio’s deft animating hand, in conjunction with a group of creatives working across the full spectrum of moving image arts,” said Jess Bram, ACMI Curator.
“The result is an extraordinarily nuanced work that speaks to a contemporary audience, while remaining authentic to Wilde’s original text and Barton’s astounding feel for the handmade.”
Originally conceived as a collection of eight paintings and four drawings, the film has its genesis in a commission by Art & Australia. The publishing house asked Barton in 2010 to reimagine a timeless fairytale in her signature aesthetic and technique.
A long-time aficionado of Wilde’s works, Barton was struck by using his The Nightingale and the Rose as her inspiration – one of the most poignant of Wilde’s stories and so closely related to her own work in its construction of an emboldened but vulnerable feminine protagonist. Produced over the course of two years, Barton’s series brings Wilde’s classic to life in her inimitable meditative and meticulous style.
“When I first discovered Oscar Wilde’s radical fairy story The Nightingale and the Rose as a teenager, it seemed to me that the character of the Nightingale breathed with the energy of a true artist,” said Barton. “Nightingale gives completely of her deepest essence in her life choices. She is a little hero of mine.”
“From the making of my paintings and drawings for the book project, to a three year (and often agonising) marathon making the animation, the Nightingale experience has been an extraordinary and multifaceted creative journey. I feel so blessed to have shared the challenges of this journey with so many talented collaborators and to have created relationships that will no doubt enable many more film projects. I am truly in love with this exciting, exacting medium!”
It was a moment of synchronicity when Barton mentioned to esteemed Australian director and friend Brendan Fletcher that she was eager to transform her Nightingale world into a short film. Though neither at the time possessed an animation background, together they took on the project with a unified vision to offer something new and different to the genre, whilst retaining the spirit of Wilde’s prose and Barton’s signature aesthetic.
“I was deeply inspired by Del’s heartfelt passion for The Nightingale story and her wildly original artistic vision, but I’d also felt for a long time that her work had an unexplored cinematic quality to it,” said Fletcher. “I love working with people working outside the film industry, as while these collaborations can be challenging (this particular development process took a very long time!) they are very rewarding and lead to films that are fresh and a little bit unpredictable.”
After Fletcher and Barton had worked together on the film for a year, they recruited the expertise of award-winning visual effects and post-production house Method Studios in a collaboration that would take an additional two years. The final creation is an intense but remarkably ethereal and visceral gesture to the tragic beauty and earnestness of Wilde’s tale.
First published in 1888 as part of Oscar Wilde’s renowned anthology, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, The Nightingale and the Rose – is a story of unrequited love, of transformation, metamorphosis and ultimately sacrifice. More tragedy than traditional fairy-tale, it tells of the Nightingale, who surrenders her life so that the Student may offer a single red rose to the girl that he adores, only for his gift to be rejected. When the object of his passions opts for jewels over the flower, the Student flings his rose into the gutter and renounces love completely.
Enchanting in its creation of fanciful characters – trees, flowers and animals that come to life in full speech – The Nightingale and the Rose gives voice to Wilde’s musings about the painful realisation of disappointed desire. And yet, through the sweet vulnerability of the Nightingale’s song, there exists a captivating beauty, a passionate earnestness and emboldened integrity that defies the calamity of her betrayal.
Through an artistic layering of original works, alongside the breathtakingly beautiful hand-crafted paper props, snapshots of the stop-motion and digital animation process and behind-the-scenes interviews with the creative team, ACMI magically brings to life Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose for contemporary audiences.
Del Kathryn Barton: The Nightingale and the Rose
Gallery 2 – ACMI, Federation Square, Melbourne
Exhibition: 21 June – 18 September 2016
For more information, visit: www.acmi.net.au for details.
Image: Del Kathryn Barton and Brendan Fletcher, The Nightingale and the Rose, 2015 – courtesy of Aquarius Films