The Art On Wheels van painted by Lisa Wolfgramm, 2012. Image courtesy Siying Zhou.
September is upon us, which means it’s almost time for Darwin Visual Art
Association’s (DVAA) latest project, Art On Wheels, to take over the city’s residential suburbs. Project organiser Siying Zhou says the project is as much an artwork in itself as it is a campaign to introduce Darwin locals to the contemporary art being produced in Australia as well as encouraging the development of the local art scene.
The sense that Art On Wheels is an artwork in its own right is instantly understood,
especially since the van that the project relies on to transport, herald and house
pop-up exhibitions around town is virtually more art than vehicle anyway. Not only is
the interior of the van completely bedecked in Australian contemporary art, but
the exterior sides of the van double as a work by painter Lisa Wolfgramm, and beneath the van fellow local artist Tom Halliday plans to construct and install pixelated "shadows." The immediate area around the van will also be used, quite
literally tied to the vehicle via an ornate leather canopy fashioned by Talitha Kennedy. Popular local band Green Stone Garden will collaborate with Leanne Waterhouse for a one-off performance under this canopy.
Despite the myriad of art that envelopes it, the Art On Wheels project is a concept
bigger than any simple sum of its artwork parts. It draws much inspiration from the
seasonal influx of travellers’ vans and works to explore the social functions of this
regular phenomenon. "During the dry season you see so many of those Wicked vans
around in Darwin," Zhou says. "There are lots of travelling nomads turning up in the
beautiful, scenic areas of Darwin, and I think it’s a really big part of the city’s culture.
We see the vans quite often and within that small space they manage to have a living
space, a sleeping space and a cultural space. And, unlike other cities in Australia,
Darwin is really set up for those people. Darwin provides this beautiful environment
and culture to accommodate those travellers."
Art On Wheels endeavours to encourage community engagement with contemporary
art by following the example of the Kombis and campervans as community-soluble
capsules of culture. "I work in a gallery space, and when people come to see a work
they have to put in a lot of effort," Zhou says of the limited ability galleries have attracting the wider public to exhibitions, and the lack of interest many in the greater
Darwin community have in art. "They have to find a particular venue’s address,
arrange their own time with their opening hours, make the time and make the trip
to see the work. I feel like those efforts create a big distance between artworks and
people, and do not cater for the lack of pre-knowledge in potential visitors."
As well as mirroring this inadvertent tendency of travellers’ vans to inject culture into Darwin, the van further explores its potential by expecting to draw together the inspired parties it comes across in its travels. "The track of the van will start to create an art network," Zhou proposes, adding that the Art On Wheels team has plans to extend this network beyond Darwin, hoping to eventually hit the highway and start building relationships with communities in the Territory’s more regional areas. "It depends on the car!" Zhou laughs. "It’s a really old car so I don’t think it can travel that far at the moment. But to go out to Katherine or even Alice Springs would be awesome. We’ll see how it goes."
Art On Wheels has accelerated from the brainstorming phase last year funded by
the Northern Territory Government’s arts grants program with this year’s successful
application for an Australia Council for the Arts project grant. The project is currently
gearing up for its program launch on August 31. "By then we will have confirmed the
venues and which artist in which venue, and all that detailed information about what’s
on with the event so people can follow the van," Zhou promises. "But really we aim to create random reactions. We want art to become part of people’s everyday lives."
This is an edited story submitted to artsHub by Alice Body, a writer based in Darwin.
To follow the progress of the project, visit the Art On Wheels Facebook page, or visit
Sarah Pirrie's Branching Art project blog.
The clip below is a collaborative exhibition by Leanne Waterhouse and band Green Stone Garden at the Darwin Visual Arts Association space.