Design team - Robert Cameron, Kirill de Lancastre Jedenov, Anne-Louise Paxton, Bao Dang, Craig Nener, Tijana VujosevicThe Berndt is the modern abstraction of Western Australia’s landscapes. The land connects peoples who lived in them for thousands of years with their present-day inhabitants. The importance of Country as a spiritual landscape is the legacy of Indigenous communities who are custodians of this land. The Berndt, as a museum that houses contemporary Indigenous art and the place where generations and nations meet, has to refer to the Country; to encapsulate its beauty. The “landscape house”, home of contemporary Indigenous art celebrates the skies, land, and rivers that we inhabit.
The experience of this space is a procession through three discrete environments – the “cave”, the “circle”, and the “horizon”. Each offers a different interpretation of the land below and the skies above. The “cave” is an enclosed, cavernous space, reminiscent of the great caves of the South. It draws the UWA community and visitors in by extending public space into the mass of the building. Small shafts of sunlight that pierce the ceiling are constellations that guide the flow of people and help them to navigate the vibrant space. The celebration of the open celestial expanse happens in the “circle” – a loud and bright space for congregation and public events, open to the sky. The main building of the museum consists of a base and a “horizon space” lodged above it, offering controlled views of Derbarl Yerrigan. The procession through the building is a walk towards the river, during which the visitor experiences a transition from dark to light, from closed to open, from narrow to wide. This transition is not only a physical but also a spiritual path, that leads to the gallery space as a place for contemplating the way the art of the present establishes a continuity with the past, and a foundation for the future. It expresses the connectedness between generations united for centuries by love and respect for the land and as recognition of its beauty, spirituality, and fragility.
The building does not only reveal but also hides, the same way landscapes do. Significant parts of the collection cannot be exposed to the public eye. By respecting this, we acknowledge that not all of Indigenous knowledge can or should be open and visible and that keeping secrets is sometimes as important as exposing them. We tried to present this condition in a space where “openings” to view alternate with spaces that stress secrecy and sacredness of special and restricted knowledge. The play of the visible and invisible, closed and open, is an important part of the project that expresses the respect for the right of Indigenous artists and communities to control the access to their artifacts. History is what is said and what is not said, what is exposed and what is hidden.
The project submitted is envisioned primarily as a starting point for a conversation between architects, curators and the community about how we understand contemporary Indigenous art as well as what the nitty-gritty of caring for it entails. We hope this conversation will continue beyond our initial scheme.