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Evolution of Fearlessness

Lynette Wallworth

Evolution of Fearlessness is an intimate, virtual encounter with women that investigates powerful human emotions such as grief, loss and the re-emergence of hope. Wallworth is one of associate artist ANOHNI's favorite artists.

For the internationally acclaimed installation Evolution of Fearlessness‚ Lynette Wallworth filmed portraits of eleven women residing in Australia‚ but originating from countries such as Afghanistan‚ Sudan‚ Iraq and El Salvador‚ who have lived through wars‚ survived concentration camps or extreme acts of violence. The work focuses on a state beyond terror and loss most closely akin to mercy.

Built around the importance of gesture‚ Evolution of Fearlessness provides a tactile gateway to the living women contained in the piece‚ whose stories we are given glimpses of but whose lips do not speak. The work is an intimate revelation of the strength of the human spirit.

Please note: the installation is located in a dark room.


June 11-24: (Sat-Sun) 12:00-20:00, 14:00-20:00 (Mon-Fri). Till 23:00 when performances in Muziekgebouw.


  • default € 8
  • CJP/student/scholar € 5

language & duration

  • Language no problem

  • Duration of performance unknown

‘I am endlessly curious about human existence’

Interview with Lynette Wallworth
Lynette Wallworth is one of associate artist ANOHNI's favorite artists. She is known for her empathetic work in which she usually puts others at the center. Several of her works can be seen during the Holland Festival: Coral: Rekindling Venus, Evolution of Fearlessness and HOW TO LIVE (After You Die). A conversation about her work and motivations.

by Evelien Lindeboom

‘I am endlessly curious about human existence’

Interview with Lynette Wallworth
Lynette Wallworth is one of associate artist ANOHNI's favorite artists. She is known for her empathetic work in which she usually puts others at the center. Several of her works can be seen during the Holland Festival: Coral: Rekindling Venus, Evolution of Fearlessness and HOW TO LIVE (After You Die). A conversation about her work and motivations.

by Evelien Lindeboom
At the festival you will show work about the resilience of refugee woman, as well as about extreme sectarianism, and about the fragility of coral reefs. Is there a common trait you are attracted to in your subjects?
‘I do a form of immersive documentary, so the subject matter always comes from life. I look for universal stories that have the capacity to connect us all, that will resonate no matter the cultural background. An ongoing consideration in my work is sustaining the diversity of natural communities. I am very focused on how we maintain cultural diversity, differences within communal space, because a monoculture cannot survive.’
You were introduced to the Holland Festival via this year’s associate artist, ANOHNI. Can you tell a bit about your connection?
‘ANOHNI means so much to me, we have a lot of similar concerns, we have different tools and skills but we are joined by mutual considerations. We have passionate discussions about the planet, about our responsibilities and our recklessness with our shared home. She sculpts these concerns into her work and presents it, for us to contemplate. The seriousness with which she does that, is extremely inspiring. ANOHNI has also been involved in several of my projects, such as Coral; a non-narrated film with forty-five minutes of incredible imagery of coral reefs and music. There is something sacred about a coral reef, and I wanted people to leave with words that would hold the tone of what the film is about. ANOHNI’s voice was the only voice I could imagine doing that. Her voice is such a profound instrument, she has the capacity to lift you out of yourself, to transcend the limited perspective.’
Can you talk more about Coral, how you started working on this full dome film, that takes the audience on an extraordinary journey into the mysterious world of fluorescent coral reefs and rare marine life?
‘I started a long-term preoccupation with coral in 2001 and made several works about coral reefs over the years. So, by the time I started working on Coral, I had friendships with some key specialist filmmakers and scientists whose preoccupation was to show the dynamic life force of coral. This included using specially developed technology to record the coral at extreme macro, or with confocal laser imaging, or under specific light waves to reveal coral fluorescence. I worked with these scientists and filmmakers to collect the imagery I needed, and then I approached musicians, I knew would resonate with the theme to set a visual narrative to music. The footage was filmed largely in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
The sensation is that you fall to the seafloor. Somewhat like Alice in Wonderland, you are greeted by creatures that are unfamiliar to you and you follow them. You get to see coral as the complex sophisticated community it is. Coral reefs are underwater cities built by incredible creatures, living in symbiotic relationship with algae. There are lots of powerful resonances for us humans when we look at them, and that’s what I wanted to provide.’
What are some of those resonances that you want the audience to take away?
‘That coral experiences stress similar to humans. The exposure to unusual and unprecedented weather events, or warming sea temperatures, causes them stress, just like we feel stressed by unusual weather patterns. And as with us, stress is cumulative, our resilience is depleted by a series of challenging events and that is the same for coral. The animal that builds the coral structure is mutually symbiotic with algae; they need each other to survive. But when there are too many stressful events, that animal releases its algae partner. This is called a bleaching event. After that the coral can’t feed, and will die unless the algae return. But I have worked for many years with scientist Dr Anya Salih, whose work has shown that coral, that can fluoresce survive these bleaching events better than those that do not. So, I wanted to highlight them and their resilience. Another resonance is, the entire coral reef is impacted by the solar system. The coral spawning event, which is a miraculous explosion of life, happens only once a year, in November, driven by the moon and sun. All of this is present in my work, but it is not explained, rather it is shown. What I hope is that people will see these incredible and very particular creatures, and that will drive them towards their own investigation.’
What does the subtitle Rekindling Venus refer to?
‘The history of the European discovery of Australia was linked to a rare astronomical event: the observation of the transit of Venus, Venus passing in front of the sun. That occurs very rarely, in pairs, every 249 years. In the 18th century the astronomer Edmund Halley realized that to solve this scientific puzzle - to work out distances in our solar system - the transit of Venus needed to be observed from different locations worldwide. Halley said: “I won’t be alive, but when it occurs again, send ships to the four corners of the world so that we can understand the size of our solar system”. Many ships were sent for these two transits in the 1700s. Among them was James Cook, who was charged to look for the “Great South Land” only after he had completed his mission to observe the transition of Venus from Tahiti. England had been at war with the French only recently, but the French agreed to let an English ship come to the French territory because this was something that was for the benefit of all humanity.
So, in the 1700’s there was an attempt at global cooperation for the purpose of solving something that is much bigger than individual territories. I see it as one of our big failures as human beings to act territorially, in relation to climate change specifically, as if the weather can be contained on a local scale. We need to understand that cooperation is needed. That’s why I call this work Rekindling Venus, in a hope we can rekindle this kind of worldwide scientific cooperation.’
Can you tell me about your inspiration to make The Evolution of Fearlessness, an intimate work that revolves around refugee women?
‘To make this work, I looked for women that had a particular quality of resilience in their nature, similar to the fluorescent coral. A shining quality that allowed them to transform the most extreme circumstances. I found them in places like refugee centers, indigenous Australian communities, Jewish community centers. They came from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Chile. Most of them fled to Australia at some point. They lived through extremely traumatic events that most of us could not imagine. They are survivors, but they are not victims. I think stories of women as victims are prevalent and often told with the intention to scare us. But the stories of these women, who not only survived extremes but who subsequently shaped remarkable lives, are much less often told. Contrary to what you may expect after reading their stories filled with violence and horror, these women have not shied away from humanity, but grown towards it. Their humanity is expanded, and what you feel from them is love. Many of them are now doing work that serves other people in need. This quality, which I have never found the right word for, is what I want the viewer to experience. It is there inside this work, in a moment of digital touch.’
How does the audience experience this?
‘You enter a dark room with a book where you can read one or two stories of what happened to these women. They are of different generations, from many parts of the world, but they have all lived through extremes. Then you approach a doorway and put your hand on a small pulse of light and one of the women, in video, will step forward and place her hand on your hand. There is a small moment of intimate connection. If you are in that room watching this virtual meeting there is a moment when both the viewer and the woman are in silhouette. For me there is in that moment a suggestion of our connectedness and a realization that situations in any country or circumstances can pivot. A comfortable life is never a guarantee. Anyone might find themselves one day in an extreme situation of survival. These women lived through that and reshaped themselves, they extended their humanity. Horror did not destroy them and they act as a beacon.’ 
In your work it seems necessary for people to trust you, even when they are often people that have many reasons to mistrust. You seem to gain their trust easily?
‘I look for people that did not lose their trust in humanity. I don’t know that everyone has the skill, but all these people make a willful decision to rise from what happened to them.’
You also work regularly with indigenous communities that have a lot of reason to be distrustful. How do you gain their trust?
‘I have been fortunate to work with some remote indigenous communities at their invitation. They see in my work my capacity to recognize something authentic. I think there is something about my work – immersive documentary – that makes me attuned towards authenticity. This means there is never a disconnection between what I want to show and what someone wants to show of themselves. Because my work is based on real relationships. I don’t try to construct anything. I have a very simple goal: the people I represent should recognize themselves as they feel themselves to be.’
In HOW TO LIVE (After You Die) you draw on your teenage years when you were enticed into a fundamentalist Christian group, to provide first-hand insight into the allure of extreme sectarianism. When did you realize you wanted to use your own story?
‘In the midst of the Trump administration, I realized how many problems connect back to extremist beliefs. Intense groups form, and they believe that they alone have the knowledge, and they must act. We saw in this case how that led to the Capitol storming. I recognized language from my past and that made it possible for me to point to how such things can happen. Whatever the belief is, there is a typical way in which people are enticed to shed their previous network and enter a closed bubble of belief. I knew that road from personal experience and so I thought it might be relevant to share it.’
In this work you explain how one can come to a distorted world view, and how you got out. Do you also intend to show other people the way out?
‘I talked to people who were losing the connection with a parent or child or friend that got caught up in such a group. I hope to show them the ingredients of how this happens, how identity is lost. Often people who get caught are longing to belong somewhere and to give their life a purpose. But the way out is not through rational argument. The only way out, in my experience, is to create a moment of doubt. An extremist group seemingly has answers to everything, until it doesn’t. The only thing you can do, is to ask questions, until at some point there is a question which has, as yet, no answer, and a small seed of doubt is planted. For me personally that doubt was created when I became aware of the existence of matriarchal societies. In the designated gender roles we had to serve, that possibility did not fit into the beliefs of my extreme Christian community. That’s what I needed to provide an opening for me to leave. I can look back now and see the madness of the life I was living, but I also feel compassion and understanding for people in this same situation today.’
When you were with that fundamentalist group yourself, you even became a prophet. Would you say the same quality that made you a prophet, is what drives you to make art?
‘I think that element of compassion to understand others is crucial for both. My compassion has never left me and I am endlessly curious about human existence. Having been through my own strange, early experiences, I appreciate the struggle to find one’s way. That is what I am offering up in every work. The fulfilling of one’s destiny by forging our own path. I am driven to keep searching to express my specific individuality within the community of humanity, that’s what I admire and uphold, and I hope that’s at the heart of all of my work.’
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  • Lynette Wallworth, artist and film director

  • © Lynette Walworth