The Cutaway, Barangaroo, January 4


It hijacks your senses from the moment you walk in, but keeps its king-hit for the end. Having already become familiar with aspects of Frida Kahlo’s life and work, now you actually enter the late Mexican painter’s world, via headphones and virtual-reality headsets. This begins with the view from her bed when she was an invalid before her death: the furniture, the paintings and the window with a hummingbird hovering outside.

Then, as happened in her life, the bed is moved to expand her vista, down passages and even streetscapes, until the bed evaporates, and suddenly you’re drifting through 3-D elements of her art, lush with exotic undergrowth, loaded with symbolism and rampant with colours of hallucinogenic brightness. All the while there’s music that seems an organic outgrowth of the images.

Photos: David Ruano.

Given that the mooted First Nations’ cultural centre at the Cutaway was killed off, this Layers of Reality installation at least makes brilliant use of the space. It carries its own relevance to invaded minorities, with the heady influence that Mexican indigenous traditions had on the vibrancy, mythology, mystique, horror and humour of Kahlo’s art.

Panels of text provide background information for those unfamiliar with her history and oeuvre, before the first installation, The Incident. This is a multi-layered holograph depicting the accident that smashed Frida’s pelvis and spine. But being non-literal, it’s all the more moving. This is the poetry of torment: a book, a shoe and an umbrella fly through the air, while a porcelain Frida shatters into a thousand pieces, to be remade.

The Dream is a projection of a recuperating Kahlo in her bed, while her dreams take shape around her head: a newborn child, a breast dripping milk, an unbroken spinal column. Endless Symbology is an interactive projection of a sea of flowers, fruit and skulls, which changes when you walk through it, as if wading through water.

Another room is for colouring in Kahlo self-portraits, with a scanning machine to project them on the walls. In the biggest room, Immersive Biography, the walls and floor carry a chronology of images. It’s a magical space to sit and lose yourself in the life of another, with some of the animations reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s most lyrical work. The whole experience takes about an hour, and you’ll be so glad you bothered.

Until March 7.