Wednesday 16th October 2019

Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson: Step into Paradise, at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney previewed today in spectacular style. The exhibition is brilliant, immersive, and leads you through the journey of the minds that are Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee.

From the excellently executed memory lane, all peepholes filled with treasures and momento of their early years through to the reinvented or restaged Flamingo Park – that was their incredible store – it is a compendium of ideas, intense colour, curiosity and all driven by an intrinsic love and respect for Australia and it’s nature flora and fauna and the land. God it’s good.

This is the first major exhibition under the clever eye of CEO Lisa Havilah, who joined the Powerhouse just under a year ago and she has worked with the best in the business – sound designers, Nick Wales and Jonny Seymour, lighting designer, Damien Cooper and longtime Powerhouse curator Glynis Jones – to make this a truly exceptional and what we predict will become a blockbuster exhibition at the Powerhouse. Following the preview we caught up with Tony Assness creative director of the exhibition who has helped make this our exhibition of year.

Alison Veness: Go on.

Tony Assness: It’s interesting working with these two people. Lisa is amazing, she sort of sets a bar and tells me ‘don’t let anything get in the way’ so that’s amazing. And then you’ve got Jenny and Linda who are incredible and then you just want to come in at their level but in so doing, the two of them get kind of nervous that I’m going to upstage them, so they start stepping it up so this energy starts to push everything up. Sort of like a volcano, the energy is pushing toward refining, refining, making it better because they don’t want to be upstaged. If it was just a show that was a plinth with a mannequin and an old dress on it, then we could all be done in five minutes and walk away. Which is what a lot of exhibitions can be like.

AV: How long has it taken you to get to the opening?

TA: Nine months. I just got a call out of the blue from Lisa ‘will you do it’ and I’m like, ‘yeah’. 

AV: Have you loved doing it?

TA: It’s been tough. I think you say it’s like the best fashion exhibition you’ve seen here and there’s a real, sort of, musing culture here that was a shock to them. Like I’m coming from a much more event slash theatre kind of angle. They’re not used to that. It was sort of a challenge. Because it’s a cultural thing.

AV: What do you hope people will take away from the exhibition?

TA: I just think that their work deserves an incredible platform to be shown. For me, I look at them as inventing Australian fashion. Before them, you used to go to David Jones and buy three yards of material and a pattern and go to your dress maker and it was dictated to via London or Paris, and the lengths of your skirt, you were just told how to do it. That’s what fashion was like here. There were no brands, no individual style per say. They kind of came along and were the first ones and I think not only were they the first ones but their work does venture into a kind of next level. It’s sustained. Even though some of it, you know it was done in the ’80s, it’s of its time but it’s also timeless. It’s kind of amazing. I just treated each story like a show within itself. I think Damien did the same. If you really look at the lighting, the lighting approach in each section is different. 

AV: I know you like to have a sense of theatre or a build toward a moment in your work, do you feel you have that crescendo within the exhibition?

TA: It’s innate in me. Whether it’s an exhibition or a fashion show or a theatre piece or an opera or whatever there’s a beginning, middle and end. You hope in the time you’ve got people that you are going to shift them in a way and take them with you and reveal certain things in a way that kind of build – you know, if you do everything in the first five minutes it gives you nowhere to go. You have to start in a certain way and build it and build it and just when people think that’s it, you hit them again and keep stepping up. These are just show tricks. It’s just theatre, it’s just drama.

by Alison Veness

Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson: Step Into Paradise
Powerhouse Museum from 17 October 2019 – 22 March 2020




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