Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions Exhibition Kit

Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions is a group exhibition comprising eight Australian artists who each explore painting as an expanded practice that extends beyond the traditional paint on canvas format to incorporate diverse materials, structures and ideas of the world at large. The exhibition presents ambitious new commissions by artists Nadia Hernández, Gian Manik, Lucina Lane, Betty Muffler, Jahnne Pasco-White, Jason Phu, JD Reforma and Esther Stewart.

The exhibition title, Like a Wheel That Turns, is drawn from a quote by the South African, Netherlands-based artist Marlene Dumas who reflects that: ‘Painting doesn’t freeze time, it circulates and recycles time like a wheel that turns’. Like a Wheel That Turns emphasises painting’s capacity, as an artform that is simultaneously ancient and contemporary, to speak across generations – to personal, social and family connections and histories, as well as cultural and artistic legacies.

The newly commissioned works in the exhibition, though each very different from one another, find common ground by all being at the intersection of painting and other materials, forms or disciplines; including architecture, literature, performance, ecology, music and healing.

Macfarlane Commissions

The Macfarlane Commissions are supported by The Macfarlane Fund to enable the production of ambitious new work by emerging to mid-career contemporary artists. Each artist is offered a generous artist fee and production budget, with the intention of commissioning a major new body of work especially for the exhibition.

Curators: Max Delany and Annika Kristensen

How to use this kit

This exhibition kit has been written by ACCA Education to support learning alongside Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions. Three key artists and artworks from the exhibition have been highlighted, with discussion questions to prompt thinking with students. Primary and Secondary activities, are mapped to the Victorian and Australian Curriculum, and can be found in the section For Teachers. VCE students and teachers can view Support Material for further reading and teaching notes from ACCA’s VCE Programs.

List of works »

About the artists

Feature Artists


Nadia Hernández

Born 1987 Mérida, Venezuela. Lives and works in Naarm/Melbourne and Gadigal Ngurra/Sydney

Nadia Hernández is a Venezulelan born, Melbourne-based emerging contemporary artist who works across collage, drawing, textiles, installation, music, sculpture and mural painting. Hernández’s art practice is biographically grounded and politically motivated. She often references family as inspiration for her artworks, including the exhibition Entre todo, todxs at Verge Gallery, Sydney, which Hernández developed around the memory of her late abuela (grandmother), and a series of textile works that draw from a book of recipes compiled by her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Hernández’s other main inspiration is the political situation in Venezuela ‘and her diasporic experience as a Venezuelan woman living abroad’. Hernández has said that she cannot help but respond to the political, social and environmental atrocities unfolding in her home country.

Nadia Hernández has exhibited widely across Australia, including solo exhibitions at STATION Gallery, Sydney, in 2021, and Verge Gallery, Sydney, in 2020. In 2021 Hernández was awarded the Grace Cossington Smith Art Award, and in 2019 she won the Churchie Emerging Art Prize and undertook a Bundanon Trust residency. She has been shortlisted for several awards including the New South Wales Visual Arts Emerging Fellowship (2020), the John Fries Award (2019), and the Fisher Ghost Art Award (2017).


Betty Muffler

Pitjantjatjara. Born 1944 near Watarru, South Australia. Lives and works Indulkana, South Australia

Betty Muffler is a contemporary artist and a respected senior woman based at Iwantja Arts, Indulkana, an important Indigenous owned and governed Aboriginal art centre. Muffler’s art practice is materially and technically diverse, incorporating painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking and tjanpi (native grass) weaving. She is also an important ngangkari (traditional healer), a practice that she learned from her father and his side of the family. Muffler’s role as ngangkari and artist are intertwined, and she has said ‘I do what I do, and my painting is informed by me being a ngangkari. My work as a ngangkari runs both through my work as a painter, and also through healing work with the body!

Muffler thinks about her work as one way to share Tjukurpa, which is the comprehensive system of law and belief in how the earth is formed and forming, how all matter exists within it and how people behave in relation with it. Tjukurpa comprises numerous stories, songlines and ceremonies.

Betty Muffler began making art later in life, winning the Emerging Artist Award at the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2017 – at the age of 73. Her paintings are held in public and private collections and her artwork has been included in the 2015, 2017 and 2020 Tarnanthi exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In 2020 she was commissioned for the cover of Vogue Australia magazine, and in 2022 Muffler was a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards and the Wynne Prize.


JD Reforma

Born 1988, Gadigal Ngurra/Sydney. Lives and works on Gadigal Ngurra/Sydney

JD Reforma is a Sydney-based contemporary artist, writer and curator. Reforma’s art practice is interdisciplinary, spanning video, sculpture, installation, photography, writing and performance. He is particularly interested in exploring the lived experiences of the Asian-Australian diaspora (meaning a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic location) through his art. Specifically, how the inequities (meaning lack of fairness or justice) of race and class intersect across relationships, cultures, institutions and society as a whole. His work frequently quotes and collages material from different forms of popular culture including film, pop music, fashion, media, celebrity, cosmetics and advertising, as a way to reflect on how those elements influence our personal, political and emotional lives.

Reforma has exhibited widely including at COMA, Sydney, Verge, Sydney, Cement Fondu, Sydney, The Establishment,Sydney, and First Draft, Sydney. In 2020 he was commissioned to create I want to believe for Hyper-linked, a digital platform exhibition curated Isobel Parker-Philip for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and was a finalist in the 2020 John Fries Award, curated by Miriam Kelly. In 2022 his work was included in the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, curated by Sebastian Goldspink.



Key Artworks

Nadia Hernández, installation view, Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Commissioned by ACCA and the Macfarlane Fund. Courtesy of the artist and STATION, Melbourne and Sydney. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

Nadia Hernández, Recordando al cambur político 2022 (installation view, focus artwork visible in foreground)

ribbon, powder coated steel
110.0 x 175.0 cm
Courtesy the artist and STATION, Melbourne and Sydney.

The title of this artwork is in Spanish, which is the national language of Venezuela, where Nadia Hernández was born before immigrating to Australia as a child. This title translates into English as Remembering the political banana, and is a reference to Venezuela being labelled as a ‘Banana Republic’. Banana Republic is a derogatory (meaning disrespectful or critical) term for a country that is both politically unstable and has a single product economy. In the case of Venezuela, it has experienced historical periods of high level political corruption and its economy depends heavily on crude oil as its primary national export.

Recordando al cambur político combines a direct reference to the political situation in Venezuela with abstract visual language. Hernandez is a politically-engaged artist, and her past artworks have made frequent reference to the political climate of her home country. She is focused on her diasporic (meaning relating to any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland) experience as a Venzuelan woman living in Australia, and uses her art practice to creatively explore that experience.

The colourful ribbons used in Recordando al cambur político hang off a wrought steel sculptural frame that looks like a squiggly, looping black line painted in mid-air. The coloured ribbons hang  as if dropped there, once animated but now resting on the floor. In her broader practice one of the themes Nadia Hernández is interested in is defiance as a political act – people finding joy in the midst of hardship, for example. With this in mind, these ribbons could be the trace of some procession led by people who, despite living with injustice and corruption, have found time and energy for celebration.

Discussion questions

  • Do you recognise the language that Nadia Hernández has used in the title for this artwork? How does the title influence your interpretation of this abstract artwork?
  • How do you think this work relates to painting, which art elements and principles does it share with a traditional painting from your memory?
  • This stand-alone artwork is also part of a larger, multi-part body of work. How has the artist used the art elements and principles to give this individual piece a sense of belonging (unity) with the other artworks in the installation?
Betty Muffler, Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2022, installation view, Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Commissioned by ACCA and the Macfarlane Fund. Courtesy of the artist and Iwantja Arts. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

Betty Muffler Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2022
300.0 x 500.0 cm

synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen
Courtesy of the artist and Iwantja Arts

Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) can be interpreted as a type of landscape painting that radically expands and contrasts from western painting traditions. The very large canvas represents Betty Muffler’s Country, as seen from the perspective of the artist when she has taken the form of her tjulpu (eagle) spirit. Muffler inhabits her tjulpu in her sleep and, in that form, flies vast distances to find sick people before landing down next to them to help heal their illnesses.

I’ve got an eagle’s spirit so I can stay at home here and in my sleep I send my eagle spirit across the desert to look for sick people, then I land next to them and make them better.

– Betty Muffler

Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) is directly informed by Betty Muffler’s status as a Ngankari, which is a traditional healer. Her skills as a Ngangkari are in high demand by people across her Country, which is a very large area, and so a lot of travel is involved. Ngangkair Ngura can be interpreted as a record of what she sees of Country through her healing work. ‘Bird’s eye view’ is a common idiom (meaning a widely used saying that contains a figurative meaning that is different from the phrase’s literal meaning) that describes the perspective used in Ngangkair Ngura. It is also the perspective used by cartographers when creating maps.

Betty Muffler painted this artwork with the canvas laid flat on her studio floor. The artist walked across the canvas surface to reach different areas, she stood and used a paint brush on a stick for some parts, and sat down directly on the canvas to paint some of the finely detailed areas. Muffler’s highly embodied painting process can be thought of as a way that her physicality contributes to her artwork similarly to how her spirituality and Ngangkari practice does.


Discussion questions:

  • What effect does the large scale of the painting have on how you interpret its meaning? 
  • Do you think this painting is representational, abstract, or both? Why? Consider reading the artwork’s wall label to inform your interpretation.
  • Do you think Betty Muffler’s technique of painting Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) on the floor has affected her compositional choices? How?
mixed media installation comprising plastic flooring system, hearse, geodesic dome, industrial shelving system, DVD players, programmed LED scrollers, LED light stripping, LED neon light, video files, found images, animated GIFs, found and printed PVC banners, cardboard, wire mesh, reflective wall insulation, mirrored Perspex, mannequins, plinths, vending machine, taxidermied fawn, temporary fencing, barbed wire, corflute signs, reclaimed timber, tree branches, driftwood, pine wood, MDF, chipboard, found wooden crates, nuts, bolts, screws, nails, tacks, upholstery pins, hooks, eyelets, cable- ties, springs, electrical tape, gaffer tape, rope, chain, wool, cotton thread, string, twine, liquid nails, mistinted house paint, acrylic, enamel, resin, nail-polish, found crocheted blankets, wigs, fabric remnants, used clothing, fringing, fairy lights, motorised disco ball, turntables, monitors, extension cords, power boards, water, found text, quotations, tyres, haybales, toilet paper, canned baked beans, water bottles, plastic tables, dildos, bicycle wheel, milk-crates, plastic play pool, aquarium water pumps, PVC piping, garden irrigation connections, toy xylophones, toy bells, toy tambourines, toy organs, metal bowls, feathers, stones, markers, pencils, plastic flowers, plastic toys, seashells, bottletops, sea- glass, found fragments of plastic, banksia pods, plastic beads, glass beds, wooden beads, sequins, rhinestones, glitter, second-hand and broken jewellery, smashed mirror fragments, glass tiles, broken crockery, aluminium cans, miscellaneous found objects ambient music and sound, and original music created on GarageBand.

JD Reforma Fibre optics; an intranet of virtue 2022

85 paintings installed on wall painting: synthetic polymer paint, coconut husk, archival acrylic binder
26.0 x 36.0 cm (each), overall installation dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and COMA, Sydney

Fibre optics; an intranet of virtue 2022 is a complex artwork that incorporates wall painting, text and symbolic materials within a hybrid installation. There is no single meaning for this artwork, instead there are multiple layered references that combine to allow numerous different, but interrelated, interpretations. 

The coconut plays significant material, symbolic and conceptual roles in this artwork. Reforma hand-felted raw coconut fibre to make the rough material for each of the eighty-five ‘canvases’ on which the red texts are painted. On a symbolic level, the artist chose the colours of the wall painting, chartreuse and brown, to represent the coconut in its young and mature stages of ripeness, respectively. Conceptually, the coconut functions as a way of pointing toward Reforma’s connection to his Filipinx identity. The Philippines is currently the largest global supplier of coconut products, directly contributing to many peoples’ livelihoods through employment, and so the coconut is a potent object through which to symbolise Filipinx identity. However, Reforma is equally interested in the coconut’s versatility – it can be made into oil, garden products, building materials, foods and cosmetics – and it often ‘loses’ its strong cultural associations through refining processes that abstract the fruit into almost unrecognisable substances. One way to interpret Reforma’s use of the coconut is as a complex material that allows him to construct critical commentary on contemporary identity politics, which can reduce individuals to overly-simple categories of race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. The title of the artwork plays on the word ‘fibre’, as the material of both the coconut and digital communications, but also the ‘optics’ of how we perceive one another through visual cues and symbolic associations.

 Discussion questions:

  • How is this artwork similar or different to a traditional painting? Think of three reasons for each point of view.
  • How does the material used – coconut fibre – add to the meaning of the texts that are painted on it? How would your interpretation differ if the artist had used traditional canvas instead?
  • Which three aphorisms included in the artwork resonate most with you, and why?

Support Material

Betty Muffler:

JD Reforma:

Nadia Hernández:

The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions:

  • INTERPRET: Like a Wheel That Turns: The 2022 Macfarlane Commissions wall labels 




For Teachers

Primary activities

Reoriented painting

This activity responds to Betty Muffler’s practice of painting her canvas flat on her studio floor instead of the more traditional approach of fixing to a wall or easel. For her painting Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2022  in Like a Wheel That Turns Muffler laid out a large canvas horizontally and walked across it and sat down on it in different places to complete the painting. This allowed her an ease of movement and access to different areas of the canvas that she would not have had the canvas been fixed vertically. In this activity, students will experiment with how, as artists, their embodied orientation to their artwork can affect the way they create. 

First, choose your painting support – it could be paper, cardboard or canvas and you can use whichever media is available. Choose what you will paint, the subject matter is up to you – we are focusing on the process, so you can create an abstract or representational painting whatever you like! Lay your support on the floor and paint for ten minutes. Then, stop and change your orientation to your painting by 90° clockwise, so you face the next edge to the right. Paint in this position for another ten minutes. Repeat the process twice, until you finish up back where you started. 


Take some time for reflection. How did shifting your position every ten minutes change the way you painted? Have you changed your mind about which way-up your artwork should be exhibited? And, if you are used to using a wall or easel, did working on the floor change the way you painted?

Australian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Years F-6

  • Explore ideas and artworks from different cultures and times, including artwork by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, to use as inspiration for their own representations (ACAVAM110)
  • Use materials, techniques and processes to explore visual conventions when making artworks (ACAVAM111)
  • Plan the display of artworks to enhance their meaning for an audience (ACAVAM116)

Victorian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Levels F-6

  • Explore ideas and artworks from different cultures and times as inspiration to create visual artworks (VCAVAE025)
  • Explore visual conventions and use materials, techniques, technologies and processes specific to particular art forms, and to make artworks (VCAVAV026)
  • Create and display artwork considering how ideas can be expressed to an audience (VCAVAP031)

Curriculum Interpretation

This activity is devised in response to Betty Muffler’s artwork Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2022

By undertaking these activities, students:

  • Experiment with embodied approaches to art making.
  • Select and experiment with new approaches to process, composition and technical execution.
  • Consider how an artists’ working methods contribute to the aesthetic qualities of their artworks.
  • Analyse how an artwork develops during the process of its making in ways that were not necessarily foreseen by the artist.

Secondary activities

Painting with found materials from the environment

This activity responds to JD Reforma’s use of coconut in his practice, as something that is both conceptually important and materially useful. For his paintings in Like a Wheel That Turns Reforma felted raw coconut fibre into a rough cloth and used it in place of traditional canvas. Because the material is highly recognisable as coconut fibre, associations with coconut as a material with cultural and economic value bring layers of meaning to Reforma’s artworks. In this activity, students will experiment with using a non-traditional material of their choice as a surface for a painting.

First, investigate your school environment and collect samples of bark, discarded fabric, off-cuts from building materials or anything else that you think could be a good substrate (another word for an underlying surface or layer) for a painting. In this activity, it is up to you what you paint on your found material. What you should focus on is the meaning or associations that your material will bring to your artwork. For example, if your material was eucalyptus bark a viewer might think about the Australian landscape and environment. In contrast, if your material was discarded plastic wrapping, a viewer might think about wastage and the problem of our society’s heavy reliance on plastics, which are a non-renewable resource. How might these associations combine with subject matter in interesting ways? 


Once you have completed your painting, write a short text explaining the meaning that your found material has brought to the subject matter of your painting.

Australian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Years 7-10

  • Develop ways to enhance their intentions as artists through exploration of how artists use materials, techniques, technologies and processes (ACAVAM119)
  • Experiment with visual arts conventions and techniques, including exploration of techniques used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, to represent a theme, concept or idea in their artwork (ACAVAM118)
  • Evaluate how representations communicate artistic intentions in artworks they make and view to inform their future art making (ACAVAR130)


Victorian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Levels 7-10

  • Create and display artworks, describing how ideas are expressed to an audience (VCAVAP037)
  • Select and manipulate materials, techniques, and technologies and processes in a range of art forms to express ideas, concepts and themes (VCAVAV042)
  • Explore how artists manipulate materials, techniques, technologies and processes to develop and express their intentions in art works (VCAVAE041)

Curriculum Interpretation

This activity is devised in response to JD Reforma’s artwork Fibre optics; an intranet of virtue 2022.

By undertaking this activity, students:

  • Experiment with non-traditional painting media.
  • Select materials from their immediate environment with consideration to the environmental impact of materials.
  • Consider the possibilities of recycling discarded and natural materials in their artwork, and the meaning associated with such actions.
  • Develop knowledge about how and why artists can select non-traditional art materials to bring inherent meaning to their artworks.

Terms of Use

This education resource has been produced by ACCA Education to provide information and classroom support material for education visits to the exhibition Feedback Loops. The reproduction and communication of this resource is permitted for educational purposes only.

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