Fashion and Design


Pure gold: the winners of the Melbourne Design Week Award.

9 June 2020

Each year, the NGV selects a standout exhibition from Melbourne Design Week for a prestigious award. Though the festival was cut short this year, collaborators Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov have just been recognised for their thought-provoking film Aurum.

Fashion and Design


Pure gold: the winners of the Melbourne Design Week Award.

9 June 2020

Each year, the NGV selects a standout exhibition from Melbourne Design Week for a prestigious award. Though the festival was cut short this year, collaborators Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov have just been recognised for their thought-provoking film Aurum.

Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov standing in front of a gold wall

The winners of the 2020 Melbourne Design Week Award, Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov. Image: Supplied.

When Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov conceived their short film, Aurum, for Melbourne Design Week, they weren't thinking about awards. Their goal was to explore society’s complex relationship with gold through the ages – namely how much we rely on it, and how much it has shaped modern life in Victoria.

But their creative response to the Melbourne Design Week theme ‘How does design shape life?’ resonated with NGV curators Timothy Moore, Ewan McEoin and Simone LeAmon – and they have been named the winners of the 2020 Melbourne Design Week Award.

“We feel really grateful that the National Gallery has acknowledged not only our work, but also the fact that the arts is a really valuable component of storytelling, and that we’re dealing with globally important conversations,” says Nowak, in response to the win. “We’re honoured to be a part of that.”

The start of a creative partnership

Nowak, an architect by trade, first approached director and cinematographer Perepletchikov last year about a potential collaboration project.

Nowak had been working as an architect for over a decade, and was fascinated by some of the larger conversations that were coming up in her work. "When you’re working in practice, you’re often dealing with broader issues associated with the architecture that you’re working on,” she says. “For example, you have to consider things from a conceptual point of view to fit in with city planning, and you often work on sites with contested histories. There are always these conversions that come up in terms of what it means to build structure and what it means to build in a particular landscape.”

After going into teaching at Monash University, where she had the space and resources to indulge her passion for these areas, Nowak started to consider other ways that she could investigate these issues.

“I found that some of the research I was doing didn’t necessarily need to live in the written word, so it became about how that research could be visualised in a different format, like video, sculpture and photography.”

“That’s where Eugene and I started,” she says. “The initial project we worked on was a critique of an issue in the architecture industry – the dissociation between the extraction of a material and its use. As an architect, you sit behind a desk and order materials without necessarily understanding their full life cycles.”  

Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov

Nowak and Perepletchikov impressed NGV judges with their insightful film on society’s relationship with gold. Image: Supplied.

Creating abstract stories

That film, Basalt, explored how bluestone has been used as a building material in Victoria since pre-European times. It made its debut at Melbourne Design Week in 2019.

“It proved to be a great success, and everyone was super interested in this approach of studying local history through the history of a single material,” Perepletchikov recalls. “We were encouraged to continue this line of research, and gold just seemed to be an incredibly relevant material to delve into next, given its significance in Victoria.”

The pair were initially fascinated by the Victorian gold rush and the obsession it provoked, but soon found themselves drawn into the mythology surrounding gold, plus its importance in the modern-day economy and its use as a material in everyday electronic devices. “Gold has been a huge influence on civilisations and societies since ancient times,” says Perepletchikov. “There’s just this incredible depth of history.”

The artists enlisted Nic Lowe, an author from Castlemaine, to write an abstract narrative for the film that looks at different moments in time. “A new gold mine is about to pop up right outside his house, so he was writing the script for us while watching the drilling happening from his window,” Perepletchikov says. “It really drives home how relevant the film is for a lot of Victorians. Operations are actually starting on old gold mines again.”

When asked if they will keep going down this thematic road, and focus on more building materials in the future, both artists had to laugh.

"Eugene calls me the rock nerd," Nowak jokes. "I’m finding it a really interesting framework to be able to understand history.”

“I think it's a great way to connect people to the places and materials around them,” Perepletchikov adds. “And that deeper understanding will become increasingly important if we’re going to change the way we relate to the planet and use materials in a more sustainable way.”

Aurum will screen during an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria later in 2020. Visit the NGV website for updates.

Mercedes-Benz Melbourne Design Week Award Winner: Aurum 2020
Mercedes-Benz Melbourne Design Week Award Winner: Aurum 2020
Watch again

By Emily Tatti