first forms (2020)



A multi-screen installation exploring cyanobacteria, the single-celled life form that created the conditions for complex life. An Experimenta Commission.


2020, Media: 6 channel video installation, with sound. Dimensions variable. Video stills. Image courtesy of the artist.

first forms is a multi-screen installation exploring cyanobacteria, the single-celled life form that created the conditions for complex life to arise on earth 800 million years ago.

Dominic Redfern’s practice is engaged with urban waterways, and the investigation of the relationship between human and non-human histories. Continuing to work with water but taking a deep dive into pre-history, first forms stretches  beyond human life and toward the history of all multi-celled life forms. Cyanobacteria, when left to their own devices, slowly build-up sedimentary forms known as stromatolites – often referred to as ‘living fossils’. Formerly covering large areas of the planet, with the rise of grazing herbivores who devoured  cyanobacteria, they have become restricted to highly saline environments beyond the threat of predators. Australia, is one of the few places on earth where stromatolites can still be seen in the environment.

The installation combines location recordings of the stromatolites of Lake Thetis and Shark Bay, Western Australia with a cosmological soundtrack that places these unique creatures at the centre of life. The footage climbs up the wall from the gallery floor, displayed across a series of six screens. The multiple screens are suggestive of stepping-stones, or building blocks, harking to the evolutionary processes essential to the formation of multi-celled organisms. Collectively, they act as pieces to the puzzle to explain life’s originary source. first forms presents an animated and tangible account of the pre-Cambrian stirrings of biological life on this planet, while offering us insights into the simple beauty of this very rare environment.

The artist acknowledges the support from: University of Western Australia Western Australian Department of Mines.


Dominic Redfern

Dja Dja Wurrung, Taungurung & Wurundjeri Country
Macedon Ranges, VIC, Australia


Dominic Redfern’s video practice addresses the entangled relationships between natural and social histories. He uses studies of plants, insects, microbes and human detritus to examine often overlooked elements of the environment illuminating important stories of how we are enmeshed within ecosystems.

Over the years his work has been exhibited at venues including the Havana Biennale; the CLIMARTE Festival; Ian Potter Museum; Tate Modern and Bristol’s FACT in the UK; Te Tuhi Centre, New Zealand; GOMA in Brisbane; Perth International Arts Festival and PICA; at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of New Art, Detroit, and Art in General in New York; Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo; at Alternative Space LOOP, Seoul, as well as Gallery Minami, Tokyo Wonder Site, Super Deluxe and Remo Gallery in Japan.
Dominic’s work has been supported by all three levels of government in Australia from various municipalities on up to the Australian Research Council as well the Australia Council for the Arts and state arts funding bodies.