27 Sep 2019 — 16 Nov 2019


VENUE: 2019 - UNSW Galleries, Art and Design Campus, Paddington

How do you imagine the future when you can’t see it? Edge of the Present melds art with science to create an immersive VR environment that literally cultivates the capacity for future thinking.

The Big Anxiety Commission – World Premiere in 2019.


Edge of the Present is a ‘mixed reality’ (virtual and physical) environment designed to cultivate future thinking. Inspired by neuropsychological research into the workings of memory and imagination, and made in collaboration with psychologists, mental health specialists and participants with lived experiences of suicide survival, this compelling immersive experience invites us to ‘invent the next ten minutes’ – something that is a challenge when we find ourselves inhabiting the ‘edge of the present’.

The participatory installation is comprised of rooms that visitors navigate while wearing virtual reality displays. Architectural features and objects in the environment correspond with forms in the virtual world, which have the capacity to dynamically evolve as the user progresses through physical space and the story. By using technology in this novel way, the installation helps viewers to better engage with the present moment – and hence with the future – with openness, curiosity, and confidence.

Installation by Alex Davies, based on original research and concepts by JR Brennan and Alex Davies, in association with Alessandro Donagh De Marchi, Faisal Sayani, and Artist/Psychologist Michaela Davies.

How to engage

Edge of the Present is designed as an enjoyable sensory experience for all audiences (bookings recommended).

Additionally, for people with lived experience of suicidal thoughts, UNSW/Black Dog Institute organised additional programs and a research study.


The installation project is developed from collaborative ARC-funded research led by Jill Bennett and Alex Davies. Development was supported by the NSW Government, Department of Mental Health, and the Australian Research Council.

It premiered in Sydney in The Big Anxiety, 2019 with an engagement program by the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention at the Black Dog Institute, supervised by Katherine Boydell.

Results from this are published in Edge of the Present: A Virtual Reality Tool to Cultivate Future Thinking, Positive Mood and Wellbeing  in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Vol 18/Issue 1 by Stephanie Habak, Jill Bennett, Alex Davies, Michaela Davies, Helen Christensen, Katherine M. Boydell


Lead Artist: Alex Davies

Artist/Psychologist: Michaela Davies

Programming: Patrick Younis

Technical Consultant: Soma CG

Construction: Feather Edge

First Phase Research

Lead Artists: JR Brennan and Alex Davies

Artist: Ashley Dyer

Programming: S1T2

Collaborators: Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi and Faisal Sayani

Engagement program: Stephanie Habak, Katherine Boydell

Executive Producer: Jill Bennett

Edge of the Present: A Virtual Reality Tool to Cultivate Future Thinking, Positive Mood and Wellbeing  in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Vol 18/Issue 1 by Stephanie Habak, Jill Bennett, Alex Davies, Michaela Davies, Helen Christensen, Katherine M. Boydell.

Edge of the Present features at 1:06 in this SBS documentary Osher Günsberg: A Matter of Life and Death. Osher investigates how innovative thinking, and new science and technology could help prevent suicide, while examining why suicide rates remain high in Australia and reflecting on his own mental health issues.


Artist Biography

Alex Davies

Alex Davies is an award winning Australian media artist whose practice spans a diverse range of media and experiments with interaction, technology, perception, mixed reality and illusion. In 2013 he was awarded a PhD in Media Arts at the UNSW College of Fine Arts examining the relationship between the techniques of stage magic and the creation of illusion in media arts. He is a Scientia Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Media Arts at UNSW Australia Art & Design and has exhibited widely in Australia and internationally. He is the recipient of Qantas Foundation Contemporary Australian Art Award, UNSW Scientia Fellowship, Creative Australia Fellowship and has received numerous grants from the Australia Council’s Inter-Arts, Music, Visual Arts, and New Media Boards.

Michaela Davies

Michaela Davies Phd(Psych), MA(Psych), BA(Psych)Hons combines arts/performance and clinical practice, to offer a non-judgmental and supportive environment where clients can feel safe to address whatever challenges they are facing. Using evidence-based treatment, she tailors therapy to the particular needs and experiences of each individual and creates a supportive collaborative partnership between herself and her clients

James Brennan

J R Brennan is a director, performer and composer based in Hobart. In recent years his practice has interrogated ideas of crime and virtue. His work is research led and often performed in site-specific locations. He has presented original theatrical, musical and live art works in Australia, Finland, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, Poland, The United States and Brasil. Currently James is producing a series of performance and video works that draw on the auto-ethnographic research collected and observed in his role as a parole officer in Long Bay Prison, Sydney and his ongoing work in experimental theatre in Australia and Europe. These projects have been developed in partnership with Arts House, Monash University and Bialoleka Prison, Poland. Since graduating from VCA School of Drama, James has worked and trained with Teatro Vertigem, Brasil; Wooster Group (USA), Deborah Hay (USA), Zapaleni.org (Poland), Gardzienice (Poland), where he was company member between for three years. His most recent work The Chat (winner Green Room Awards for Best Male Performer) is a new contemporary performance work created and performed by artists and ex-offenders.

Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi

Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi is nearing the end of his Bachelor degree in Psychological Science. He has spent many years acting as a mental health ambassador and advocate, both within his community and across Australia, through his work with headspace, The Primary Health Network (PHN), Lifeline, and more. In 2015 Alessandro was nominated to be a part of the headspace Youth National Reference Group (hYNRG). Through Lifeline, Alessandro is also a member of the Suicide Prevention Network. in 2016 he worked to inform mental health related policy by collaborating with the Mental Health Commission, the PHN, former Health Minister Sussan Ley and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Alessandro has worked with local schools and youth organisations, using his own lived experience of depression, anxiety, and suicide to connect young people with service access points. In 2017 Alessandro was Festival Ambassador for The Big Anxiety, and currently he continues his work with mental health through the South West Sydney Primary Health Network.

Ashley Dyer

Ashley Dyer is a performance maker, workshop facilitator and producer. His interdisciplinary practice extends across more traditional art forms, often integrating tools from dance, new music, visual art, and performance. Recently, he devised and/or led artistic processes with some of the most marginalized people: former and currently serving criminal offenders (JR Brennan’s The Chat, in Australia) and victims of human trafficking (SK!N, in Malaysia). In each case contemporary, sometimes experimental artistic processes were balanced with progressive social outcomes.  Internationally, he has been invited to teach master classes at the Centre for Performance Research (Wales), The Gothenburg Academy of Music and Drama, and The Grotowski Institute, Poland.

Faisal Sayani

Faisal is a filmmaker and former journalist in Pakistan. He is now a freelance journalist, with a history of working in the broadcast media industry. He holds a Master of Research focused in Creative Writing & Literary Studies from Western Sydney University. His work is informed by his experience of depression and is concerned with global politics, issues facing Muslim and minority populations, and the effects of censorship by government systems on artists and political opposition.