New exhibition dives deep into origins of life

A major exhibition by Paris-based Australian artist Mel O’Callaghan is now on display in Hyphen’s Artspace Gallery.

Centre of the Centre investigates breath as the central origin of life and as a vital function that connects humans at a cellular level.

The exhibition is inspired by a small mineral containing a tiny pocket of water, possibly millions of years old, which was gifted to the artist by her grandfather, renowned Australian-mineralogist Albert Chapman.

During 2018 and 2019 Mel O’Callaghan travelled to two underwater locations; the East Pacific Rise, located four kilometres deep in a submerged volcanic mountain range in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines – one of the world’s most productive and concentrated ecosystems in the world – dubbed the ‘centre of the centre.’

To create this body of work, O’Callaghan has engaged some of the world’s leading scientists. Filming deep underwater in a submersible vehicle called an ‘Alvin’ with the support of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the team observed microscopic ‘extremophiles’ – organisms that thrive in extreme environmental conditions.

The footage captured these organisms while moving in and out of gases from simultaneously freezing ocean temperatures and superheated hydrothermal vents.

O’Callaghan has translated these investigations into an immersive exhibition experience that features a large-scale video work, accompanied by glass forms that entwine a choreography of performance, breathing and sculpture.

Hyphen Curator Bronwen Garner says of the exhibition: “The Centre of the Centre is both poetic and political – using the gift from the artist’s grandfather as a jumping-off point, this exhibition navigates a range of personal and universal questions around the origins of life, the stewardship of our oceans, futures of collective engagement, and the performance practices within institutions.”

The exhibition will also feature the first significant publication dedicated to Mel O’Callaghan’s practice, along with a 20-minute performance Respire, Respire, shown as a special event for audiences at the January CoCreate event.

Performers will engage in cyclical, sound triggered breathing, a technique that can induce altered states of consciousness and trance.

Image: Mel O’Callaghan, Centre of the Centre, 2019, installation view, Artspace, Sydney, courtesy the artist and Kronenberg Mais Wright, Sydney; Galerie Allen, Paris; Belo-Galsterer, Lisbon. Photo: Zan Wimberley

Mel O’Callaghan’s Centre of the Centre was curated and developed by Artspace and is touring nationally with Museums & Galleries of NSW. Centre of the Centre is co-commissioned by Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers; Artspace, Sydney; and The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane. With Commissioning Partners Andrew Cameron AM & Cathy Cameron and Peter Wilson & James Emmett; and Lead Supporter, Kronenberg Mais Wright. The development and presentation of Centre of the Centre is supported by the Fondation des Artistes; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the US National Science Foundation. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

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