New exhibition dives deep into the origins of life at UQ Art Museum

Mel O’Callaghan, Centre of the Centre 2019, digital still, courtesy the ar

Mel O’Callaghan, Centre of the Centre 2019, digital still, courtesy the artist and Kronenberg Mais Wright, Sydney; Galerie Allen, Paris; Belo-Galsterer, Lisbon

A major exhibition by Paris-based Australian artist Mel O’Callaghan, will open at UQ Art Museum on 22 February 2020.

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’.

UQ Art Museum Senior Curator Peta Rake said that presenting a solo exhibition at this scale provided opportunities for in-depth conversations into the context of the artwork and the artist’s practice.

“To create this body of work, O’Callaghan has engaged some of the world’s leading scientists,” she said.

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.

The artist has translated these investigations into an immersive exhibition experience that features a large-scale video work, accompanied by glass sculptural forms that interweave with choreographed performances.

The Senior Curator said the Art Museum was honoured to co-commission the project, along with Artspace and Confort Moderne.

“At UQ we’re uniquely positioned to tease out conversations with our colleagues in a number of fields, such as earth and marine sciences, robotics, and philosophy, among others,” she said.

“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.

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

Centre of the Centre is co-commissioned by Artspace, Sydney, The University of Queensland Art Museum, and Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers. It will be toured by Museums and Galleries New South Wales from 2021.

The exhibition will run from 22 February until 4 July.

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