press release

Mel O'Callaghan - Centre of the Centre
June 14–August 18, 2019

Artist talk: June 22, 5pm With Mel O’Callaghan, Sarina Basta, Alexie Glass-Kantor, and Alexandra Pedley

Centre of the Centre is a major new exhibition by artist Mel O’Callaghan that traces the origins of life and its regenerative forces through video, performance and sculpture. From inaccessible caves in northeastern Borneo to the depths of the ocean Mel O’Callaghan investigates extreme states of existence in environments where ritual and resistance are central pillars of transformation. By exploring the complexity of these environments, the artist seeks to better understand aspects of the human condition.

For this new commission, Mel O’Callaghan travels to two mythical landscapes: one located 4km down in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines. The film captures the planet’s core, via the hydrothermal vents that breathe out and propel gases, minerals and liquids into the oceans: the "Centre of the Centre of Marine Biodiversity" located in the Philippines. Here, life persists and resists despite radical temperature differences. These conditions sometimes coincide to produce the renewal and genesis of life itself.

Large-scale glass sculptures have been pushed to their material limits, bent and infused with a luminescent glow, altering the audience’s perception as they move around the architecture of the gallery. The sculptures double as ritual tools activated by participants performing choreographed breathing techniques.

A series of performances will be presented as part of the series LIVE! programmed by Le Confort Moderne and which will also take place at the other commissioning venues, Artspace and The University of Queensland Art Museum. Respire, Respire, is a performance work presented throughout the duration of the exhibition. The performance provokes altered states of consciousness through a choreography of breathing techniques, accompanied and guided by the sound of a harp. As the work develops, the performers breathe deeper and faster in order to reach a transformative trance-like state.

Mel O’Callaghan works with breath as a material form, accumulating and reverberating across video, performance and sculpture to invite a generous and empathetic form of resilience, re-generation and collective experience.

The film was produced with the support of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the US National Science Foundation, and particularly with Dr. Daniel Fornari who facilitated access to the under-sea environments necessary to make the film. The pilots, mentors and science team all contributed to capturing this rare footage from the Alvin submersible.

The breathing technique has been developed in collaboration with Sabine Rittner, from the Institute of Medical Psychology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Germany.

Curated by Sarina Basta for Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers; Alexie Glass-Kantor and Michelle Newton, for Artspace, Sydney; and Peta Rake, for The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane.

A catalogue for the exhibition will be released in October 2019, published by Artspace.

The development and presentation of Centre of the Centre is supported by the Fondation des Artistes; the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its funding and advisory body; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; US National Science Foundation. Commissioning Partners Andrew Cameron AM & Cathy Cameron, Peter Wilson & James Emmett; and Lead Supporter, Kronenberg Mais Wright.

Courtesy the artist; Galerie Allen, Paris; Kronenberg Mais Wright, Sydney; Galeria Belo-Galsterer, Lisbon.