In Absence won the 2019 National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) Architecture Commission and is taking the form of a split cylindrical tower that invites curiosity, literally and physically, providing space within to explore and seek out unheard narratives of Australia’s colonial histories.
What the work enquires is this duality of contemporary history — where archives and opinionmay not align with the truths. The artwork, at its core, invites the audience to consider how artists and architects can provoke a re-envisioning of colonial history in Australia.
Yhonnie Scarce has collaborated with Melbourne-based Edition Office for In Absence which will stand tall in the NGV’s Grollo Equiset Garden. For 2019 the gallery encouraged artists and architects “to submit ideas focusing on multidisciplinary thinking, collaboration and audience engagement”; and in doing so, the architecture will become a space for cultural exchange.
The architecture of the artwork recognises that Australia had builders before Europeans came to the country — including a long line of indigenous construction, design, industry and agriculture. Scarce invites the audience to think in-depth about these contemporary considerations, ones that reverberate from the cultural displacement of her people.
A tall, dark design splits in the middle, posing visual questions for an alternative history whileacknowledging those who survived in memoriam to bygone times. The on-going treatment ofAboriginal people in Australia is at the fore-front of Scarce’s artworks.
In Absence will take form as a timber tower, with two internal voids, internally adorned with Scarce’s iconic black glass yams. Edition Office aim to reignite cultural motifs of remembering and have previously worked with Aboriginal artists to envision this. Including Daniel Boyd for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers at the Australian War Memorial, For Our Country.
Director Kim Bridgland shares, “the idea that there was no existing culture is preposterous.” The architecture they have designed will echo “traditional eel traps and smoking trees used to preserve fish and other foods.” And, throughout the commission exhibition, the structure will extend out from a physical space with a public program of events for local knowledge sharing.
After visiting the NGV, walk to Ponyfish Island (open late) for a cocktail on a floating river island at the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge, or check out Blondie Bar for French Asian cuisine on the corner of Southbank Boulevard and Sturt Street.