Submitted Review

‘The show does not shy from contradiction.’


  • Newcastle Art Gallery • New South Wales

  • 12 February—17 April 2021

  • Erin McFadyen • Published 16 February 2021

On Void’s opening day at the Newcastle Art Gallery, curator Emily McDaniels shared that she’d been percolating the project for some eight years. Perhaps this long gestation has something to do with the — ironic — conceptual breadth of the show.

Here, the void is imagined as anything but lack. Rather, we have it as a pluralistic conceptual ground, through which artists think their relations with Country, in the country we now call Australia.

The void can be historical; in James Tylor’s photographic images, with their obstinate refusal to give all of their information away, we see reflected the effects of colonial violence upon historical memory and the archive. The void can be temporal; Pepai Jangala Carroll’s Yumari (2018) emerges from the artist’s return, after 40 years, to the Country of his father and grandmother. The void can be about unknowing, or about a refusal to disclose information. Hayley Millar-Baker’s Meeyn Meerreeng (Country at Night) (2017) encloses 71 rocks in black varnish, concealing their stories from the audience, and keeping threatened Country and culture safe.

It’s refreshing, on territory which can tend toward the esoteric, to also see work which engages with the notion of the void in a more forwardly formal manner. Jonathan Jones’s video work dhawin-dyuray (axe-having) (2015) has us walk the void between two screens, while Josephine and Jennifer Wurrukidj’s Mimih spirt carvings picture creatures which reside in rock crevices in Western Arnhem Land.

The show does not shy from contradiction. There are intrinsic difficulties in working a travelling exhibition in a way which directly engages with the Country it is on each time it moves. So too, is the museum an historical site of colonial violence, and this is a show which certainly uses the master
’s tools — in a way possibly more interesting than simply refusing them would have been. Void doesn’t dismantle the master’s house so much as compellingly exploring the losses, ambiguities, and possibilities in its ‘empty’ spaces.

Erin McFadyen

Artists including Pepai Jangala Carroll, Jonathan Jones, Mabel Juli, John Mawurndjul AM, Hayley Millar-Baker, Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Mr R Peters, Doreen Reid Nakamarra, Andy Snelgar, Dr. Thancoupie Gloria Fletcher AO, Freddie Timms, James Tylor, Jennifer Wurrkidj, and Josephine Wurrkidj.
Image 1: James Tylor. Image 2: John Mawurndjul. Image 3: Hayley Millar Baker. Image 4: Mabel Juli.