Mikala Dwyer, Captain Thunderbolt´s Sisters - Videostill, 2010 J. Williams & M. Dwyer, Photo Credit: Kelly Doley
Hamish Morrison Galerie is delighted to present a new exhibition by Mikala Dwyer. This is her second solo show with the gallery, and follows on from major installations at this year's Sydney and Adelaide Biennales.
For several years now, Dwyer has been interested in the occult, creating pieces in which, for example, palm readers ply their trade, or circles of strange objects become loaded with witchy resonance. The current installation raises her interest in magic and parallel worlds to new levels. Using all her signature materials, she creates a compound that takes us across boundaries of time, space and geography.
The central structure of Square Cloud Compound is created from squares of coloured fabric, a floppy Constructivist enclosure held up by stockings stretched to breaking point. The prison-striped poles that stretch the stockings play several different roles - all at once lampposts, totems, and gallows. But they also add a creepy human presence to the installation, like capricious guards engaged in an act of stretchy torture.
These references to prisons aren't accidental: Dwyer was recently commissioned to produce a major installation on Cockatoo Island, one of the main sites of this year's Sydney Biennale, and the former site of a prison. The connections with her biennale work become even clearer in two videos made in collaboration with Justene Williams. In one, two women dressed in prison stripes clamber around the walls of a circular bomb shelter on Cockatoo Island, banging metal fixings with hammers. In the other, the same women, this time clothed in post-punk glitz, crawl around the cave where Dwyer's piece for the Sydney Biennale is installed. Both videos have a surreal edge. They also pay a kind of clunky homage to Constructivism's vision of the future. But, perhaps most importantly of all, they also refer to the loaded history of Cockatoo Island: not just its status as a former prison, but also its later incarnation as a reform school for wayward girls, many of whom were brutalised by their island guards.
As well as summoning up these ghosts of Sydney's past, Dwyer commits another act of magic. She creates a mylar platform that floats around the gallery, a levitating world lifted by a completely different type of compound: helium gas, which fills balloons shaped like zeros - shapes which simultaneously resonate as circles, holes, escape routes, or new beginnings.
Full of uncertainties and contradictions, Dwyer's complex installations never lend themselves to definitive interpretations. Her work has been described as "profoundly sociable"; she asks viewers to come in, participate, and find their own meanings. She sets up open-ended conversations that draw our attention to the unseen - to invisible materials like helium or the voids between her forms, but also to hidden histories and our own highly personal relationships with magic, memory, sexuality and ritual. While playful and exuberant on their surfaces, her works almost always have something darker beneath the surface. The question Dwyer asks us is whether we're prepared to dig for it.
For more than twenty years, Mikala Dwyer has pushed the limits of installation, sculpture and performance, establishing herself as one of Australia's most important contemporary artists. She has had solo shows at major institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. She has also participated in the Sydney and Adelaide Biennales. She was included in Face up: Contemporary Art from Australia at Hamburger Bahnhof in 2003, and Verso Süd at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in 2000, curated by Franz West. She has had several residencies, including at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 200 Gertrude Street, Melbourne and Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff. She has received numerous scholarships, grants and awards, and her work is held in public collections throughout Australia and New Zealand.