Every couple of years the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s director, Juliana Engberg, programs a show by an Australian artist deemed to be highly influential. This year she has invited Sydney-based sculptor, installation and performance artist Mikala Dwyer.
Over a career spanning more than 20 years Dwyer has had major solo shows at institutions in Sydney, Brisbane and Wellington and represented Australia at many international showcases. She emerged during the 1980s ‘grunge art’ scene alongside artists including Adam Cullen and Hany Armanious, and became known for pushing the parameters of sculpture and installation. Her playful works often utilise soft materials such as fabric, clay and plastic, often in seemingly chaotic ways.
“Things are quite bodily in her work,” explains co-curator Hannah Mathews. ‘Things have a floppiness, or a visceral nature. Space and architecture are also important. And more recently, there’s the idea of ritual. It’s not easy to summarise her work, and that’s actually what makes her a significant artist. She defies categorisation.”
The new exhibition is called Goldene Bend’er – a three-part show featuring brand-new works on themes of alchemy, occultism and mysticism. The first room features a large-scale wall painting of concentric circles. Titled ‘Spell for Corner’, it responds to the ACCA’s architecture, which is largely devoid of 90-dedree corners. “It’s trying to summon up a corner from a very corner-less building,” the artist tells Time Out.
The second room features ‘Goldene Bend’er,’ a projection of a filmed performance by contemporary dance company BalletLab. The dancers wear golden costumes and headpieces designed by Dwyer. “The dance piece is a brand-new work using five or six dancers, and the choreography is very ordinary, internal and minimal,” Dwyer says. For the exhibition’s opening, BalletLab dancers will make a live appearance.
The final room contains ‘Hollowwork (Ringing),’ an ode to the work of Dwyer’s silversmith mother, who gave her three rings some years ago. Dwyer has made three large sculptures that represent the rings, one from metal, one from ceramic and one from wood. “I’ve scaled them up and made them into a figurative height so they look a bit like portals, or like pelvic bones,” Dwyer explains.
The three rooms have been designed to take the viewer on a journey. Dwyer cites the influence of William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet who had a fascination with occult symbols, but is disarmingly modest about what Goldene Bend’er represents. “It’s a house that can keep all these kooky activities inside, and thoughts that don’t have a place elsewhere can come to roost in this place,” she says, adding with a laugh: “I may be poor, but I’m certainly not bored.”