Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre

Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre
Edited by Talia Linz and Michelle Newton
Artspace, Sydney

Mel O’Callaghan pushes the bounds of individual physical and psychological thresholds to provoke transformation, particularly altered states of consciousness. In her exploration of the human condition, she employs breath as a principle medium; transforming this intangible, bodily ritual into material form – amplified, rhythmic and resonating across installations comprising video, performance and sculpture.

‘Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre’ is the eponymous companion to a major solo exhibition co-commissioned by Artspace, Sydney; UQ Art Museum, Brisbane; and Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers, highlighting the practice of the Australian-born, Paris-based contemporary artist through projects created in the last ten years.


The publication features two essays by Daria de Beauvais, Senior Curator at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris and leading academic and writer, Professor Edward Scheer. Together they examine O’Callaghan’s studies into the application of breathing, ancient cultural practices, and remote (often unattainable) places, as well as crossing thresholds – exhibition spaces, objects, imagery, sound – and drawing us into abyssal depth; experiencing vertigos and trances. ‘Her desire is to try and understand the conditions for the arrival of life and, above all, of inner life,’ writes Scheer. ‘Beneath the centre of the centre, there is thus an ‘even deeper’. This something, which we need to reach, calls for an inner search, drawing on an imaginative potential that goes beyond the visible,’ states de Beauvais. The audience, submerged in a highly visceral experience – guided by our senses, imagination and memory – is encouraged to partake on their own journeys of self-discovery.

The publication also includes an in-depth discussion between Kathryn Weir, Director of the Madre Contemporary Art Museum, Naples, and anthropologist and writer Elizabeth A. Povinelli about O’Callaghan’s works, along with conversations between the artist and Dr Daniel J. Fornari, Emeritus Research Scholar in the Geology and Geophysics Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Artspace Executive Director, Alexie Glass-Kantor. Also, brief texts on works: Dangerous on-the-way (2017), To Hear With My Eyes (2017), Ensemble (2013), Ensemble (2016), Parade (2014), L’acte Gratuit (2016), En Masse (2015-19), Endgame (2012), To The End (2007), and The Fall (2004); written by Alexandra Pedley, Elyse Goldfinch, Juliana Engberg, Simeon Kronenberg, João Silvério, Dr Holly Arden, Peter Rake, Michelle Newton, Sabine Rittner, and Sarina Basta.

Extensively illustrated with in-situ photographs of all aforementioned works, as well as Centre of the Centre (2019) and Respire, Respire (2019); this book offers its readers a chance to participate; to breathe. And ‘identify an ecosystem that we are part of, a meeting point between us and others, a gesture that is both political and collective,’ says Scheer.