2019 NGV Architecture Commission unveiled

Contemporary artist Yhonnie Scarce and Melbourne architecture studio Edition Office’s iteration of the National Gallery of Victoria Architecture Commission, In Absencehas opened to the public.

The project is an architectural installation that invites audiences to better understand the long histories of Indigenous construction, design, industry and agriculture prior to the arrival of Europeans, including the permanent villages and dwellings of many Indigenous communities.

Aaron Roberts, Director of Edition Office notes: “We feel that this pavilion is a way of showing how [Indigenous Australian] stories can come through in architecture.”

“Importantly, too … this is not our story to tell. It’s the Indigenous community’s story to tell and we see this as a platform through which to do that.”

Entering the NGV’s Grollo Equiset Garden, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the dark, towering structure dramatically split by a fissure down the middle. “It’s not speaking to any Western, canonical tradition of architecture,” explains Kim Bridgland, Director of Edition Office. 

As such, In Absence embodies its own architectural language, starting with its spatial arrangement. Inside, two internal voids are adorned with hundreds of black glass Yams by Yhonnie Scarce – which capture rays of light and encourage the viewer to look upwards to the sky. It’s a meditative, intimate experience that feels entirely removed from the city outside; it’s an invitation to contemplate Australia’s Indigenous past, present and future.

Yhonnie Scarce, who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples of South Australia, reflects on the process of creating the 2019 commission: “Kim and Aaron have been wonderful to work with. It’s been quite a close working relationship. I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself as an Aboriginal person to work with an architecture office … wanting to acknowledge and respect Aboriginal culture is very beautiful.”

The surrounding landscape is composed of wallaby grass, kangaroo grass and murnongs – native Victorian species known as agricultural crops cultivated by Indigenous communities. Kim elaborates: “For Aaron and I, reading texts like … Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu they were works that completely flipped what I was taught in terms of … Australia’s Indigenous history.”

So steeped in history and meaning, there’s much that can (and likely will) be written about In Absence – but being in its presence will prove that it speaks for itself.

The NGV Architecture Commission 2019 will be on display at NGV International from November 2019. Entry is FREE.

For more information about the NGV Architecture Commission, visit NGV.MELBOURNE.

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