In Absence: NGV Architecture Commission, National Gallery of Victoria

Yhonnie Scarce

15 Nov 2019 - 30 Apr 2020

Contemporary artist Yhonnie Scarce and Melbourne architecture studio Edition Office have been announced as the winners of the 2019 National Gallery of Victoria Architecture Commission for their scheme titled In Absence.

Yhonnie Scarce’s and Edition Offices’ project In Absence is an architectural installation that invites audiences to better understand the fallacy of the premise of Terra Nullius, which declared Australia as an emptiness awaiting ownership, by revealing and celebrating long histories of Indigenous construction, design, industry and agriculture, including the permanent villages and dwellings of many Indigenous communities.

The dark and enigmatic exterior form of the timber tower conceals a textural and uplifting interior, composed of two dramatic internal voids adorned with two thousand black glass Yams by Yhonnie Scarce.

The work “is a celebration and acknowledgement of the builders of infrastructure of Aboriginal people who have been around for thousands of years,” said artist Yhonnie Scarce, who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples of South Australia.

Aaron Roberts, director of architecture practice Edition Office, added, “In many ways, the project is a denial of terra nulius. It’s the idea of the colonization of Australia being based on a lie. We’re interested in the various industries, settlements and civilizations that were present here prior to colonization. The project seeks to celebrate those industries that have been forgotten in a way.”

The design of the installation is heavily influenced by the built structures and eel traps of Indigenous communities.

The void – “a moment of absence” – will be flanked by two vertical chambers made of black timber towers. Ash from a smoking ceremony will be mixed with a custom stain applied to the interior of the chambers. It will also feature thousands of black glass Yams made by Yhonnie Scarce, which will “appear to extrude and seep out from the cracks between the boards.”

Winner, In Absence, Small Building Award, Dezeen Awards
Winner, In Absence, Award for Small Project Architecture, 2020 National Architecture Awards, AU

Images courtesy of NGV, Photography by Benjamin Hosking