Monday, October 12, 2009

Callum Morton's Valhalla

Callum Morton’s walk-through sculpture work Valhalla is installed outside the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne until 24 October. It was originally commissioned for the 2007 Venice Biennale and the current installation is its first in Australia.

The piece is a three-quarter scale model inspired by a house designed by Morton’s architect father. The outside of the two-story building is derelict, grey and vandalised, the windows are boarded up. But when you go up the steps and enter you find yourself in the shiny, tiled interior of a lift-foyer of the type that occurs in contemporary office and apartment blocks around the world. It is spotlessly clean. The cleaner’s bucket and mop sit in a corner.

Located on a busy thoroughfare in central Melbourne, the exhibition attracts its fair share of tourists, lunchtime strollers and visitors to the nearby National Gallery of Victoria.

It is a work that moves the artistic experience into the heart of the viewer. The three-quarter scale is disconcerting as you stand in front of the three faceless and soulless elevator openings wondering if they are going to open. Morton’s work is superficially simple and uncomplicated. You soon realise that the drama takes place in your own reaction to the space, not in the space and the building itself. As you stand there, uncomfortably close to the ceiling you notice the confused reactions of your anonymous companions. The grungy exterior of the building has led you to expect some sort of hard-hitting commentary on this or that aspect of contemporary life. But the piece is anything but didactic. The rumbling noises emanating from the bowels of the building are portentous. But the terror never materialises. Except in our inner-most fears.

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