In Absence

Edition Office and Yhonnie Scarce

In Absence is the fifth annual National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) Architecture Commission, and invites audiences to better understand the fallacy and ongoing legacy of the premise of Terra Nullius, which declared Australia as an emptiness awaiting ownership. It reveals and celebrates over 3,000 generations of Indigenous design, industry and agriculture.

The cylindrical form stands as a tall and proud monolith in the rear garden of the NGV, aligned with the Roy Grounds building, establishing a dialogue of two parallel histories. This dialogue of the two structures invites an awareness of how culture and history are interwoven within our architecture, and the lived experience included within this built heritage. The solid cylindrical form is broken with a central void or absence, providing an entry sequence that speaks to the false absence of Indigenous people, knowledge and culture.

Inside the split volume, a mirrored pair of sheltered chambers reference the interior of smoking trees and the physical scale and plan form of traditional Gunditjmara permanent stone and timber houses. They provide an intimate resting space to enable deep listening, truth telling, knowledge sharing and connection to country through the framed observation of sky.

The 1,600 handmade black glass Murnong (yam) which adorn the inner walls highlight a staple crop of Indigenous communities across much of Australia, managed and harvested for thousands of generations, and yet they appear simultaneously as anthropomorphic forms representing the body, Indigenous culture and tradition, cloaking the inner chambers with the spirit and resilience of 60,000 years of human presence and its connection to Country.

In Absence provides a social space in the purest sense; a public space to see and to listen to one another from across the voids that divide us. The work provides an opportunity to share stories and knowledge, and to enable a pathway to share difficult truths about the Nation’s past. The project seeks to initiate a conversation about whose histories matter, and who’s stories and experiences are included within the creation of the built environment that shapes our lives.

Lighting: Unonovesette, Nocturnal (Light Project). Finishes: WOCA. Fittings & Fixtures: Scent Australia.

Photography: Ben Hosking