Mikala Dwyer


Mikala Dwyer, The Additions and Subtractions, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

In the past few years, work by the Sydney-based artist Mikala Dwyer has shifted away from its feminist, post-punk inclinations and toward a focus on the occult. Here, Dwyer discusses her two current exhibitions, “Panto Collapsar” at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, which is on view until March 31, and “Drawing Down the Moon” at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art (IMA). The latter is the first major survey of her “paranormal” works and can be visited until April 14, 2012.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED in exploring an “extra space,” something between two traditional spaces, like an extra dimension or an extra language. That’s why the objects in my installation are almost irrelevant, even though there seems to be a huge amount of attention placed on them. I always show a lot of stuff—I sent three truckloads of junk up to the IMA. It included works and precious things packaged in bubble wrap, but to me it’s all just material to start building another situation that aims to open up that extra space. I’m also interested in how memory functions in my work; subsequently I’ve used the same matter and materials again and again. Over time, those materials become possessed in a way—like a ghost possessing magnetic tape or an object.

There’s an organizational aspect to the occult that I don’t find in other things. Tarot cards, palm readings, and séances are all kinds of tools; they articulate or frame voids, and what occurs in those voids keeps me on edge—they offer the poetic possibility that just maybe something will appear. Those organizing systems often take the form of a circle, which is a tight form of geometry, a completely closed system—a psychic fortress that can hold together disparate thoughts and objects. I often use circles for exactly this reason, as holding patterns—ways of shaping thoughts, creating taxonomies of things that temporarily hold against loss. I make one or two circle works a year, and even though each one is always very different, they’re usually called The Additions and Subtractions. I always try to build them so they’re very specific to the time and space in which they sit.

A good example is the one I recently made in Dublin. I wanted to do something with gold and started with the idea of a kind of reverse alchemy—turning a precious material back into base matter. It was a play on gold’s recent economic power: As you watch the price of gold going up, you can sometimes see economies going down. While this has been the case in Ireland, I was also interested in the archaeology and mythology of gold in Dublin—the extraordinary collections found in the bogs and so on. It also relates to my mother’s background; she was a silversmith, and in a way, I was drawn to that material because of her.

I think there’s always been an inherent violence in my work, or at least a vulnerability that infers a kind of violence. In 2010, I had a residency on Sydney’s Cockatoo Island, which once housed a prison and later became a place where “wayward girls” were interned. I grew up near that island, and being there for six months made me more acutely aware of the history of violence in Australia. Australians are really the jailers and the jailed, the cops and the convicts, and that mentality is deep in our psyches—we’re haunted by it. Brisbane, for example, is a very edgy place: It’s a tropical wonderland, beautiful and fertile, but there’s also a down-and-out violence to it. Maybe it’s the heat that drives up the crime rate. So it’s an interesting place to have a survey show. I have so much junk, so much history, that sometimes I just want a can of petrol and a match. The IMA exhibition is a good way to process a lot of the stuff I’ve done recently, but also to get rid of it, so I can start something new.

— As told to Anthony Byrt