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Major Exhibition Reckons With History of the Eucalypt

May 4, 2021

Image: Timber Courts at the Technological Museum Sydney, now known as the Powerhouse Museum, in the late nineteenth century. Powerhouse Collection

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The Powerhouse has today announced the details of Eucalyptusdom, opening on 1 July 2021.

Eucalyptusdom will present over 400 objects from the Powerhouse Collection alongside 17 newly commissioned works by creative practitioners working across the fields of design, architecture, film, applied arts and performance. Artists presenting new work include Nicole Barakat and the Rohingya Women’s Development Organisation, Dean Cross, Julie Gough, First Nations Fashion and Design, Ashley Hay, Vera Hong, Jonathan Jones and Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM, Nicholas Mangan, Anna May Kirk, Luna Mrozik-Gawler, Jazz Money, Lucy Simpson, Yasmin Smith, Wukun Wanambi, Sera Waters, Damien Wright and Bonhula Yunupingu and Justine Youssef.

The exhibition has been designed collaboratively by Australian architect Richard Leplastrier AO, SJB architects, Jack Gillmer and Adam Haddow, and Vania Contreras, with an accompanying soundscape composed by Jane Sheldon and lighting design by Nick Schlieper.

Taking its title from a 1930s text by Edward F Swain, one of Australia’s earliest conservationists, Eucalyptusdom reckons with our cultural history and ever-changing relationship with the gum tree, from the relationship between eucalypts and Indigenous Australians, the significance in the Federation arts and crafts movement to the human impact on the eucalypt today. The exhibition will also reveal the Powerhouse Museum’s unique and longstanding relationship with the eucalypt.

Objects from the Powerhouse Collection will explore Australia’s iconic hardwoods and how their potential for use and exploitation came to be understood through economic botany, once at the heart of the Museum’s work. Rarely-seen items include: over 100 timber specimens dating from the 1800s; botanical illustrations from the mid-1880s; early glass-plate photographs from the 1890s and 80 unique eucalyptus oil specimens documenting the Museum’s early 20th century research into the phytochemical properties of eucalyptus oil.

Drawing on the Museum’s comprehensive design and applied arts collection, ceramics, furniture and a sledge made of spotted gum that went with Sir Douglas Mawson to Antarctica, Eucalyptusdom will also explore the eucalypt’s emergence as a symbol of Australian identity in post-federation Australia.

A new work, Witness by Trawlwoolway multidisciplinary artist Julie Gough is a series of video portraits of eucalypts who stand in the vicinity of sites of conflict and violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal people and colonists from the late 1700s to early 1800s.

Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones and Wiradjuri Elder, Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM’s untitled work (Dharramalin) will consider the element of mandang, or wood, which as a material has many significant Wiradjuri meanings, including the connection to the guardian ancestor Dharramalin, who is central to men’s initiation ceremonies.

A major work by Wukun Wanambi, Yolngu artist from Eastern Arnhem Land and a member of the Marrakulu clan, will highlight the cultural significance and ceremony attributed to the eucalypt. Emerging from one of the most ancient design forms on the continent, Wanambi’s larrakitj is an example of contemporary innovation of cultural and ancestral design practice.

Nicholas Mangan’s new work analyses the complex history of objects in the Powerhouse Collection through a film and large-scale sculptural installation of collection timber samples. The film captures the intricate grain and markings of timber while its broader structure questions their literal and figurative place within the Museum’s stores.

Master craftsmen Damien Wright and Bonhula Yungupingu, a member of the Gumatj clan of North East Arnhem Land, have worked together in cross-cultural collaboration centred around ancient red gum wood over several years. They will present three design works in the exhibition, derived from the Yolngu expression bala ga lili, or two-ways learning.

Newly-established organisation First Nations Fashion and Design will present a collection of nine wearable garments by First Nation Designers responding to and reflecting on endemic eucalyptus specimens. Under the creative direction of Grace Lillian Lee, the designers will draw upon the trees from their ancestral homelands and the stories, memories and knowledge associated with them.

The exhibition texts for Eucalyptusdom are replaced with a poetic writing commission from acclaimed author of Gum: The Story of Eucalypts and their Champions, Ashley Hay. Using techniques traditionally the domain of creative non-fiction – research, narrative, lyricism, reportage – the texts will create new points of intersection between the eucalypt and the collection. The texts will traverse the exhibition’s themes: the Burning of the Garden Palace, The Eucalyptographers, Applications and Demonstrations, Spectres and Sentinels, and Alchemy.

Powerhouse, Chief Executive Lisa Havilah said: “Beginning with the burning of the Garden Palace exhibition building in 1882, Eucalyptusdom explores the interwoven histories of the Powerhouse and the eucalypt. This exhibition invites us to consider how our changing relationship to eucalypt reflects our ever-shifting comprehension of Country and place.”

Eucalyptusdom has been instigated by artist Agatha Gothe-Snape in her role as embedded artist at the Powerhouse and developed in collaboration with curators Nina Earl, Emily McDaniel and Sarah Rees.

A program of performances, talks and masterclasses will unpack the exhibition, exploring layered perspectives through First Nations artists, diverse creative practitioners and communities; investigating the realm of eucalypts through the complexity of place, arts, science and cultural heritage.

Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris St, Ultimo
Open 1 July 2021
MEDIA PREVIEW: 30 June 2021, 10am
Free entry, bookings essential


Sasha Haughan
0405 006 035

Kym Elphinstone
0421 106 139