Symposium – The Australian Object: Material Culture in Context

Held Thursday 3 and Friday 4 October 2019, at the Cell Block Theatre, National Art School 

This two-day symposium, presented in partnership with the Power Institute, showcased new scholarly research on the material culture of Australia. It addressed the rich diversity of objects and the processes, knowledge, and meanings embedded therein. Our purpose was/is to revitalise the discourse on marginalised media and quotidian culture and bring scholars, artists, curators and collectors into productive dialogue. Focusing on making meaning through materials, this symposium reinforces the National Art School’s core emphasis on object-led art practices and histories.

Despite renewed interest in material culture, the conversation about objects often remains siloed in discrete disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, design history and museology. Building on the material turn in art history, this symposium aimed to explore productive interdisciplinary methodologies for engaging with Australian objects. In particular, our approach aims to draw into conversation objects that have been previously occluded in these discourses.

To prioritise the object and foster dialogue, each presentation is in the form of a 20-minute case study of an Australian object. Case studies address the object’s material and sensorial properties and the specific aesthetic frameworks through which it has acquired meaning and value, including how production, use, circulation and exchange has shaped the life of the object. Case studies may also consider how these objects connect with, undermine, or complicate notions of art, taste, authenticity, tradition, value, identity, and nationhood broadly defined.

SPEAKERS: Deborah Beck, Alisa Bunbury, Anita Callaway, Mark de Vitis, Molly Duggins, Fiona Foley, Shannon Foster, Stephen Gilchrist, Michael Hill, Alison Inglis, Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy, Jonathan Jones, Lorraine Kypiotis, Greg Lehman, Maria Nugent, Holly Schulte and Priya Vaughan.

Presented by the National Art School in partnership with the Power Institute



Day One: Thursday 3 October 2019


Maria Nugent, Australian National University
Shellwork slippers in Buckingham Palace

*use password nas to view

Stephen Gilchrist, University of Sydney
Carriers of culture

*use password nas to view

Mark de Vitis, University of Sydney
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?
The Unpredictable Trajectories and Intersecting Histories of a Displaced Bedroom Suite

Session 1
Panel Discussion

SESSION 2: Making connections: materiality and identity

Jonathan Jones, University of Technology, Sydney
William Barak’s parrying shield

Alison Inglis, University of Melbourne
Scintillating surfaces: shell mosaic in Australian architectural decoration

Session 2
Panel Discussion

SESSION 3: Objects and ecologies of Sydney

Michael Hill, National Art School
Casuarina Glauca/Guman in Farm Cove/Wuganmagulya

Alisa Bunbury, State Library of Victoria
The Potter’s Petit: investigating the history of a French drawing made in Sydney, 1802

Deborah Beck, National Art School
Heavy Metal: the six-inch nail

Session 3
Panel Discussion


Day Two: Friday 4 October 2019

Session 4: Polite violence: objects and frontier histories

Fiona Foley, Griffith University
Contemporary breastplates

Molly Duggins, National Art School
Crafting a colonial picturesque

Session 5: Magic lantern slides: animations and resurrections

Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy, Australian National University
Magic lanterns and magic lantern slides as objects in Australian heritage collections

Holly Schulte, Sydney Living Museums
1960s psychedelia at Rouse Hill House

Session 6: The cast reinscribed

Greg Lehman, University of Melbourne
‘Prepared in the usual way’: Pierre-Marie Alexandre Dumoutier’s bust of Manalaguerna

Lorraine Kypiotis, National Art School
‘Castaway’: David washed ashore in the Antipodes

Session 6
Panel Discussion

Session 7: Rethinking Australiana

Anita Callaway, University of Sydney
A roll of the dice: ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’ board game

Priya Vaughan, National Art School
Australia ’88: kitsch, identity and decay in post-colonial Australia

Session 7
Panel Discussion

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