Halfway exhibition opens at the new Yarrila Arts and Museum (YAM)

Adv. (being) at a place that is the same distance from two other places, or in the middle of something. 

Open in Summer 2023, Halfway is a signature contemporary visual arts exhibition in the opening year of the City of Coffs Harbour’s new Yarrila Arts and Museum (YAM) at Yarrila Place. Yarrila, pronounced YA-re-la, is a Gumbaynggirr word that means “illuminate / brighten / light up / illustrate”. Located on the mid-north coast of Australia, YAM opened its doors in September 2023. The exhibition Halfway celebrates the opening of YAM, taking us on a collective journey to explore place and the identity of a regional town undergoing change through major infrastructure projects, both in the cultural and physical landscape.

Many Australians know Coffs Harbour as a place on the Pacific Highway, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Halfway explores how time, space, speed, and distance shape our perceptions of a place, and how an identity associated with being the ‘halfway point on the highway’ evolves over time.

Halfway invites us to consider these questions through art and social history items from the YAM collection, loans, and commissions. Commissions include local artists Alyson Pearson, YOWA (Alanna Shorter) and Peter Wade who reimagine souvenirs in a post bypass environment. Photographer Leah Moore and artist do wat feels good (Jack Hodges) capture life and business on the roadside. A large-scale installation by Jane Skeer towers over us in the gallery as we encounter truck straps with the landscape embedded in their surface. Brisbane-based artist Yannick Blattner presents sculptural work featuring camp chairs that are neither open nor closed, neither distinctly pleasant nor unpleasant.

These works sit alongside several artworks that speak to human interactions with the environment and the open road. Michael Corridore captures burn-out meets across regional Australia with his series Angry Black Snake. Blak Douglas reinterprets road infrastructure with a sculpture depicting the traffic guide, often referred to as a ‘silent cop’, which is designed to ensure drivers don’t cut the corner when turning.  Ronnie Grammatica presents images of roadside memorials created and lovingly maintained by grieving family and friends.

Halfway evokes travel scenes that send greetings from the familiar realms of past regional holidays and everyday commutes. Imagine a guest from the 1960s who would spend the night at The Plantation Hotel as part of a stopover with Pioneer Bus Tours; a child’s vivid memory stopping at Coffs Harbour on driving holidays from Brisbane to Sydney with the anticipation and excitement of seeing the Big Banana each time; a solo Sunday driver taking the ‘old highway’ for a scenic route. For others, trips might include stopping at ‘The Clog Barn’, the ‘Honey Place’; or the nostalgia of hotel room stays. If you were lucky, a longer stay in town with summers spent at Coffs Jetty, days at the Aqua Jet (circa 1990s), holidays with the serenity of freedom and the crackle of the radio. Are we there yet?

Visit the Yarrila Arts and Museum website

 This exhibition is supported by the Dobell Exhibition Grant, funded by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and managed by Museums & Galleries of NSW.