Mel O’Callaghan Centre of the Centre

Centre of the Centre is a major new commission that traces the origins of life and its regenerative forces, iterated through video, performance and sculpture. The exhibition is being presented at Artspace, Sydney in 2019 and at The University of Queensland Art Museum in 2020-2021.

The Australian-born, Paris-based contemporary artist works across film, performance, installation and painting. This ambitious new commission offers O’Callaghan an opportunity to further explore her ever-expanding fields of influence and demonstrates the remarkable range of her artistic practice. Centre of the Centre will be O’Callaghan’s first largescale exhibition in an Australian public institution. The exhibition comprises three distinct yet interrelated works – a large-scale video work, a performative aspect and selected glass sculptures.

The catalyst for this new body of work is one small mineral given to the artist by her grandfather, renowned mineralogist Albert Chapman. The mineral contains a small pocket of water, possibly millions of years old, which holds traces of the elemental forces responsible for all life on earth. Inspired by the potentialities and extreme conditions within this primordial liquid, the exhibition submerges the audience in a highly visceral experience through sensory breathing techniques and experiential performance.

Mel O’Callaghan discussing the impetus for Centre of the Centre for the exhibition What Lies Within: Centre of the Centre at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), Manila



Mel O’Callaghan was born in 1975 in Sydney, Australia. She lives in Paris, France and Sydney. O’Callaghan’s career highlights include solo exhibitions nationally and internationally, most recently at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2017); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2017-18); Kronenberg Wright, Sydney (2017); Galerie Allen, Paris (2017); Casa-Museu Medeiros e Almeida, Lisbon (2015); Galeria Belo-Galsterer, Lisbon (2015) and First Street Green, New York (2014).

O’Callaghan was awarded the Prix SAM pour l’art contemporain (2015) and was a finalist in the Prix Meurice (2017) and the Bend Lohaus Prize (2015). From 2017–18 O’Callaghan’s work received print and online press coverage in many publications, including Artforum; Art Press; Le Monde; Forbes Magazine; The Australian; Artaissme; The Guardian; AD Magazine; Art das Kunst Magazine; Vogue; E-flux; Blouin ArtInfo and Trois Couleurs.

Works by O’Callaghan are held in several public and numerous private art collections nationally and internationally including Centre Pompidou; National Gallery of Victoria; FRAC Bretagne, France; Monash University of Modern Art, Victoria; Artbank, Australia; and the Attorney General’s Department, Australia. Works by the artist were also commissioned and are held by the Australian Embassy, France.

Mel O'Callaghan, Mock-up of 'Centre of the Centre' video work



Artist’s website

How to Keep Breathing: Mel O’Callaghan’s Rituals for the Anthropocene – book extract in Art Guide, by Dr Edward Scheer

Confort Moderne – Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre – article on e-flux

Mel O’Callaghan and Dr. Daniel J. Fornari: In Search of Life – Conversation on Ocula with Curator Peta Rake

Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre – cover article in Art Almanac, by Emma-Kate Wilson

Exploring the origins of life itself– Art Guide Australia, by Tiarney Miekus

Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See – Ocula Report, by Elyse Goldfinch

Australia Council funding set to shine light on regional NSW – Sydney Morning Herald, by Linda Morris

12 Room to Exhale: Mel O’Callaghan’s ‘Centre of the Centre’ – Art Monthly Australasia, by Anabelle Lacroix




Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
16 April – 12 June 2021

Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts, Townsville, QLD
10 July – 29 August 2021

Glasshouse, Port Macquarie, NSW
11 September – 7 November 2021

Western Plains Cultural Centre, NSW
20 November 2021 – 6 February 2022

Tamworth Regional Gallery, NSW
18 February – 10 April 2022

Bega Valley Regional Gallery, NSW
23 April – 19 June 2022

Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, SA
1 July – 23 September 2022

Arts Space Wodonga, VIC
5 November 2022 – 29 January 2023

Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, NSW
17 February – 16 April 2023


Mel O’Callaghan’s Centre of the Centre was curated and developed by Artspace and is touring nationally with Museums & Galleries of NSW. Centre of the Centre is co-commissioned by Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers; Artspace, Sydney; and The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane. With Commissioning Partners Andrew Cameron AM & Cathy Cameron and Peter Wilson & James Emmett; and Lead Supporter, Kronenberg Mais Wright. The development and presentation of Centre of the Centre is supported by the Fondation des Artistes, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the US National Science Foundation. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body