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 was presented at Artspace, Sydney in 2019 and at The University of Queensland Art Museum in 2020-2021, before touring nationally from early 2021.

The Australian-born, Paris-based contemporary artist works across film, performance, installation and painting. This ambitious 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 is 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 body of work was 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 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.



Click here to learn more about Centre of the Centre

Click here to learn more about respire, respire



In partnership with the University of Queensland Art Museum,M&G NSW has implemented an engagement model alongside Centre of the Centre that incorporates a training aspect for the community that sustains the gallery (volunteers, front-of-house staff, friends of the gallery). This program suggests engagement strategies rooted in knowledge-sharing, as to facilitate a deeper audience experience.

On Monday 26 August 2019, M&G NSW, in partnership with Artspace, presented a trial workshop on the practice of cultural mediation. The presenters included Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm, Head of Cultural Mediation at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France); Mel O’Callaghan, contemporary Australian artist; Lee Casey, Head of Communications and Engagement, and Ellie Michaelides, Learning & Engagement Coordinator, Science Gallery Melbourne, University of Melbourne; and Emily Sullivan, Curator, Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Among the many take-home messages from the event, cultural mediation is about deepening the engagement of audiences at a peer-to-peer level through personal opinions being shared, knowledge being transferred and audiences with specific needs (such as those living with disability, at-risk youth, and migrant communities) being offered a tailored pathway. It is about finding the many points for discussion within an exhibition and providing training in those topic areas (such as marine biology, extremophiles, and how breath is used by different cultures or activities to overcome obstacles, in the case of Mel O’Callaghan’s exhibition) so that public programming can be targeted towards interest areas.


the Cultural Mediation Training with UQ Art Museum was fantastic… Our staff were introduced to these ideas for the first time and found the Cultural Mediation Training extremely worthwhile.



This education resource has been produced by Amy Bambach in conjunction with Museums & Galleries of NSW to support the touring exhibition Centre of the Centre by Mel O’Callaghan.

The activities contained in this resource are aimed to be used flexibly by learners of all ages and abilities and may be undertaken before, during or after an exhibition visit. While these activities have been written with primary and secondary students in mind, teachers are encouraged to adapt these learning activities to suit their context and their students. We also encourage community groups, as well as gallery staff to use the information and activities in this resource to aid visitor experience.





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

What Lies Within: Centre of the Centre – MCAD, Manila

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

How this couple copes with ‘situations that make mere mortals nervous – Sydney Morning Herald, by Susan Horsburgh


Purchase Catalogue



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 – 27 February 2022

Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, SA
1 July – 30 September 2022

Hyphen Wodonga, VIC
19 November 2022 – 29 January 2023

Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, NSW
11 February – 30 April 2023

Centre of the Centre exceeded our expectations. We were concerned that our predominantly general public audience would not engage with the conceptual/academic subject matter. On the contrary, we observed many different people enjoying the exhibition. The interview with the artist helped people connect with ideas behind the work.


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