Mel O’Callaghan b. 1975 Sydney, Australia. Lives and works in Sydney and Paris.

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︎︎︎ Galerie Allen
︎︎︎ Cassandra Bird Gallery


Cassandra Bird Gallery, Sydney
opens 3 Feb, 2024


Photo: Clemens Habicht


OCT 15 - NOV 26, 2022

Slime of Time is Mel O’Callaghan’s third solo exhibition at Galerie Allen.


In 2016, while writing about Mel O’Callaghan’s paintings, I observed in them a movement of auscultation, a form of human resistance when confronted with the sensation of loss.

These paintings, the first ones in this series, faced us with a sensitive process that examined a determined search for the probable mechanisms of this act of resistance and an approximation of its causes. The act that foreshadows the resistance is by itself a possibility to confront us with absurdity, which is enigmatic and therefore incomprehensible as a given fact of experience. But what appears to us absurd in this work only finds its matrix on the surface of its skin, in the immediacy of the appearance and, in the more recent pieces, in subjective experience, as well as in the presence of a reverberation.

The loss is, in this way, a transmutation of the passage from one state to the other, between matter that moves in space and reconstructs itself, changing its psychological, metaphysical, almost magmatic territory. Nevertheless, on all these layers operates an act of resistance that guards its essential qualities, as if testing the continuous return to itself.

In a passage from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche establishes a connection between what is seen and what our imagination projects onto the reverse of a surface, which by showing itself remains separate from the word that could designate it (1). With this in mind, O’Callaghan’s works constitute a line of thought and research through which the artist constructs a connection – not a narrative – between different typologies of resistance. In this respect, her working process has developed, expanding its research into a more performative approach and exploring the concept of corporeality across a wider scope.

O’Callaghan interweaves various references and processes of knowledge, such as literature, scientific research and memories of the experience of her own works to create poetic structures that employ such non-verbal communication forms as the empathy of molecular vibration and tectonic sounds from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the sculptural elements her recent paintings evince. This other dimension of her work, which does not deviate from the resistance mentioned at the beginning of this text, ushers in a visual reconfiguration of the works, defining a playful approach through new textures and deep, membrane-like layers in the paintings. Within this new network of aesthetic and phenomenological relationships, sound is a material that, besides shaping the space, asserts itself as a physical entity that is present in two rather unique pieces, two glass tuning-forks that when struck emit a sound in the frequency of 200 Hz. That musical note alludes to a divine form of communication and empathy between bodies that resonate mutually. Accordingly, painting, as one of the artistic media that is most immediately connected to the gesture, brings into this exhibition a spirituality that is intrinsic to it but is reconfigured within a context of actions and gestures that, though seemingly remote from it, actually belong to it. Mel O’Callaghan creates a new sphere of experience that combines a variety of sensitive substances and poetic transitions, in an approach akin to the one of Clarice Lispector2, one of her favourite writers: “I noticed a first rumble like that of a heart beating beneath the earth. I quietly put my ear to the ground and heard summer forcing its way in and my heart beneath the earth.”
Going back to resistance and permanence, they find themselves here in a perpetual relationship, transmuted by the prevalence of colour that resounds in our eyes, something almost absurd, but unnameable.

– João Silvério

1 Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘At Noon’, Thus Spoke Zarathustra – A Book of All and None, eds. Adrian Del Caro and Robert B. Pippin, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, pp. 223-25.
2 Clarice Lispector, Água Viva, New Directions, 2012, p. 56.