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

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undo the day, NAS Galleries, Sydney
opens 14 June until 3 August, 2024


Centre of the Centre, 2019, three-channel HD colour video, 48:9, 5.1 surround sound, 20 minutes

Centre of the Centre traces the origins of life and its regenerative forces. The catalyst for this new body of work was one small mineral given to the artist by her grandfather, renowned mineralogist Albert Chapman (1912- 1996). 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 geophysical conditions and potentialities held within this primordial liquid, Mel O’Callaghan invites the audience into an all-encompassing experience. The film, sculptures and performance that comprise this exhibition capture the motion of breath in response to extreme environments.

Centre of the Centre captures hydrothermal geological formations on the sea floor and ‘extremophiles’ – psychedelic organic life found at mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal vents and volcanic seamounts. During a three- week expedition in the eastern Pacific on the research ship Atlantis, the submersible Alvin was deployed eight times to depths of 2500 metres. Alvin was equipped with highly specialised deep-sea still and video cameras, operated by the team of pilots and scientists with direction from the artist. The film was produced in close collaboration with marine geologist and Emeritus Research Scholar Dr. Daniel Fornari, with the support of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the US National Science Foundation.

The video descends to the East Pacific Rise axis, nearly 2.5 km beneath the ocean surface to deep-sea hydrothermal vent fields and off-axis seamounts (at 9° 50’N and approx. 8° 20’N, respectively). At the threshold between boiling and freezing, a shimmering hydrothermal fluid – a mixture suspended between water, gases and minerals – surrounds the vents. From these depths, the video transitions to a second location: the coral outcrops of the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines, a site declared the ‘Centre of the Centre of Marine Biodiversity’ by microbiologists at the California Academy of Sciences in 2006. The two sites captured in the film – the depths and the shallows – are potentially the point of origin of all life on Earth and the epicentre of its marine regeneration. Despite the extremes of the environments of these life forms, the film captures phases of genesis and regeneration.

Video credits

Verde Island Passage: Dennis M. Corpuz
9°50’N East Pacific Rise and 8°20’ N Seamount Chain AT4206 onboard the R/V Atlantis:
Dr Patricia Gregg, Chief Scientist, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Dr Daniel Fornari, Co-Chief Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dr Michael Perfit, Co-Chief Scientist, University of Florida
Dr Ross Parnell-Turner, Co-Chief Scientist, Scripps Inst. of Oceanography
Dr Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert, Co-Chief Scientist, Arizona State University & Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dr Dorsey Wanless, Co-Researcher, Boise State University
Dr Barbara John, Co-Researcher, University of Wyoming
Ken Kostel, Co-Researcher, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dr Karthik Anantharaman, University Wisconsin-Madison
Dr Rika Anderson, Carleton College
Molly Anderson, Boise State University
Dr Alysia Cox, Montana Tech.
Dr Aida Farough, Kansas State University
Dr Heather Fullerton, College of Charleston
Dr Dalton Hardisty, Michigan State University
Dr Santiago Herrera, Lehigh University
Dr Valentina Romano, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Dr Matt Smith, University of Florida
Dr Drew Syverson, Yale University
Dr Carolyn Tepolt, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Alvin Pilots:
Danik Forsman
Jefferson Grau
Mike Skowronski

With support from R/V Atlantis officers and crew; Alvin Operations Group; Sentry Operations Group

Video Micrographs: Dr Matthew Smith and Dr Michael Perfit, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida with Ethan M. Conrad

Performer: Damaris Haertl
Music: Saori Kikuchi and Pauline Amar
Sound Design: Matthieu Gasnier
Production: Clemens Habicht and Alexandra Pedley
Post Production: Olivia Hantken, Collider Films, Sydney
Colourist: Matt Fezz
Cameras: DeepSea Power & Light, MISO Facility – WHOI, and Ocean Imaging Systems
Submergence Operator: National Deep Submergence Facility WHOI – Alvin Group

Film and images captured on AT4206 onboard the R/V Atlantis in December 2018: D. Fornari, WHOI/NSF/HOV Alvin, 2018, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its funding and advisory body; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; The National Science Foundation and the Fondation des Artistes