In Absence - This Year’s Architecture Commission Winner at the NGV
Melbourne VIC, Australia

Photography Ben Hosking, Tom Ross & Eugene Hyland
Words Thida Sachathep

Ephemeral architecture has the ability to crystallise an emotional and psychological response through only a fleeting experience. In this way, the winning work for the NGV’s 2019 Architecture Commission by Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office, In Absence, will take people’s breath away as it opens to the public in the Grollo Equiset Garden.

Occurring annually, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) Architecture Commission is a nation-wide competition that invites architects and artists to design and create a site-specific work that is ephemeral in nature. Selected from five shortlisted design schemes, the winner in 2019, In Absence, speaks to the history of Indigenous Australians prior to European arrival. The project is a collaboration between contemporary Kokatha and Nukunu artist, Yhonnie Scarce, and Melbourne architects Edition Office.

Installation view of In Absence, 2019 designed by Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office for the 2019 Architecture Commission at NGV International, Melbourne from 23 November 2019 – April 2020. Photo: Ben Hosking.

The jury that selected this winning design included: Jill Garner, Chair and Principal of Garner Davis Architects and Victorian Government architect, Corbett Lyon, co-founder of Lyons Architecture and Visiting Professor at MDS, NGV Trustee Andrew Clark, the Deputy Director of the NGV, Clare Cousins, Principal of Clare Cousins Architects and the AIA National President, and Timothy Moore, who is the director of Sibling Architecture.

Winner of the 2019 NGV Architecture Commission In Absence by artist Yhonnie Scarce, and Melbourne-based Edition Office. Yhonnie Scarce, belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples of South Australia © Courtesy of Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office.

Designed as two black timber towers with expansive voids, the dramatic interiors are adorned with thousands of black glass yams by Yhonnie. “This pavilion does not recognise the term – ‘Terra Nulius’ ¬– instead it celebrates the structures that were built long before the colonisation of Australia,” Yhonnie explains.

Installation view of In Absence, 2019 designed by Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office for the 2019 Architecture Commission at NGV International, Melbourne from 23 November 2019 – April 2020. Photo: Tom Ross.

With a strong focus on collaboration and the community, in both a physical and conceptual sense, the pavilion is a successful example of ephemeral architecture. In Absence is underscored with a strong narrative-driven purpose and, therefore, highlights the histories of Indigenous construction, design, industry and agriculture before European colonisation.

Installation view of In Absence, 2019 designed by Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office for the 2019 Architecture Commission at NGV International, Melbourne from 23 November 2019 – April 2020. Photo: Tom Ross.

The NGV’s Architecture Commission is one that the entire country looks forward to, and this is validated by Yhonnie who says, “this commission is an amazing opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the [Aboriginal] builders of such infrastructure and their enduring legacies.”

The NGV Architecture Commission is supported by RMIT University, Macquarie, and The Hugh D.T. Williamson Foundation, and the competition process is managed by Citylab.

Portrait of (L-R) Aaron Roberts, Director, Edition Office; Yhonnie Scarce, contemporary artist; and Kim Bridgland, Director, Edition Office inside In Absence, 2019 the 2019 Architecture commission at NGV International, Melbourne from 27 November 2019 – April 2020. Photo: Eugene Hyland

The NGV Architecture Commission is a component of the State Government’s annual Victorian Design Program.

The NGV Architecture Commission 2019 is now on display at the NGV from November 2019. Entry is FREE.

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Winner of the 2019 NGV Architecture Commission In Absence by artist Yhonnie Scarce, and Melbourne-based Edition Office. Yhonnie Scarce, belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples of South Australia © Courtesy of Yhonnie Scarce and Edition Office.
Published 29 November, 2019
Photography  Ben Hosking, Tom Ross & Eugene Hyland
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