Working off the grid provides the best inspiration for two Southern Tablelands artists who have been invited to exhibit their works at what can only be described as the dead centre of Sydney – Rookwood Cemetery.
Niall Robb and his partner Eduardo Wolfe-Alegria will exhibit their distinctively different works at the 12th annual HIDDEN. This month-long exhibition transforms the historic cemetery into an open-air exhibition space.
More than 60 sculptures will feature in this year’s exhibition, spread across the vast cemetery.
Artwork will be placed among the cemetery’s historical monuments and architecture. The emphasis will be on loss and mourning, with many of the artists involved having a personal connection to the cemetery through family and friends.
Interdisciplinary artist Niall Robb said he was drawn to the exhibition – and cemetery – as an opportunity to create an outdoor work that responded to the weather on such a historic site. Particularly, he said, the spring winds that have helped shape the ecology of the cemetery.
Niall’s work, Aura Reader, is a large outdoor sculpture created to interact with the light and winds of the cemetery.
“It is made up of hundreds of individually hinged galvanised steel panels suspended between two metal frames arranged in a crystal-like shape. The panels have a spangled texture created when the steel panels are dipped into molten zinc.
“I was really drawn to the surface effect and aimed to highlight this through the sculpture’s interaction with the elements at Rookwood.
“Conceptually, the work aims to function as a kind of tool or instrument which reads the aura of the site of Rookwood, tapping the original Greek meaning of the word ‘aura’ which literally translates to ‘breath’ or ‘breathe’.”
Niall said the HIDDEN exhibition curator approached him to see if he was interested in being part of the 2022 display.
“I didn’t know much about the exhibition but I had been to Rookwood many times – it’s an incredible experience,” he said.
When he first started thinking about a project for Rookwood, he couldn’t go far beyond the ideas of spirituality and belief.
He researched the history of the cemetery, which goes back to the 1800s, and the forms of galvanised steel used at that time.
“I noticed them because that’s what we used when my partner and I built our steel-framed studio a few years ago – that’s when all these notions started coming together,” he said.
Niall said through utilitarian objects like galvanised iron, he hoped the Rookwood audience would “take away a keener sense of observation and appreciation of both the spring winds of Rookwood and many of the material qualities from my sculpture, which map and interact with these winds”.
He can track the concept and his choice of materials back to when he studied for his Master’s degree in 2018.
“I remember looking at different materials back then to see the way they each responded to light,” he said.
The site chosen for his installation at Rookwood also influenced his work.
“It’s on top of a hill so it’s an amazing site and it’s also nestled into the trees so that will give them a diffused sort of light too.”
Niall said his partner Eduardo Wolfe-Alegria had also been invited to exhibit at HIDDEN this year. Although the two built the studio together and worked in the same space, their styles were quite different.
“His work is very ornamental and decorative and always with a narrative, while my work is made with natural materials and is more abstract,” Niall said.
Eduardo said his work for HIDDEN, entitled Opening Ceremony, was inspired by the fields of their rural property on Walbunja Country.
During the recent La Nina rain event, he said he became fixated on the unrelenting spread of the yellow dandelion nearby.
“I was entranced by its beauty and subtle behaviours, the petals closing up nightly and slowly reopening each morning to greet the sun – a daily ritual or ceremony serving as a poetic reminder of the interconnectedness of life,” he said.
Exhibition curator Kath Fries said HIDDEN was an excellent opportunity to engage art lovers with the layered histories of Rookwood, a working cemetery.
“The artists bring a diverse range of perspectives to the experiences and narratives of this unique place,” she said.
“HIDDEN invites the public to rediscover Rookwood through a different lens.”
The exhibition opens at Rookwood Cemetery on 10 September and runs until 9 October. More information is available on the website.