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Mikala Dwyer – Apparition

From 2021 to 2022 Mikala Dwyer’s new temporary public art commission, Apparition, could be seen after dark at University Square, Carlton.

This temporary public artwork was developed through a long-term engagement with the site, beginning with a two-week intensive that focused on the contested public realm.

Inspired by a population of possums that inhabit the mature elm trees at the heart of the square, Dwyer worked with animator Gina Moore to create a giant holographic possum, which haunted the square s northern plaza at night. Activated at dusk, Apparition responded to University Square as a space in flux, suspended between stages of landscape redevelopment for the Metro Tunnel project.

Dwyer is interested in the sensibility and mythology of objects and spaces, including the irrational and the repressed. It is the phenomenon of storytelling that I hope to invoke through the image of a possum appearing and disappearing quietly and randomly in the night, Dwyer says.

Dwyer also notes how apparitions seem to be dreamt up from a need to symbolise and make meaning out of something loss, fear, love, birth, death. They also address the deep imbalances around power and the sacred at different times in history. This apparition of possums perhaps asks the question: Will you miss me when I'm gone?.

Mikala Dwyer, Apparition was commissioned by the City of Melbourne in collaboration with RMIT University.

[The City of Melbourne respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pays respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.  

We are committed to our reconciliation journey, because at its heart, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, for the benefit of all Victorians.  

Apparition Mikala Dwyer, University Square, Melbourne] 

What I'd hope people might experience is, as they wander through the park, that something might catch their eye, in a peripheral way, in a quiet way. 

We're here in University Square on Wurundjeri and Woi Wurrung land. So, the process of creating this artwork came about through a very unique and wonderful experience of a two-week intensive workshop with Melbourne City Council where all sorts of people came together and to kind of find out what the site was about.  

Working through this project I was really privileged to meet a number of indigenous knowledge holders and elders like N’arweet Carolyn Briggs and Jefa Greenaway and others that have sort of really were generous in sharing their knowledge of the site, which gave us a kind of a really different perspective of what this place is in time, and in deep time.  

I think this project relates to my, all my practice in the sense that I've always been interested in belief systems and superstition and so in a sense the apparition is something that’s, you know it's connected to you know all through my practice. But I think what's different here is, I've had an opportunity to really extend it into a whole new materiality of you know animated projection. 

So with the decision to make an animated possum I then had to find an animator and luckily I work at RMIT which actually has a media communications department, and there happens to be some of the best animators in the country working in there and discovered Gina Moore who has a special gift for animal animations as she comes from a kind of painting background. And she has a love of animals that she was the perfect person to work with because she sort of can really breathe life into these creations that are you know, they become sort of supernatural creatures that have a really particular quality.  

And I think ghosts and apparitions have a way of kind of carrying stories and memory from one generation to the next and so working with all that kind of history, of you know an idea of the ghost or the apparition, but then creating a possum out of nothing. It seemed appropriate in the end that it was an animation rather than photographic footage of a real possum that it was something that was brought almost an apparition from the future back to the present somehow.  

So, I think some of the experience of making a public work here has been different to other aspects of my practice. Public art I guess it should always be contentious I mean anything it should be there to kind of stir things up, create conversation, but I think what's nice about public art is that it's in a space where you can happen upon it where it's not framed by a gallery necessarily or you know a lot of knowledge like you know anyone can come up to it and it can be a bit of a reality shifter. They perform a function that nothing else can, there's nothing else like it. There's you know we have architecture and we have landscapes and we have parks and with public art, [it] just asserts a kind of a different reality into a city, that I think’s really important. 


Videography - Takeshi Kondo  

Music ‘Evening Night Fall – Fire, Cricket, wine glass etc’, - Ai Yamamato   

Special thanks to    

Curatorial panel – Wesley Enoch AM & Dr Simone Slee, and all those involved in the workshop intensive.  

Animator, Gina Moore   

Sean Lynch   

David Corben    

The possums of University Square. 

Commissioned by City of Melbourne in collaboration with RMIT.] 

Listen to an audio recording of Mikala Dwyer in conversation with poet, broadcaster and writer Alicia Sometimes on site at University Square.

Listen Opens in new tab

Creative response

The development of this artwork began with a two-week intensive facilitated by poet, writer and broadcaster Alicia Sometimes. 

Read her poem ‘Apparition, after Mikala Dwyer’ written in response to the finished artwork.

About the artist

Mikala Dwyer (b. 1959 Australia) has pushed the limits of sculpture, painting and performance, establishing herself as one of Australia’s most important contemporary artists. She has been honoured with solo survey exhibitions at Sydney’s two major art museums, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, and the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane.

Dwyer’s works explore how we relate to the object-world; her compounds invite open-ended interaction and take the viewer across boundaries of time, space and geography. While playful and exuberant on the surface, they almost always impel us to imagine something darker beneath – or above. Ordinary and familiar materials draw us in, transformed so as to bring attention to the unseen or occult or what society banishes from view. Emerging from a deep and disobedient engagement with modernist form and space, Dwyer’s works have an eye on the future and relationship at their heart – they have been described as ‘profoundly sociable’.

Dwyer’s work is always responsive to site and context, and her successful public art commissions include Apparition, University Square, Melbourne, 2021; Sydney Metro, 2020; In the Smoke of Ghosts, MUMA 2020; Egg Swing, 2012, Royal Women’s Hospital, Paddington, Sydney; Windwatcher, 2011, Central Park, Chippendale, Sydney; A Lamp for Mary, 2010, Mary Place, Surry Hills, Sydney; Swamp Sculpture, 2006, Omi Sculpture Park, New York, NY; and IOU, 2005, Docklands, Melbourne.

Widely respected for her exceptional commitment and energy in teaching young artists, Dwyer is also a curator who has given many untried artists their first exhibition. She has had several residencies internationally and received numerous scholarships, grants and awards.

For more information, visit Mikala Dwyer's websiteOpens in new tab.

Top image: Mikala Dwyer, Apparition, 2021 night-time digital projection onto holo-gauze screen. Photo by Darren Tanny Tan.

our acknowledgement

  • Torres Strait Islander Flag
  • Aboriginal People Flag

The City of Melbourne respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land we govern, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and Bunurong / Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin and pays respect to their Elders past and present. 


We acknowledge and honour the unbroken spiritual, cultural and political connection they have maintained to this unique place for more than 2000 generations.

We accept the invitation in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and are committed to walking together to build a better future.