Video still of a seahorse

Mikala Dwyer: Penelope and the Seahorse

Contemporary Art Projects #4
Mikala Dwyer’s aquatic-themed installation bristles with allusions to hippocampus, the genus name of the seahorse, derived from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘horse’ and ‘sea monster’.

A natural science oddity, the seahorse reverses normal animal kingdom roles by having the male gestate and give birth to the young. Today, these fragile fish are threatened by degradation of their coastal habitats and overfishing for traditional medicines. In Greek mythology, hippocampus refers to the equine-fish hybrids that drew the water chariot of Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes.

The name was later used for a structure within the brain that is shaped like a seahorse. Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each of the temporal lobes. The hippocampal network plays an important role in storing long-term memories and regulating spatial navigation. Recent neuroscience studies suggest it also enables the flexible reconstruction and recombination of multivalent memory associations. This feature is thought to support flexible behaviour and thinking, including the creative capacity to imagine fictional or future scenarios.                               

Penelope and the Seahorse multiplies flexible memory associations, combining natural history, myths, half-truths, and dreams, while spanning the deep time of a pagan past, modernity and future imaginings. Dwyer weaves ancient Greek mythologies into a futuristic vision of marine life as ghostly apparition. 

About the artist

Mikala Dwyer has exhibited widely in Australia and internationally since the 1980s and is known for her distinctive experiments in sculpture, installation, and performance art. Her works often imbue objects and materials with an animistic energy that revokes the conceit of reason’s mastery over the non-human world.   


The video is a collaboration with animator Gina Moore, and the sound work is a collaboration with composer James Hayes.

Guest researcher and curator, Dr Toni Ross.

Header image: Mikala Dwyer and Gina Moore, A seahorse, 2022–23, work-in-progress video still

Past contemporary projects

Level 1, Penelope Gallery

Exhibition closed