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Video still of a seahorse

Penelope and the Seahorse

Opening Saturday 11 March 2023

Combining relics from the Museum's collection, Contemporary Art Project #4 features Mikala Dwyer's enchanting mixed-media installations. 

Mikala Dwyer's enchanting mixed-media installations confound rational ways of thinking. She deftly imbues objects, materials and media with a vitalist, supernatural air, revoking the conceit of reason's mastery over the non-human world. 

This new work for the Museum's Penelope Gallery combines relics from the Chau Chak Wing Museum's collection and fabricated pieces to create a surreal aquatic fantasy where mythologies of Western Antiquity and a projected future of mass extinction collide. 

Penelope and the Seahorse bristles with allusions to hippocampus, the genus name of the seahorse fish, derived from ancient Greek for "horse" + "sea monster". A natural science oddity, the seahorse reverses typical animal kingdom roles by having the male gestate and give birth to the young. Today, these creatures are threatened by the degradation of their coastal habitats and overfishing for traditional medicines.

In Greek mythology, hippocampus referred to the equine-fish hybrids that drew the water chariot of Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes. Centuries later, hippocampus was coined for part of the human brain named after the S-shape of a seahorse. This structure, embedded in each cerebral cortex is thought to regulate memory consolidation and spatial navigation. 

Mingling and proliferating such allusions Dwyer weaves the deep time of a pagan past into a nightmare vision of the future when marine life is no more than a receding memory.  

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

Past contemporary projects