Rewind: ACCA’s alchemy: Mikala Dwyer – Hollow-ware and a few solids

Mikala Dwyer: Hollow-Ware and a Few Solids, catalogue image, 1996 (detail). Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

by Vikki McInnes

The moment I first walked into ACCA, I determined I wanted to stay. It was 1995; I had just moved to Melbourne to continue my studies and this was the only time since running away from law school that even a vague notion of vocation had entered my consciousness.

I immediately asked if I could help? Of course I could help. Before I knew what internship meant, I was volunteering every week and at every opening, begging to be there more frequently.

I was lucky; a weekend position soon became available and a few months later the Gallery Assistant (actually, Secretary – as the position was then rather quaintly known) resigned. After two quite terrifying interviews, I found myself with a desk, a contract, my first email address and an incredible sense of possibility.

Mikala Dwyer’s 1996 exhibition Hollow-ware and a few solids opened just as I began my new role, and it was a profound affirmation of the choice I’d just made. Mikala’s work was thrilling – gritty, propositional and sexy – and the artist herself both edgy and engaging. She was represented by a young Sydney gallerist who seemed the epitome of unattainable cool, and her catalogue comprised texts written by remarkable writers and curators who have since become colleagues.

It really did feel like we were at the centre of something, and it’s hard to believe nearly twenty years have passed. During that time, Mikala has become one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists and her work has become even tougher and braver.

Also over that time, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Mikala, of talking with her and working with her, of meeting her daughter. I’ve had the privilege of taking my own daughter to the opening of Mikala’s exhibition last year at ACCA, Goldene Bend’er (and wondered what her Grade One classmates might have made of tales of hooded, shitting performers). I remain one of Mikala’s biggest fans.

It wasn’t simply the art I experienced that motivated my desire to participate, though the first exhibitions I saw at ACCA – Janenne Eaton’s poignant parchment panels and Constance Zikos’ exuberant, audacious textiles – stayed with me. (Indeed, every show since has resonated in its own way.)

It wasn’t just the people, who were so smart, so generous, so rigorous. (Although, really, it has always been the people – my partner, my business partner, most of my friends and nearly all the artists I now represent were first encountered at ACCA.)

What first attracted me, what compelled me to stay for so many years, and what continues to draw me back, was the sense of urgency I could feel when I first walked through the doors, and the prickle of excitement I’ve felt ever since.

Mikala Dwyer: Hollow-Ware and a Few Solids
4 May – 16 June 1996

Vikki McInnes worked at ACCA from 1996 to 2003 and is now co-director, with Kate Barber, of Sarah Scout Presents and director of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.