Artist Statement: Matthew Harris

Overseas I encountered an Aboriginal skull in a display about human evolution. Tourists shuffled past barely looking at the objects in the cases, most just trying to find the dinosaurs or a toilet. More interesting than the skull itself was the incorrect institutional framing of the skull as a relic of a bygone species and a brief pitstop on the road to modern human, a missing link. The journeys ancestral remains take to end up in a display case on the other side of the world are often long and needless to say, illegal. Mob have continued to campaign for repatriation since the bone trade began, yet tens of thousands of ancestral remains are still concealed in public and private collections without much hope of ever returning home. 

Consigned to Oblivion 2023 is a monumental suite of paintings spanning the width of the gallery wall. From afar they’re the type of monochromatic, repetitive, minimalist paintings you might find at a contemporary art museum such as Dia: Beacon, up close the lumpy surface reveals the texture of their material – crushed charcoal and white ochre, white ochre being most commonly used for sorry business. Far from pure abstraction, the paintings depict a museum storage facility with endless shelves of archival boxes containing bones held in institutional limbo. Blank white facades suspending ancestral remains, sacred objects and cultural heritage behind layers of impenetrable bureaucratic control.

Are you a morning or a night person?


What is a sound or song that transport you to another place?

The sound of television blaring transports me back to the commission houses I grew up in. The sound of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’ transports me to the movie White Chicks. The sound of puppies transports me to heaven. The sound of Styrofoam transports me to hell.

Is there something you’ve always collected / what is something you’ve recently thrown away?

Receipts from art expenses, documents from institutional archives, my baby pageant trophies, needlepoint tapestries, Esme Timbery, various rocks. I really need to throw some things away.

Where do you feel the most at connected / where do you feel the most disconnected?

Connected: anywhere as long as I go walkabout every day. Disconnected: anywhere I’m replying to emails.

What scares you the most right now / what brings you hope and/or inspires?

A stranger elbowed me in the chest and shoved me into a wall on my way to the studio today, daily life can be pretty scary for a fag in a 1995 Comme Des Garcons coat. There is no hope.

Through the process of making your new commission for Between Waves, what has been revealed and/or become more complicated/obscured?

This work really took it out of me, I think I need to go have a nap.