Callum Morton: Empty Shops

4 December 2021 – 20 March 2022

Callum Morton, Empty shops 2021, Instagram series. Courtesy the artist

Callum Morton
Empty shops 2021
digital photographs
Courtesy the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

@callummortonstudio on Instagram

One of Australia’s foremost artists working in the context of architecture and the public realm, Callum Morton has maintained a longstanding interest and engagement with the thresholds of public and private spaces, exemplified by works such as Cul de sac 1994, Valhalla 2007, Hotel 2007, Silverscreen 2010 and 18 Innovation Walk (with Kosloff Architecture) in 2017.

Morton’s analysis of urbanism and the built environment has been informed in good part by decades of driving, walking and, more recently, running through urban streets, spaces and thoroughfares. His most recent project, undertaken during Melbourne’s extended lockdown, is a photographic series which focuses our attention on suburban high streets and shopping strips across the city’s urban geography. Empty shops 2021 documents the increasing prevalence of evacuated retail stores, which, already apparent due to rising property prices, has been accelerated by the pandemic to an almost apocalyptic magnitude of retail desolation.

The series initially began in the artist’s local neighbourhood, circumscribed by an imposed five-kilometre radius, and expanded incrementally as restrictions were eventually eased. The map of locations now extends across the city, from Dandenong, Clayton and Bentleigh, circling through inner city suburbs of Prahran to Docklands, North Melbourne and Kensington, and spiralling out again to Coburg, Pascoe Vale, Williamstown, Sunshine and beyond. Now encompassing over fourteen hundred photographs taken over a three-month period, and serially published in almost quotidian regularity on the artist’s Instagram account, the images are taken by pressing a phone camera to the windows of these now empty spaces – at the liminal threshold between the public space of the street and the private space of commercial enterprise. They continue what Morton has described as a form of ‘melancholic urban archaeology’, exposing the ruins of a precarious capitalism and an increasingly anxious modernity. They are dystopian images, for sure, but at the same time, Morton’s Empty shops also underscore a kind of void, break or interregnum, as absences beckoning the promise, or hope, of new things to come.

Documentation from this project will also be presented at ACCA, in the Project Space: The Hoarding over the duration of the exhibition.