This two-day symposium, ‘The Australian Object: material culture in context’, presented in partnership with the National Art School, showcases new scholarly research on the material culture of Australia. It addresses the rich diversity of objects and the processes, knowledge, and meanings embedded therein. 


The purpose of the symposium is to revitalise the discourse on marginalised media and quotidian culture and bring scholars, artists, curators and collectors into productive dialogue. Focusing on making meaning through materials, this symposium reinforces the National Art School’s core emphasis on object-led art practices and histories.

Despite renewed interest in material culture, the conversation about objects often remains siloed in discrete disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, design history and museology. Building on the material turn in art history, this symposium aims to explore productive interdisciplinary methodologies for engaging with Australian objects. In particular, our approach aims to draw into conversation objects that have been previously occluded in these discourses.

To prioritise the object and foster dialogue, each presentation will take the form of a 20-minute case study of an Australian object. Case studies will address the object’s material and sensorial properties and the specific aesthetic frameworks through which it has acquired meaning and value, including how production, use, circulation and exchange has shaped the life of the object. Case studies may also consider how these objects connect with, undermine, or complicate notions of art, taste, authenticity, tradition, value, identity, and nationhood broadly defined.

Speakers include Alisa Bunbury, Anita Callaway, Mark de Vitis, Molly Duggins, Fiona Foley, Shannon Foster, Stephen Gilchrist, Michael Hill, Alison Inglis, Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy, Jonathan Jones, Lorraine Kypiotis, Greg Lehman, Maria Nugent, Holly Schulte and Priya Vaughan.





9:00     Welcome to Country

9:15      Introduction

9:30      Session 1: Objects in motion

Maria Nugent, Australian National University
Shellwork slippers in Buckingham Palace

Stephen Gilchrist, University of Sydney
Carriers of culture

Mark de Vitis, University of Sydney
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? The Unpredictable Trajectories and Intersecting Histories of a Displaced Bedroom Suite

11:15    Tea break

11:30    Session 2: Making connections: materiality and identity

Jonathan Jones, artist
William Barak’s parrying shield

Alison Inglis, University of Melbourne
Scintillating surfaces: shell mosaic in Australian architectural decoration

12:45    Lunch

1:45      Session 3: Objects and ecologies of colonial Sydney

Alisa Bunbury, State Library of Victoria
The Potter’s Petit: investigating the history of a French drawing made in Sydney, 1802

Michael Hill, National Art School
Casuarina Glauca/Guman in Farm Cove/Wuganmagulya

4:00    End day one



10:30    Morning Tea

11:00    Session 4: Polite violence: objects and frontier histories

Fiona Foley, Griffith University
Contemporary breastplates

Molly Duggins, National Art School
Crafting a colonial picturesque

12:15    Lunch

1:15      Session 5: Magic lantern slides: animations and resurrections

Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy
Magic lanterns and magic lantern slides as objects in Australian heritage collections

Holly Schulte, Sydney Living Museums
1960s psychedelia at Rouse Hill House

2:30      Session 6: The cast reinscribed

Greg Lehman, University of Melbourne
‘Prepared in the usual way’: Pierre-Marie Alexandre Dumoutier’s bust of Manalaguerna

Lorraine Kypiotis, National Art School
‘Castaway’: David washed ashore in the Antipodes

3:45    Tea break

4:00      Session 7: Rethinking Australiana

Anita Callaway, University of Sydney
A roll of the dice: ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’ board game

Priya Vaughan, National Art School
Australia ’88: kitsch, identity and decay in post-colonial Australia

5:15      Drinks, NAS Gallery foyer, Paper Tigers exhibition tour with Curators Lesa-Belle Furhagen and Toby Creswell

6:15      Magic lantern performance, Cell Block Theatre



TICKET DETAILS: Tickets for both days (no single day tickets are available)

Fee: $120
NAS Alumni fee: $80
NAS Current students fee: $80

Book tickets here.