Videos from The Australian Object: Material Culture in Context symposium are now available online. The symposium took place on October 3-4 2019 at National Art School and featured the fascinating research of many art historians in Australia.


Session 1: Objects in motion

Shellwork slippers in Buckingham Palace

  •  Maria Nugent, Australian National University

Carriers of culture

  • Stephen Gilchrist, University of Sydney

Who’s been sleeping in my bed? The unpredictable trajectories and intersecting histories of a displaced bedroom suite

  • Mark de Vitis, University of Sydney

Session 1 Discussion


Session 2: Making connections: materiality and identity

William Barak’s parrying shield

  • Jonathan Jones, artist and University of Technology, Sydney

Scintillating surfaces: shell mosaic in Australian architectural decoration

  • Alison Inglis, University of Melbourne

Session 2 Discussion


Session 3: Objects and ecologies of Sydney

The Potter’s Petit: investigating the history of a French drawing made in Sydney, 1802

  • Alisa Bunbury, Ian Potter Museum of Art

Heavy metal: the six-inch nail

  • Deborah Beck, National Art School

Session 3 Discussion


Session 4: Polite violence: objects and frontier histories

Contemporary breastplates

  • Fiona Foley, Griffith University

Crafting a colonial picturesque

  • Molly Duggins, National Art School


Session 5: Magic lantern slides: animations and resurrections

Magic lanterns and magic lantern slides as objects in Australian heritage collections

  • Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy, Australian National University


Session 6: The cast reinscribed

 ‘Prepared in the usual way’: Pierre-Marie Alexandre Dumoutier’s bust of Manalaguerna

  • Greg Lehman, University of Melbourne

 ‘Castaway’: David washed ashore in the Antipodes

  • Lorraine Kypiotis, National Art School

Session 6 Discussion


Session 7: Rethinking Australiana

A roll of the dice: ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’ board game

  • Anita Callaway, University of Sydney

Australia ’88: kitsch, identity and decay in post-colonial Australia

  • Priya Vaughan, National Art School

Session 7 Discussion



The recordings of this two-day symposium present new scholarly research on the material culture of Australia. Papers address the rich diversity of objects and the processes, knowledge, and meanings embedded therein. Our purpose is to revitalise the discourse on marginalised media and quotidian culture and bring sc holars, 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.


The Australian Object symposium was presented by the National Art School in partnership with the Power Institute.