The current exhibition at the UTS gallery, There we were all in one place, was originally slated for July to September last year. Like pretty much every plan that was made early in 2020, things had to change to accommodate physical restrictions and lockdowns. Now leading the 2021 schedule of shows, Hayley Millar-Baker’s exhibition feels very indicative of times – a return to a safe space on campus but with an accompanying learning resource that can be experienced remotely.

The gallery experience

How good are galleries? We all have our own personal places of escapism, reflection, connection or worship, and to have these venues off limits – for even a short period, compared to many other places in the world – has highlighted their importance in bringing a balance back to our lives. The simple ritual of walking into the UTS gallery without a face-mask feels like something special in itself.

Millar Baker’s work has been curated by Stella Rose McDonald to showcase five of her series from 2016 to 2019. Shadowy figures appear in suburban interiors, epic landscapes are surreally layered to kaleidoscope effect, yellow text adds a nostalgic story-book effect to empowering narratives – what ties the black-and-white assemblages together is their open-ended invitations to reflect on memories and our own sense of belonging.

Beyond the gallery

We’ve all become very familiar with QR codes at entry points over the past year. You’ll see one as you enter/exit the UTS gallery but this is less about sharing your data and more about taking your experience of the exhibition to another level. This exhibition website houses a carefully sequenced and scaffolded set of resources that “guide you through a series of provocations and actions to help you forge deeper connections to the work of artist Hayley Millar-Baker.”

While the current climate of hybrid working/teaching was an influence on the gallery for creating a multi-platform show, the works of Millar-Baker have always been as much about the learning experience as the live viewing of her work. The necessity on online experiences over the past year has highlighted how much value remote learning can have when it’s done effectively, and the learning experience of this exhibition feels like an essential element of it. But the ability to guide yourself through the online experience shouldn’t mean lingering on the art any less – particularly if you can’t be on campus for the gallery experience.

A resistance to imposed change in places from the past is ever-present in the imagery of the artist, whose mother is Gunditjmara and father is the descendant of migrants from India and Brazil. The learning experience asks you to tap into your own memories, your connection to the land, your sense of belonging.

While these online materials are accessible and usable as self-guided learning, I highly recommend attending one of the UTS Gallery’s one-hour webinars. Curator/educator Emily McDaniel guides you through key provocations and actions, and you also have the benefit of Millar-Baker being present to provide further insight. Don’t expect all the questions raised by There we were all in the same place to be answered though – this is an empathy-driven process that asks you to put yourself in the picture and offer your own interpretation. A chance to slow down and reflect on our past that we all too rarely allow ourselves.

Feature image: Hayley Millar Baker, Untitled 8 (I’m the Captain Now), inkjet print on paper, 20 x 20 cm, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery.

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