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Exhibition story

A photograph of someone kayaking under a red post-bushfire sky.

Every breath of air is precious, vital to life. Air connects each breath we take, from first to last. Air is a space of potential and dreams.

Air connects us to one another, and to life across the planet — all that has been, all that will be. We think of air very differently to a resource such as water, because it feels infinite. We share one atmosphere, and it is warming. We breathe together, but the air we breathe is not the same.

‘Air’ draws together the work of artists from Australia and across the globe over five chapters, giving shape to the invisible and exploring our reliance on this unique mix of gases. This exhibition follows ‘Water’, which closed early in March 2020, as we became aware air carried a new threat, COVID-19. Responding to the pandemic, we were able to fundamentally change how we live and interact with each other, but it hasn’t been easy. We have seen humanity’s potential to embrace change and deliver life-saving solutions. Many have experienced immense loss of life, suffering and social unrest.

Air temperature will be the measure of how we meet the existential challenge of global warming. We are living in a critical decade of opportunity as we rapidly re-engineer our energy systems, societies and structures of care for one another.

When artists address the global issues confronting us today, they energise within us the power to change the world — by changing the way we look at it. In a freewheeling murmuration, Jonathan Jones and Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM show how ancient knowledge of this land can spark new thinking. Tacita Dean transforms a tool of learning into a ‘history painting’ and vivid warning, making clear the precipice we stand upon. Tomás Saraceno’s gleaming aerosolar spheres model a new future of freedom — drawing energy from the Sun, the fluctuating warmth of Earth and, most of all, from each other.

‘Air’ was on display at GOMA — in Gallery 1.1 (The Fairfax Gallery), 1.2 and 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery) — from 26 November 2022 to 23 April 2023

Feature image: Rachel Mounsey / Australia b.1975 / Mallacoota fires in the sky 3 (detail) 2020 / Inkjet print on Canson Platine Fibre Rag paper / Purchased 2021. QAGOMA Foundation / © Rachel Mounsey