The Interior

Brisbane-based artist Natalya Hughes invites gallery visitors to dive into the depths of their psyche with a psychoanalysis-inspired exhibition titled The Interior at the Institute of Modern Art, 30 July–1 October 2022.

Drawing on the gendered power dynamics between public and private space, the exhibition presents a playfully exaggerated consultation room. Combining sculptural seating, richly patterned soft furnishings, uncanny objects d’art, and a hand-painted mural, The Interior creates a stimulating space to unpack our collective and unconscious biases.

Natalya Hughes, one of Australia’s most exciting mid-career artists, is known for her explorations of decorative and ornamental traditions and their associations with the feminine, the body, and excess. Recent bodies of work investigate the relationship between Modernist painters and their anonymous women subjects.

In The Interior Hughes builds on her interest in the role of women and their historical absence from positions of power. The exhibition asks, “Can we use the talking cure to solve society’s ‘problem’ with women?”

The custom-made couches that dot the gallery, take their lush contours from the shapes of the female body, and their detailed upholstery sees motifs of eyes, rats, and snakes taken from patient case studies from the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

Audiences are invited to recline and be enveloped, soothed, and held by the furniture’s womanly forms while taking turns playing analyst and patient.

With this bodily encounter The Interior creates a space where the existence of women can be reimagined on different terms in the ‘post-Me Too’ world.

About the exhibition the artist said, “In this work I wanted to explore something of society’s unease with women; I am interested in the representation of women, how we are conceptualized, and why expectations of us are so slow to shift. Freud founded psychoanalysis – a theory which informs much of my art making. Women are also problematic within his work, but psychoanalysis provides a useful framework for dealing with problems around gender and what we value. By mining Freud’s references and imagery of women, I seek to see what they might offer or reveal, in order to more equitably reimagine the idea of ‘woman.’”

Exhibition curator Tulleah Pearce said, “The IMA is thrilled to present this new commission from Natalya, a significant undertaking within her practice. This exhibition is deeply researched and intricately executed – the pattern details drawn from Freud’s case studies and the furnishings inspired by his consultation room, really reward close viewing from visitors. We are also excited about the playfulness involved in The Interior, where the audience are asked to complete the work by stepping into the roles of analyst and patient. Hopefully, this participation reveals something surprising to those who take up the offer.”

In November 2021, Hughes was announced as the recipient of the Michela & Adrian Fini Artist Fellowship, awarded by Sheila Foundation, helping the artist to realise The Interior, her most ambitious project yet.

The Fellowship supports the development of new work by contemporary wom*n practitioners at a critical juncture of their career, and assists in the presentation and documentation of the work at contemporary art spaces within the national Contemporary Art Organisations Australia (CAOA) network.The Fellowship was established through the generosity of Sheila Foundation board member Michela Fini and her husband Adrian, and is awarded annually over three years, to provide vital support to wom*n artists and contemporary arts institutions around Australia.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication focussing on Hughes’s recent practice; featuring writing from Dr Susan Best, Dr Jacqueline Chlanda, Dr Andrew McNamara, and National Gallery of Australia curator Elspeth Pitt. It will be designed by EviO Studio and feature imagery from three series of Hughes’s distinctive work.

Image: Wolves, Watching 2021- 2022, Tufted rug (cotton and wool yarn, backing cloths, adhesive), 155 x 126cm. Ref: Wolf Man case study. Based on Wolf Man’s painting “The Wolf Man’s Dream” by Sergei Pankejeff.