Titled Inhabit, sixteen oil paintings are sequenced like cartoon cells, revealing Ben Quilty’s early training as an animator and his experience as an editor in a commercial television newsroom – where in 2003 he witnessed, among other events, the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad. The paintings progress through stages of abstraction and figuration, in which the devil emerges from a field of paint and becomes Captain James Cook (after Nathaniel Dance’s portrait commissioned by Joseph Banks), who atrophies into a skull, which becomes a portrait of the artist, who disappears into a void.
Inhabiting the space created by the paintings are large metal sculptures that take the form of birdcages. Fabricated from steel, resin and bronze, they are based on a cage commissioned by Banks for use in the antipodes during his intrepid natural history expeditions. The cages feature cast myna bird skulls and blackberry branches, an allusion to fellow invasive species – voracious colonisers of their habitats.