Exhibition review: 1000 Year Plan for Gertrude Glasshouse

A complex mixed media showing of works on paper, glass sculptures, combined with original operatic music score.

Mia Salsjö’s unique, interdisciplinary artwork, 1000 Year Plan For Gertrude Glasshouse is an intricate illustration of the work that exists at the crossroads of Melbourne’s traditions in contemporary musical and visual practice, that has been incubated by a range of galleries and nurtured by the Victorian College of the Arts. However, the striking originality of Salsjö’s work is entirely her own.

Seeing Salsjö exhibition means entering an ethereal soundscape that is visually intricate, conceptually variegated and sonically intriguing, and 1000 Year Plan For Gertrude Glasshouse is peak Salsjö that combines all these elements to create a series of works that make a profound statement about the notion of place. 

The conceptual layer is a hook that hangs on this theme. 1000 Year Plan For Gertrude Glasshouse is an archeology of the notion of a gallery: what it is, what it represents, and what it can be. In a process characterised first by scrupulous research, Salsjö begins with the floor plan of the gallery and ends with an orchestrated score of music whose parameters are determined by the dimensions of the space. Sounds complicated? It’s surprising how it’s not.

Salsjö’s works have an elegance that makes them easy to apprehend and are as memorable as an encounter with a friend.

It’s a concept that’s at its clearest when you look at the visual layer, which consists of a representation of a plan of a gallery 1000 years in the future. The plan has a spiritual theme – the image that caught my eye was the plan for The Gate of Perpetual Manifesting – but the works exist very concretely in architectural drawings supplemented with fine pencil annotations. These annotations represent the dimensions of the space, but become something more: the basis for a musical composition that plays in the space. 

The musical score is composed of two baritones, one mezzo soprano, percussion and two horns. The orchestration is a gesture towards Salsjö’s musical background – she has a degree in improvisational jazz – but their presence in the space takes an almost sculptural component, amplified by big resonators that look almost like gas bottles but create sound as delicate as moth’s wings. 

Finally, a range of recycled glass sculptures painstakingly etched with the numbers are used in creating the music and highlights the sculptural element of a work. It all comes together to build on the original concept of embroidering the plans from the 19th century industrial origins of the gallery. 

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The overall effect is an artist dextrous across mediums and confident in concept and in theme. The piece is a moving meditation on the plan as the soul of the work, and the gallery as the custodian of artistic practice, which like a revelation of the spirit, can be accessed through a variety of senses, forms, and techniques. 

1000 Year Plan For Gertrude Glasshouse is on at Gertrude Contemporary in Collingwood until 8 October 2022. 

Vanessa Francesca is a writer who has worked in independent theatre. Her work has appeared in The Age, The Australian and Meanjin