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Hayden Fowler

White Australia  2006

single-channel digital video, colour, sound

23 minutes 52sec

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Henry Ergas, 2009

2009.39

About the Artwork

In White Australia we see two holes cut into a tiled, claustrophobic corner of what could be a bathroom, laboratory or clinic. An overlay of droning, discordant sound seeps from the space, creating an atmosphere of industrialised torpor. Every few seconds a white rat scuttles out of a hole and across the space – a hypnotic action repeated over and over by other rats throughout the video’s 23-minute loop. Their repetitious movement is a response to what Hayden Fowler considered to be the dangerously apathetic nature of dominant Australian society during the years of the Howard government (1996–2007). Inspired by the unthinking mass movements of 9 to 5 commuters at a busy train station, the artist presents his rats as creatures caught in a system of power over which they have little control.

Fowler originally trained as a biologist, and his work – for which he builds sets and trains animals himself – investigates our problematic interactions with the natural world. He is interested in the nexus between civilisation and the domestication of animals, focusing on aspects such as interdependency and adaptation. Rats have been the companions of mankind, for good or ill, for millennia. The white rats of the laboratory and the clinical trial have been a mainstay of medical science, allowing us to manipulate nature to overcome disease and extend life spans. The rat has also been a cultural mainstay – a metaphor of individual cleverness and cunning, but also of group compliance, a runner in a rat race of pointless pursuit.

A central concern of my practice is the problematic contemporary relationship between humanity and nature, or of nature within humanity.

Hayden Fowler, n.d.

Hayden Fowler

– About the artist

Born 1973, Te Awamutu, New Zealand. Lives and works Sydney.


Hayden Fowler creates photographic, video, installation and performance works featuring human and animal subjects in elaborately constructed sets. Much of his work is concerned with the relationship between humans, animals and nature, and our understanding of ourselves as a civilisation and a species. Fowler originally trained as a biologist, majoring in animal behaviour, before undertaking undergraduate studies in art.

Fowler has exhibited widely, including the selected solo exhibitions Your Death, Gallery 9, Sydney (2015); Call of the Wild (Whekau), Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney (2014); New World Order, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand (2013); The Long Forgetting, Dubbo Regional Gallery, NSW (2011); Call of the Wild, Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle (2008); and Video Projects, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, New Zealand (2007).

Recent group exhibitions include New Romance: Art from Australia and Korea, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2015); Wild Side: The Animal in Art, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, Lake Macquarie (2014); Among the Machines, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand (2013); The Visitor, Black & White Gallery, Brooklyn, USA (2012); Awfully Wonderful, Performance Space, Sydney (2011); The Blake Prize, National Art School Gallery, Sydney (2011); and The Animal Gaze, London Metropolitan University, UK (2009).

Fowler’s work is held in a number of collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Artbank, Sydney; Elton John Collection, London; and Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand.

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