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Australian art

Contemporary art


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a) an art gallery b) 168 Day St, Sydney, from the series Secret archives of the recent past



Helen Grace


1949 -


Helen Grace has been exhibiting photographs and creating films since the late 1970s. Her film 'Serious undertakings' 1983 won the Reuben Mamoulian Prize for Best Short Film at the Sydney Film Festival. She is also a respected writer and academic.

In her photography, Grace draws on past situations to reflect on the present, overtly weaving together the values of art and politics. 'Secret archives of the recent past' investigates 12 sites of radical political and cultural activity as well as places that the artist frequented during the 1970s. A photograph is paired with documentation on parchment tracing the legal history of the building. This pair, titled 'an art gallery' and '168 Day St, Sydney' refers to the premises of Mori Gallery, one of the few stalwart bastions of community activism, both then and now, in the Sydney art scene, which at the time was the headquarters of a political organisation.

The small infrared photograph glows with a luminescent quality that suggests an obscured perspective. This is the radiance of a past disguised, a building seen through another light and from a different moment in time. The silky oak frame works as an archetypal window, framing the building and underlining its significance, while the corresponding document traces a history too easily forgotten and literally re-developed. Yet in the space between image and manuscript lie the unrecorded activities of the site - 'the ghosts which redevelopment attempts to exorcise but can't', writes Grace.1 Documenting such fragments of recent history belongs to an honourable tradition of photography now somewhat outmoded as the master narratives of modernity have largely collapsed. Grace's humble yet critical interventions are an attempt to preserve heritage of a different order.

1. Helen Grace in a letter to Stephen Mori, 25 Jun 1995

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007




Media category


Materials used

a) type C photograph, silky oak b) parchment paper and architectural tracing paper documentation


a - photograph, 11 x 16.5 cm, image

a - photograph, 61 x 51 cm, frame

b - documentation, 90 x 61 cm, sheet


Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2002


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Helen Grace

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Judy Annear, Points of view: Australian photography 1985-95, Sydney, 2005. no catalogue numbers

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2003 [for the year ended 30 June 2003], 'Year in review', pg.14-35, Sydney, 2003, 20.

Natasha Bullock, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Time - memory - place', pg.288-311, Sydney, 2007, 296 (colour illus.).