Safe Space contemporary sculpture brings together three-dimensional art works by twelve Australian artists that explore psychological aspects of physical space.

It features a range of figurative elements and narrative themes with social, and sometimes political, resonances. Many of the works in this exhibition take as their point of departure: the human body, its dimensions, the spaces it occupies, the narratives that contain it and the theatre or spectacle that unfolds around it.

Works reflect a wide range of approaches that represent the breadth of contemporary sculpture in Australia, spanning: colourful, pop, smooth, clean, commercial finishes to more subdued, monochrome, textured and rough aesthetic styles. The artists also use materials as diverse as concrete, stone, plastic, wood, wax, air, neon, bronze, steel, feathers, lead and leather.

The tone of the exhibition ranges from humour and playfulness, nurturing and warmth, through to unease, psychodrama and melancholy. The social themes touched on include privacy versus public space, refuge and sanctuary, agoraphobia and claustrophobia. These blur into psychological themes of risk, exposure, harm, frailty, isolation, suffocation and protection. Political themes include sexual and labour exploitation of Aboriginal women in Australia’s colonial history and the fate of refugees who come to Australia in boats: being turned back, detained or drowned at sea.

The materials and approaches encompass a number that can only be considered as sculpture in the expanded field that it has come to occupy with the advent of minimalism and other later-twentieth century art movements—those that have blurred the demarcations between the plastic arts that were a feature of modernism. But to honour sculpture’s past as a distinctive discipline, key works are included in Safe Space that use one or other of its enduring foundational processes, those that may be grouped under the categories of ‘additive’ and ‘subtractive’.

The exhibition can’t be defined according to these techniques and motifs alone, though, as most of the works embrace multiple methods within a single piece, while others span whole environments and performative approaches to three-dimensional space.

The title of the exhibition coaxes viewers to consider the ways these art works engage the themes of safety and its lack; space in all its rich possibility and—perhaps unexpectedly—in all its difficulty. Sculpture is conventionally defined by the way it occupies three dimensions. Yet these works project into other psychological and cultural dimensions; those that cannot be contained within the physical realm.

Christine Toussainte Morrow