Small packages

Small packages, Julie Shiels (1998)
Small packages, Julie Shiels (1998)
Small packages, Julie Shiels (1998)

Small Packages
The increasingly globalised world. Movement of people, ideas and commodities between countries and cultures become a necessity, a currency, a tourism – in constant flux. Asia as our neighbour/Asias as our neighbours.

Julie Shiels makes an installation which examines some of the complexities of these interactions

Cross pollination that can be both
Acknowledged and unacknowledged
Enriching and contaminating
Personal and societal.

Travellers take/exchange small packages of information, currency, opinions, microbes- represented here by airline sickness bags. Collected and arranged as repeating units or colour patches, they become the scaffold for the art work. These small bags make their journey repeatedly, often untouched, always as a reassuring presence to the passenger and a gentle reminder of the possibility of disease/disruption/contamination: a metaphor which extends across cultural, social, political, economic and even bacterial spheres.

The airline codes function as a system of ciphers that rely on being universally decipherable. They could be understood as a new world language, which facilitates and directs transfer. A language of global movement. Everyday. Almost everywhere.

We are initiates. Globalisation demands literacy in new languages- part alphabet/part word/part sign/ part code. Negotiations beyond the interfaces of cultures we visit or receive requires continual expansion of this literacy and understanding into a different context, even to read a street sign.

The ground of the white rice is so familiar to Australian tables that we almost taste it as we look. The Asian staple of the rice bowls, cuisines and economies: a fundamental association for us. Planted, harvested, cleaned and polished. A vehicle of trade and exchange.

So here we observe these small packages arranged on an imagined continent of rice beside the created language of airport codes. And let’s consider the promise of movement, the lure of exchange, the complexity of the emergent globalised world.

Jane Keech

Exhibited at Grey Area – 4th – 14th March 1998

Margins, memories and markers


Margins Memories and Markers (2003 – 2005) permanently imbeds people’s personal memories about place into the urban landscape. Consisting of 6 permanent artworks and over 60 texts works, the project was conceived to mark the end of a long period of gentrification.
Julie Shiels: Creative Director, community consultation, artist and writer

Tommy’s Story: Bill Perrin
Maria’s Story: Julie Shiels
Port Boy: Dianna Wells and Helen Bodycombe
They Wandered: Simon Perry
27 Stories: Maggie Fooke and Julie Shiels
Listening Place: Ros Bandt and Julie Shiels

Margins, Memories and Markers guide (PDF) →

Cooking Stories


Cooking Stories was an exhibition with food, recipes & storytelling at its core.

The vital ingredient in this exhibition was a story about a meal with an associated event. By concentrating on food we captured the story from a totally different angle, accessible to people of any background. This way of telling stories is a powerful way of describing something of life, culture, identity and the importance of food.The result is a collection of stories that reflect the refugee journey in all its diversity.

Immigration Museum, Melbourne, 2003-4

Aunty Alma’s seat

Aunty Alma's Seat

A monument to a local indigenous elder but also a gathering place for the living.

The idea for this work came from a conversation with Aunty Alma in 2002 when we were both sitting on plastic milk crates in St Kilda’s O’Donnell Gardens. I remarked what good seats they were but she said she often had to hunt around to find one. I suggested that we could turn them into bronze and put them in permanently.

After that, every time I saw Aunty Alma she would say, ‘You got to do that, babe. Put it in bronze.’ I was already hunting for money when she died in April 2003, so I felt even more compelled to make at least one seat for her. She was a queen of the park.

When another well-known Elder, ‘Boom Boom’ Forbes died the next year, everyone said Aunty Alma would get lonely just being honoured with one crate so found enough money to make three crates. The third is for the living.edccc

Essay: Against Hauntology and Historicide — L. K. Hart (PDF) →

I love St Kilda

I love St Kilda, Julie Shiels

I love St Kilda was an interactive website diary that started in 2005 and gathered simple observations, images and comments about forgotten or largely overlooked moments in everyday St Kilda.

As a catalogue or archive of these moments and memories this work sat as an uncomfortable counterpoint to the cacophony of voices that were arguing about gentrification at the time.
The site also documented a series of ephemeral works that are surprise interventions in the streets.

In 2007 ilovestkilda migrated to and expanded its enquiry of the urban beyond the boundaries of St Kilda.

Visit the ilovestkilda website.


This series of text work manifests in three different forms: text stencilled onto discarded furniture, cardboard boxes, and a series of words made from magnetic material and wrapped around metal lamp posts.

Quoting, Julie Shiels

Unauthorised text works in public space.

This series of text work manifests in three different forms: text stencilled onto discarded furniture, cardboard boxes, and a series of words made from magnetic material and wrapped around metal lamp posts.

These temporary interventions refer to stencil art and graffiti but without imposing an indelible mark on public or private property. In this sense it is also subverts the very nature of graffiti. Unlike graffiti the letters wrapped around the lamp posts can be re-ordered or removed by the audience and dumped furniture becomes a new kind of public space.

The work also mimics the conventions of advertising by using computer generated text and inserted into public places. The fonts suggest corporate branding and it only at a second glance that the content emerges. These interventions hopefully disrupt to the viewer’s acceptance of commercial interests as ‘ordinary’ in the natural order of the urban landscape.

This ongoing project started in 2005 and was originally posted on Until 2014, new work could be seen on the website.

Writing in public space

Writing in Public Space, Julie Shiels

In a globalised world, cities are rapidly becoming homogeneous spaces. At first glance difference is disappearing, we see the same cars, same buildings, same franchises and hear the same noises.

This work expands the exploration of the ideas in a project called I love St Kilda. That is, that the marks on the pavement and the minutiae found in the streets can tell you where you are and provide clues for deciphering the narratives of the cultural terrain.

The site also documents a series of ephemeral works that are surprise interventions in the streets.

Visit the Writing in Public Space blog


Afterlife, Julie Shiels (2006)
Afterlife, Julie Shiels (2006)
Afterlife, Julie Shiels (2006)

Exhibition Dates
Tuesday August 29 – Saturday September 16 2006
Tuesday – Friday: 11am – 5pm
Saturday: 12pm – 4pm

Exhibition to be launched by Jon Cattapan

I was stencilling stories onto dumped mattresses in the streets of St Kilda when the fabric on their covers caught my eye. A whole history of textile design was going off to the tip. They were too gorgeous to stencil, too precious to leave. So I started collecting mattresses, piling them onto the roof of my car and taking them home. As the garage began to overflow I wondered what to do next. I wanted to give these mattresses another life.

I started sewing pyjamas, carefully cutting each garment to fit the cloth avoiding the blemishes where possible but retaining the intimate history. The pyjamas draw our gaze and invite our touch. But as they attract, they also repel, because of their past, their proximity to the skin of a person or persons unknown. They embody someone else’s story but prompt the question “how do you sleep?”

Art in Public Spaces

Tea Ceremony, Julie Shiels (2007)
Tea Ceremony, Julie Shiels (2007)

Albury Regional Gallery
February 9 – March 11 2007

Keen to increase the identity of its Cultural Precinct as the heart of the city, Albury undertook a residential project engaging three artists’ imagination to explore possibilities for artwork within the defined site. Artists Ludwika Ogorzelec, Julie Shiels and Nicole Voevodin-Cash have developed ideas which embrace the concepts of artworks on the site. The three exhibitions present their individual approaches to art in public space.

Just passing through

Just passing through, Julie Shiels (2007)
Just passing through, Julie Shiels (2007)
Just passing through, Julie Shiels (2007)
Just passing through, Julie Shiels (2007)
Just passing through, Julie Shiels (2007)

(installation detail: plaster castes made from plastic packaging)

A collection of unidentified objects hover on the wall. The forms are strange but somehow familiar. They look almost like museum pieces, specimens from some lost civilisation or perhaps even from another world altogether. Yet they are recognisably the product of our commercial, industrial age.

Just passing through
fortyfive downstairs
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
November 13 – December 8, 2007.
Tuesday – Friday 11 – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 4pm

During 2007, I’ve been walking the streets of the CBD, observing life as a ‘botanist of the pavement’ and collecting discarded items that can be re-purposed – like the plastic packaging used to cast the objects in this show, and flattened cardboard boxes. The boxes are stencilled and then returned to the piles of flattened cardboard stacked on the street for recycling.

Every object has a story.


Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)
Sleeper, Julie Shiels (2009)

Photos: Katie Tremschnig

Monash Gallery of Art, 1 April 2009 – 10 May, 2009

Sleeper, Julie Shiels’ new exhibition at Monash Gallery of Art is the culmination of a four-year project in which she has used discarded mattresses found on the streets of Melbourne as source material for her art.

The mattresses are used in a range of ways. Shiels fashions pyjamas from the upholstery, documents the array of weapons found secreted in the stuffing, photographs a mattress recycle yard and in the series Bedtime stories binds their ornate fabrics into artist’s books.

In his catalogue essay Jason Smith, Director of Heide Museum of Modern Art states ‘ Sleeper reminds us why artists undertake the mysterious, compulsive acts they do to externalise their visions and contemplations of the world we inhabit: they tell us it is necessary to look again, to not deny some of the terrors of the everyday, and to see strange beauty and seek solace in some simple (and not so simple) things. Jason Smith, Sleeper, catalogue essay, 2009.

Cusp: a surgical intervention

J. Shiels RMIT Project Space June 2010
shiels, cusp RMIT
Cusp, Julie Shiels (2010)
4 Cusp - Tuesday's List, 2010
10 all things considered
3 sides- 72
shiels cusp front window - web

Photography: Christian Capurro and Julie Shiels

When a person undergoes a surgical procedure the operation is booked, the risks are assessed and the date anticipated. On the day, the body is prepped and dressed in a special gown but as consciousness slips away, the actual event becomes a void.

Cusp, materialises this void by casting the space in empty packaging that once held surgical implements and devices used in the operating theatre and asks: can these memories be reclaimed? Can we insert our own narratives of illness, healing and intervention into these empty spaces or would we prefer to forget. What and where is this space we inhabit?

Project Space: RMIT, 2010

Cusp catalogue essay

Trace #2 – Linden Centre of Contemporary Arts

01 Trace # 2installation view
03 Fugitive text
lacuna wall detail
dark details lacuna
trace 2 - detail 1
door vinyl- linden - 72
trace ceiling web
rocket and window- 72

Image credits: John Brash

In today’s world of mass-production, anonymous spectacle and gleaming, sterile surfaces, it has become increasingly difficult to leave traces. Rye Dag Holmboe

The objects in this exhibition trace the shape, form & three-dimensional memory of once brand new products by casting the space in discarded plastic packaging. The installation materialises absence via a proposition that these empty spaces and their shadows can be metaphor and philosophical illustration of the forces that underlie the historical processes of social change and progress. These forces inevitably embody both utopian ideals and apocalyptic threats.

Working with the packaging that once held mass-produced consumer goods, objects are cast and silhouettes are formed as large-scale vinyl printouts. In Trace #2, the residues of consumption articulate various ideas about technology, the ingenuity of contemporary design, obsolescence and the industrial and economic processes that drive consumption.

Through the reinterpretation and arrangement of these cast voids, the printing of decorative forms, and the forming of collections, these abandoned spaces become the frame within which, the trace is reasserted.

March 31 – May 6, 2012:  Linden – Centre of Contemporary Arts  – 26 Acland St, St Kilda, Victoria

Trace, index, casting, sculpture, absence

Material Affect

material affect 1 -72
Shiels, J - Material affect
material affect 5 - 72
Object 4
object 9 light
7 object 8
whale 1
Material Affect, Julie Shiels (2013)

Material Affect installation views – Image credit: John Brash
The Substation, Newport, 2013

The psychology of consumption is dominated by repeated attempts to create internal meaning, satisfaction and a sense of self through the acquisition of external things.This series of works reproduces the empty spaces left when domestic consumables are removed from their plastic packages to explore the experience of consumption and reflect upon the emotions it evokes. Unlike most artworks using ‘readymades’, this work is derived from discarded space rather than discarded objects. It takes advantage of the already abstracted form of the package that once held a recognisable household item.

This exhibition presents different iterations of this ‘readymade’ space using a range of materials including loose plaster, aluminium and light – used as a ‘material’ to create photographic imprints or photograms.

Objects 1 – 10 Silver gelatin prints on fibre-based paper 120 x 100 cms

Material Affect catalogue 

Regimes of Value

3. Work, play and sustenance, 2013 72
Regimes of Value, Julie Shiels (2013)

REGIMES OF VALUE, Margaret Lawrence Gallery and Substation, 2013

An exhibition over two venues curated by Elizabeth Gower, investigating the appropriation of urban detritus and ephemera as a contemporary art strategy.

Artists include Lauren Berkowitz, Ryan Foote, Michael Georgetti, Nathan Gray, Matt Hinkley, Lou Hubbard, Christopher LG Hill, Melanie Irwin, Ash Keating, Nicholas Mangan, Rowan McNaught, John Nixon, Louise Paramor, Simon Pericich, Joshua Petherick, Caroline Phillips, Elvis Richardson, Stuart Ringholt, Ilia Rosli, Julie Shiels, Slow Art Collective, Kate Smith, Charlie Sofo, Masato Takasaka and Alex Vivian.

Julie Shiels, Work, Play and Sustenance, 2013, acrylic, plaster and silicon at Margaret Lawrence Gallery
Installation view: Julie Shiels As Long as it Lasts, video 2013 and Micheal Geogetti, Love in the Machine World, at The Substation

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall apart - big
9 Things fall apart 3
7 Things fall apart 1
8 Things fall apart 2
Things Fall Apart, Julie Shiels (2013)


Twenty-five kilograms of dry plaster powder is given form when it is packed into the empty space in a clear plastic package that once held a consumer item.

Things Fall Apart combines two machine-made spaces that are used to order and protect everyday objects. The first is the empty space in a clear plastic package that once contained a consumer item. The second type of space is the hole in a handyman’s peg-board. These spaces are reassigned in a way that extends both their original purpose and their materiality.

The package is used as a mould to distribute serial forms across an expansive platform made from a handyman’s pegboard. The mould and the material are the same in each case, yet no one form is identical to another.

During this exhibition the same sack of plaster will be transformed three times. Each week the powdery castes will be swept up and reformed into a new set of relationships and patterns. However despite these efforts by the artist to influence the relationship between objects, the crumbling forms will assert their own agency and affect each other ‘even when humans are not watching’.[1]

Combining the regular pattern of holes with repetitions of the powder casts This is an experiment with certainty and instability, order and unpredictability, of control and letting go and challenges our anthropocentric version of the world.

[1] Graham Harman “Autonomous objects” New Formations No. 71, pp. 125-130 (2011)

Catalogue Essay
Things e-catalogue (PDF) →

Resisting Disappearance

photogram detail
Resisting Disappearance, Julie Shiels (2015)

Photographs: Abby Robinson

Resisting Disappearance is derived from the empty space found in clear plastic packaging. The transparent form of the empty vacuum package is both an object in itself and an echo of the commodity it once encased.
The voids in these ready-made moulds have been amplified and transposed using two ephemeral materials: light and dried plaster. Julie Shiels uses a combination of photograms and loose caste objects to visualize a trash item in a way that can be perceived beyond its status as commodity. The project seeks to reflect on the temporality, the materiality and the mutability of waste.

Loose plaster, MDF, digital prints. Dimensions variable.

Ubiquitous Object, Ambivalent Things

Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_Hook_2015
Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_Hook install, 2015
Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_shrink, 2015
Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_Install_ 2015
Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_Gap, 2015
Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_iststall2_ 2015
Object 5 b+w
lomo light bground
Julie Shiels_Ubiquitous Object_Things_Fall_ 2015

Photographs: Christian Capurro

UBIQUITOUS OBJECT, AMBIVALENT THINGS: PhD Exhibition, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, 2015
The ambivalent things in this exhibition emerge from ubiquitous objects: clear plastic packages or blister packs. Rather than working with trash as constituent materials, this project focuses on the space left behind by the act of consumption, abstracting and reproducing the void in discarded packaging.
Ubiquitous Object, Ambivalent Things reflects on the how remnants of consumption might be apprehended beyond the status of the commodity and endeavours to navigate around ‘aesthetic fatigue’ — a visual overload of images relating to waste (Scanlan 2013). The project uses the ‘ready made’ mould of the plastic package to visualise the space of consumption, inviting poetic reflections on the temporality, materiality and mutability of waste.

PhD Extended Abstract: Ubiquitous Object, Invisible Things:

Material Affect, Objects 1 – 9 (2013) photogram — silver gelatin print, 93 X 111 cm.
Shrink (2015) vacuum formed acrylic and vinyl lettering (Lorem Ipsum), various dimensions.
Things Fall Apart (2013 – 15) peg board and dry plaster, 232 x 360 cm.
Breach (2015) plaster and MDF, 240 x 250 cm.
Hook (2015) resin, various dimensions.
Gap (2012) acrylic dye and thread, 400 x 250 cm.
Resisting Disappearance, Texts 1 – 4 (2015) digital print, various dimensions.

Small Moments on a Long Street, 2015


Small Moments on a Long Street (2015) is a collection of ordinary objects reproduced in bronze and integrated into unexpected locations in Hampton Street, Hampton. Each object has been installed so it appears to be slightly out of place – like a lost item or something left behind after an event has occurred. The themes and titles of each work are: Change of Temperature, Traces of Time, Measure of Change, Matters of Substance, and Essence of Place, and are located along a kilometre long shopping strip in Hampton.

Image 1: Measure of Change, bronze
Image 2: Change of Temperature, bronze
Image 3: Matter of Substance, bronze
Image 4: Essence of Place, bronze (studio shot)

the unmade, the remade and the half-baked


Early this year I packed up my studio and moved. In the process excavated 13 years of ideas, materials and found objects. This exhibition realises some of these ambitions and consists of artworks I that never started, things I started but never finished, and artworks that that were remade from something else.

‘the unmade, the remade and the half baked’ is another way of considering what goes on in an artist studio, how ideas hang about and about how materials and matter transform from one manifestation to another.

All are works that relate to my interest in the overlooked within everyday settings but also how things (including ideas for art work) continue to exist even when they slip from view.

Rachel’s Pile, 2017, acrylic and wax, various dimensions
Installation view
Understory # 1-4, 2017, found wallpaper mural with excised sections, various dimensions
Recasting the space under a single bed, 2017, found bed legs, timber and plastic, 135 x 185 x 16cms
Recasting the space under a single bed, 2017, detail
Heidegegger’s Crutch, 2017, found timber crutches and epoxy, 120 x 50cm
Sunday Best 8, 2010, recycled mattress fabric, 35 x 125cm
Pick up your towel, 2017, bronze, 51 x 36 x 8cm



This limited edition book is a collection of thirty-two photographs, taken by Julie Shiels with her phone, while she has been waiting. Waiting for son, husband, friends, a seat, to fall asleep, to see the doctor, for the traffic to move.
As Miles Allison says in his essay HOMELESS IN UTOPIA waiting is “the leftover bits of time that function simply to join ‘superior’ activities together.” In other words, forget Henri Cartier Bresson, this is the quintessentially “indecisive moment”. These are pictures of the moment in which absolutely nothing is happening. Terry Lane

Published by M.33

Waiting, rediscovering boredom in the age of the smartphone. The Conversation


west family court landscape
west empty 3 cropped
west 5 - 72
reno day - ATR - 72
east- morning 72
break out 72
east 1- square 72
BLURR - 72
ATR 7 - 72
across the road 1 72
orange couch corrected 72
kitchen west - 72

Exhibition and photo book

Empty is a collection of photographs taken from Shiels’ home on the 20th floor in Melbourne’s CBD. The works capture the stillness and other worldliness of these workplaces when the humans have left the room. The absence of human presence amplifies activities occurring behind the glass facades, turning the focus onto the furniture, tools, technology and personal paraphernalia that populate these spaces.  Inviting a reflection on  the unseen spaces in a city, Empty seeks to remind us that things continue to exist even when they slip from view.

Atrium Gallery: Sofitel Hotel, Melbourne. December 2018 – February 2019

EmptyM.33, Melbourne. Essay by Julie Ewington

All That Remains

install with person
install wide 72
blue and gold pyjamas cropped
install 3 small
sleeping with knives2 small
Stack 5
all that remains 600 copy
chairs 72
i like my time -small copy
4 photos
You never think - Chapel St copy
2 swatch book
cut your cloth3.small
concertina booklets
all that remains

All That Remains – Benalla Art Gallery March 8 – April 22, 2019

All That Remains focuses on the artist’s street-based work (2005-2109) in which she stencils dumped mattresses, couches and chairs with meaningful texts to create temporary public art from hard rubbish. Fabric from abandoned mattresses have been painstakingly remove and tenderly fashioned into soft sculpture in form of pyjamas and swatch books. Gleaned from nature strips, the artist transforms these pre-loved remnants of domestic histories into metaphors for the transience of urban lives and spaces. In this exploration of art from the street  it represents us with a portrait of culture as seen our well worn everyday detritus.  Bryony Nainby – Director, Benalla Art Gallery