Menu Close
  • When1 September to 22 October
  • CuratorsOscar Capezio and Tony Oates

Install Images

Contemporary artists have lived through an era of uncertainty and disillusion. Floating along a current of late-capitalism, a self-perpetuating system of waste, they find themselves stuck in a cyclical deadlock, overloaded with images of humanity’s self-destruction. In creating art from the ‘backwash’ of contemporary life, artists Robert Bittenbender, Isabella Darcy, George Egerton-Warburton, Sarah Goffman, Spencer Lai, Marian Tubbs, and Philadelphia Wireman grapple with a tide of excessive mass consumption and an ever intensifying globalisation by readdressing its residues.

By colluding with the contaminating force of waste – the useless, the spent, the all-too-much – these artists examine how waste might be considered a natural and normative condition. In his catalogue text, co-curator Oscar Capezio states that Backwash “is a fluid metaphor of excess and expenditure, of the flow and function of waste within a system of consumption. As a dynamic operation of backwards flow, the thematic of ‘backwash’ is deliberately indeterminate and formless, not privy to any one experience or category of object.” Backwash pertains to a reflux within our economies. Its radical edge and its serious implication serves to threaten, to undo, to contaminate, purge, dislocate, and debase.

Working with the politics of shock, many of the artworks assembled in Backwash confront our dependence on consumption and our overwhelming indifference to its effects on a fair and equitable society. “Classic models of economics assume a high degree of predictability and a small compliment of change to stimulate profitability and growth,” writes co-curator Tony Oates. In his catalogue essay, he describes how the ‘spectacle’ of contemporary society “establishes its order by instating blindness; a blindness that we realise corresponds to indifference.” Could the artist’s engagement with disorder and the chaotic provide a strategy that enables us to ‘see’ more clearly?

In Backwash, we encounter complex assemblages of found objects, printed matter, photographs, and paintings. These hyperbolic tangles of the everyday filter the materials and memories that we accumulate. Their modes of construction rely on methods of containment, material limits, and systems of control. Juxtaposing these parameters with elements of unpredictably the artworks in Backwash attests to creative freedom and to subjectivity. The material transformation of these works underscores an empathy for the discarded and the under-appreciated. Yet the work’s playfulness retains a threat of violence, where function and decoration is a distraction from the material’s ultimate violation.

In the central gallery space, George Egerton-Warburton’s three sculptures evoke rural labour, the industrialisation of agriculture and the wretchedness of poverty. He described these artworks as figurative “mobiles, which carry the same vocabulary of weight as hanging meat, [but] are also borders, traumascapes and representations of power.”

In Gallery Three Sarah Goffman’s installation HEAVY DUTY: fifty years of stuff – part supermarket, part garage sale – faces off against Guy Dubord’s 1974 film, The Society of the Spectacle. Both concerned with the state of our world, its lack of clear leadership and our culture’s subsumption into a global economy, Goffman and Debord utilise found materials of excess, appearance and consumption to draw our attention to the ‘spectacle’ and our implicit culpability.

Backwash includes works by Robert Bittenbender, Isabella Darcy, George Egerton-Warburton, Sarah Goffman, Spencer Lai, Marian Tubbs, and Philadelphia Wireman. Curated by Oscar Capezio and Tony Oates.

View list of works.

View Artist Q&A and Artist biographies.



  • TitleBackwash
  • SpecsSoftcover, 80 pages
  • PublisherPublished 2023 by DHG Publishing
  • DetailsFeaturing texts by Tony Oates and Oscar Capezio. Seven plastic sleeve variants featuring works by Robert Bittenbender, Isabella Darcy, George Egerton-Warburton, Sarah Goffmam, Spencer Lai, Marian Tubbs and Philadephia Wireman. Designed by Andrew Darragh and Ricardo Felipe. If purchased online, the plastic sleeve variant will be picked at random.
  • ISBN9780645488357
  • PriceOUT OF STOCK / Buy Now


Buy Now / $90 unframed + $10 shipping /or $580 framed behind UV Museum acrylic + $10 local shipping

  • Title‘Shopping Bag Sculpture’
  • SpecsGeoff Todd, 'Shopping Bag Sculpture', 1978
  • Publisherscreenprint on die-cut plastic shopping bag, 49 x 71 cm. Signed, numbered, and dated on sales slip inside bag in pen and ink, 'todd 1978'.
  • Details10 available to purchase on the occasion of ‘Backwash’, from the original edition of 375
  • ISBN
  • Price$90 unframed + $10 shipping /or $580 framed behind UV Museum acrylic + $10 local shipping / Buy Now

Header image: Robert Bittenbender, “Scotland PA”, 2019. mixed media layered canvases, in a custom frame, 150 × 142cm. Courtesy the artist and Lomex Gallery, New York

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.