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'This is an ugly work': Donald Trump's giant empty head descends on Ballarat | Art and design


What’s inside Donald Trump’s head?

In a sculptural depiction of the US president’s head by the Australian artist Callum Morton, which popped up in Ballarat on Wednesday, not much.

Instead, the piece of public art – three metres high, made from fibreglass, resin and timber – is an empty space that viewers of the work can climb in and inhabit for themselves.

A combination of sculpture and architecture, the outdoor work – titled Monument #32: Helter Shelter – emerges from the ground, and contains a shelter fitted with bench seating, and decorated by inferno flames.

Since it debuted at the Barangaroo precinct in Sydney, it’s been popular on Instagram and has travelled to Queensland. On Wednesday it debuted in Victoria, at Alfred Deakin Place behind the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Morton, a professor of art at Monash University who has been exhibited at Australia’s major art institutions and around the world, made Monument #32 in response to our current political times. “I am interested – actually I am appalled – by these hard-right, alt-right figures,” he told Guardian Australia. “I am aware that this is an ugly work, it is a vulgar work – a bit like him. The work is very confronting.” Friends of Morton’s have threatened to tip it into Sydney Harbour, he said.

Morton spoke to the Guardian while driving through bushfire smoke haze on his way to Ballarat for the work’s opening event. “[The piece is] now going out in the context of the fires. The country is on fire. This figure [Trump] can create these circumstances via climate change denialism. We are in a time where we need to look at the world. We’re living in the smoke haze.”

But what if you are a fan of Donald Trump? Could the work be seen in a positive light?

“People who like Donald Trump are crazy,” he says bluntly. “I understand people who are attracted to the alt-right – it gives people a focus. [Alt-right figures] draw on imperial nostalgia to reassure people.”

Morton puts Morrisson in the same camp. “I don’t think you can find hope in politics any more – it’s a mockery of representation.”





Callum Morton and Art Gallery of Ballarat director Louise Tegart



Inside the presidential dome: Callum Morton with Art Gallery of Ballarat director Louise Tegart. Photograph: Chippy Rivera

But while his outlook is grim, the work itself is colourful and cartoonish.

“I’ve always been drawn to The Simpsons, to saturated colour and hyper graphic work. I want to make beautiful things – beautiful things are reassuring. Sometimes I do works of beauty – and sometimes I do work like this.”

While Morton says he didn’t intend to make an image that would spread fast on social media, “any work that is kind of readable in the public sphere in a pop veneer is an Instagrammable work”.

He says it “belongs to the language of the protest march”, comparing it to paper mache puppets of politicians that appear at rallies. Ultimately though, “I don’t dictate how people read the work. Everyone will bring their own thing to it.”

Monument #32: Helter Shelter is showing at the Art Gallery of Ballarat until 5 April



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