Overview - Void and the Undefined

Hayley Millar-Baker’s and Mabel Juli both discuss the idea of invisibility in their work in different ways. Mabel Juli’s work, Garnkiny doo Wardel (moon and stars) depicts an important ancestral story for the Gija people. Her true meaning is often unsaid but rather felt in her use of graphic black and white natural pigments, which she uses to powerfully articulate the void, or negative space that surrounds the stars in her night sky. Mabel Juli uses this void to communicate the relationship between the infinite, and what is seen and unseen. Just like Mabel JuliMillar-Baker uses her birth Country (Wathaurong) to nurture a cultural connection. Her work is inspired by her ancestral country and tells of the volcanic rock formations which provided her ancestor’s safe passage and refuge during early colonial settlement. Both using art to speak of an undefined void and the space that creates.

Artist’s Voice

...They used to take me out bush when I was a little girl – good size – and they told me all about those Dreamtime stories. And I always remember those stories. I got ‘em in my brain.
— Mabel Juli
Rocks hold a very deep important narrative in my ancestral history through the landscapes of Gunditjmara country. The landscape was ruggedly pushed and altered from lava flow during the eruption of Budj Bim (now known by its colonised name Mount Eccles). The lava flow broke down over time and gave my ancestors a safe place to live away from the Colonists. From these rocks my family built their famous and now heritage listed stone MiaMia housings, river systems and eel traps, and also used the rocks as a way to escape murderous colonists.

The 71 rocks are installed into formation depending on the context, the land, and the country it sits on. Each rock was washed, cleansed, and is painted black and varnished to conceal it’s identity thereby protecting it.
— Hayley Millar-Baker

Hayley Millar-Baker, Meeyn Meerreeng (Country at Night), 2017. 71 volcanic and granitic rocks, acrylic, varnish, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery.

Mabel Juli, Garnkiny Ngaranggarrni, 2006. Natural ochre and pigment on canvas, 180 x 120 cm. Courtesy the artist and Warmun Art Centre.

Talking Points

  • Investigates the Layers of Indigenous Knowledge embedded in artworks.

  • Understanding how artworks are created for different audiences by assembling materials in a variety of ways. Looking at Expansive understandings of time.

  • How does art represent likenesses of things in the world and help students discuss the undefinable voids and complexities in society.

Getting Started

What are the things that are undefined but we know are there? What are some things that we know are there but we can’t see?

  • Brainstorm a list of  texture and shape words. Describe an object using these words without naming the object - can you class guess what you are describing?

  • Wrap an object up with a material like foil, paper or fabric and ask students to guess what the object is.

Discussion Questions

  • Why does the artist conceal identities and meanings in both their artworks?

  • For Millar Baker, these formations speak to her own feelings of connection to and disconnection from Country.

  • Aboriginal people refer to the Dreamtime, which is often undefined by time but rather it is felt or represented through art, what other examples are there of this in your culture? First nation astronomy looks at the space between the stars rather than just the stars themselves. Can you think of any negative spaces or spaces in between where the negative space (void) is just as or more important than the positive space?

  • Mabel Juli depicts her ancestral narratives that are expressed by the night sky. What is your personal cultural or connection to the sky?

Haley Millar-Baker

Mabel Juli

Mabel Juli, Garnkiny Ngaranggarrni, 2006. Natural ochre and pigment on canvas, 180 x 120 cm. Courtesy the artist and Warmun Art Centre.

Activity | A Series of Prints

Print One: Drawing from memory

  • Closing your eyes draw the outline of your special object (VAS 3.1) You might like to have a few turns at this.

  • Thinking of the way Mabel Juli uses her choice of materials (natural ochre pigment) to communicate and create a strong contrast between the negative and positive space. Which two colours can you use to enhance the positive space of your drawing? Think about the density, texture and pigment of either your ink, pen or paint (your choice) and the way you can use it. Similar to the way Mabel Juli uses these tools to create the deep blackness of colour in her work. (VAS 3.1) (VAS 3.2)

Cross Curriculum Connection: Mathematics / Science and Technology / English

Print Two: The void defines the form

Write an instruction sheet for someone that is going to make a replica of this shape you have designed on grid paper. Create instructions using an X-Y plane. (MA3 - 8WA)

  • Get a partner to follow these instructions and create the shape. Your partner is to mark a dot on an X-Y plane grid everytime there is a new instruction and then draw a line to the next spot.(MA3 - 17MG)

  • Once the shape is complete (the shape should be marked out by lines connected by dots), work through the process of deciding on the medium you will choose to fill the negative and positive space.

  • Record this process of decision making in an art diary and explain why you chose the materials you did. (ST3 - 5WT) (EN3 - 6B)

Exhibit your prints (print one and print two) side by side and write a reflection on the finished process. Think about visually what you notice is different about each print and how that  relates to the meaning of the original object. (EN3 - 1A) (EN3 - 6B)

Cross-Curriculum Connection:

  • Indigenous cosmology ties to relationships (ST3 - 8ES)  (GE3 - 2)

  • Indigenous sky stories and links to travel and environmental sustainability.  (GE3 - 1)

Curriculum Links

Visual Arts

  • VAS3.1 Investigates subject matter in an attempt to represent likenesses of things in the world.

  • VAS3.2 Makes artworks for different audiences assembling materials in a variety of ways.

  • VAS3.4 Communicates about the ways in which subject matter is represented in artworks.

Science and Technology

  • ST3-5WT - plans and implements a design process, selecting a range of tools, equipment, materials and techniques to produce solutions that address the design criteria and identified constraints.


  • EN3-1A communicates effectively for a variety of audiences and purposes using increasingly challenging topics, ideas, issues and language forms and features

  • EN3-6B uses knowledge of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary to respond to and compose clear and cohesive texts in different media and technologies


  • MA3-8NA analyses and creates geometric and number patterns, constructs and completes number sentences, and locates points on the Cartesian plane

  • MA3-17MG locates and describes position on maps using a grid-reference system

Further Research