Originally created for the 52nd Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia) in 2007, Callum Morton’s awe-inspiring installation Valhalla was acquired for the TarraWarra Museum of Art collection in 2016.
Conceived in the wake of the destructive conflict in Afghanistan and prompted by the artist’s discovery that his childhood home, designed by his architect father, had been pulled down by its new owners, Valhalla is a three-quarter scale remake of the original residence in ruin.
While the exterior surface of Morton’s Valhalla is charred and crumbled as a result of some terrifying incident, the interior is a pristine corporate foyer, an antechamber for the visitor. By pushing the lift button, the lobby is transformed into a darkened space haunted by anxious sounds that nevertheless tilt towards a macabre humour. Valhalla becomes a state of mind—an anxiety about the destruction of life, and the loss of a sense of place. A further expression of the work is activated intermittently, usually at dusk, when smoke and lights appear to escape through the crevices of the ruined façade.
The term Valhalla derives from Scandinavian Norse mythology which arose around the time of the Vikings (c. 790–c. 1100 CE). Valhalla is the hall of the slain, the place where souls killed in battle gather before joining those who died long before. This vestibule for the chosen dead has been an inspiration across the arts, perhaps most notably in Richard Wagner’s depiction of Valhalla in his opera cycle The Ring (1848–1874).
In stark contrast to the languid natural surrounds, the serpentine modernist curves of Clement Meadmore’s Awakening, and the repose of Allan Powell’s design of TarraWarra Museum of Art, Valhalla provides visitors with a melancholic urban expression of the contemporary condition in which warfare, the built environment, and our everyday lives are inextricably linked.