Ceremony

Learning Resource

A black and white photograph of a loungeroom. In the right corner a young girl is facing away from the camera.

Hayley Millar Baker
Nyctinasty

2021

Hayley Millar Baker, Gunditjmara and Djabwurrung peoples, Nyctinasty, 2021, commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra for the 4th National Indigenous Art Triennial: Ceremony with the support of Kerry Gardner AM and Andrew Myer AM, and the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. Courtesy the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery.


The term nyctinasty refers to the movement of leaves and petals in response to the onset of darkness, a protective mechanism that is beneficial to plant growth. The film follows the protagonist, played by Millar Baker herself, following an evening routine of self-care in preparation for nightfall. These acts –bathing, tending to a fire, the application of charcoal – reflect the ceremonial acts of care for the body and spirit after death, presenting a continuation of traditional Aboriginal spirituality and practice

Set in a domestic interior, the film is intentionally slow-paced with shots that linger and record the protagonist’s movements in detail, enticing the audience into a meditative state where they are feeling as well as watching. Drawing on the visual vocabulary of horror films, of which Millar Baker is a devoted fan, the pacing belies a rising tension throughout the film – creating the sense of invisible presences that surround the protagonist and a desire for release. Whereas in the horror genre, spirits almost always have ill-intent, the forces at play in Nyctinasty are ambiguous, presented as part of the daily reality of the protagonist’s life.

What is familiar and comfortable to you in this work?

What questions would do you have about the work?

What are some domestic rituals in your life that allow you to provide self-care?

What does it feel like to undertake these rituals and processes- what is the outcome?

Spend some time thinking deeply about the domestic rituals in your life. Write a dot point list of all the processes you undertake and in what order, what time and materials do you need to complete them?

If you were to give this list to someone else, would they be able to follow it and undertake the domestic ritual?

Now record the outcomes of this ritual using words or drawings. How does this ritual change of impact you physically, mentally or emotionally?

From the Audio Tour:

Artist Hayley Millar Baker on Nyctinasty

I make art because that is all I've ever wanted to do, it's all I ever considered myself doing. That's just who I am and that's just who I'm meant to be, there was no other option.

I see myself as a storyteller. My old people are storytellers, they're magic people. I'm really abstracting that, but in a contemporary time.

I've got so many ideas on identity and memory and experiences, and how that shapes a person. What people take away from it is dependent on who they are and their identity and their experiences.

Horror film is what I looked at for the ingredients to make Nyctinasty, taking those ingredients and then changing them so much that they become almost delicate. For anybody who doesn’t have that connection to a spiritual side, the film will seem horror-esque, but to anybody who does have that experience, it’s going to be a connection to the way they experience it. There’s many things in this film that are made to mesmerise, to make you feel like you’re meditating, where you are feeling as well as watching — the hands and the crushing of charcoal, the spitting of the fire, the pot boiling with the egg bouncing around, the vacant wall, where you know there’s nothing there but there’s something there.

— Hayley Millar Baker, 2021