The SALA Podcast aims to engage South Australian visual artists and arts industry professionals in interviews about their arts practice and creative lives, and in discussion about topics relevant to the arts. The SALA Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts.
See below for the latest episodes and accompanying show notes, images and transcripts.
Episode 8: Social engagement and working with communities
This episode takes us back to the 2018 SALA Forum for the second session of the day: Social engagement and working with communities, a panel discussion featuring Daniel Connell, Laura Wills and Paul Gazzola.
Episode 7: The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs
This episode takes us back to the 2017 SALA Forum for a Q&A session from The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs. Andrew Purvis and Sasha Grbich take us through what non-corporeal means, and what necessitates a paranormal research office in the City of Adelaide.
by Sam Roberts
Steph Fuller 0:07
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. In this episode, we’re revisiting a Q&A by the Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs featuring Andrew Purvis and Sasha Grbich. It was recorded by Channel 44 during the 2017 SALA Forum in the ACE Open building in Adelaide, with Andrew and Sasha dressed in skye-blue coveralls presenting to a seated crowd.
Andrew Purvis 0:42
Before we begin, I’d just like to reiterate Chris’s remarks before and acknowledge and pay our respects to Aboriginal elders past and present and recognize the fact that we’re meeting today on Kaurna land. The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs is a pretty new department, probably not very many of you know who we are or what we do. We do have a website set up, you can reach us at www.noncorp.com, and we’ve been getting a few emails through to that website, a few inquiries. So I thought maybe one of the best ways to introduce ourselves and let you know what we do and why we’re around is to read out some of those questions that we’ve been getting over the website, sort of, we can do a bit of a back-and-forth and interview each other. So I should introduce myself: My name’s Andrew Purvis, this is Sasha Grbich.
Sasha Grbich 1:34
Okay, well, yeah, thanks, Andrew, and also thanks SALA for letting us come and speak about our department because, like Andrew said, we’re a fairly new department, so any chance that we have to get out there and speak to people about what we do is really important for us. So I guess I’ll start off with a really simple question, we often get asked: what is non-corporeal? And why do we call ourselves The Department of Non-Corporeal Affairs?
Andrew Purvis 1:58
Sure. Well, at the basic level, thinking about what the word means: I, Sasha, most of you in this room, are corporeal -it’s a bit of a mouthful- which means you have a physical reality, it means that you can be touched and touch others. There are members of our community who are non-corporeal, these are people who have no physical presence, how they might manifest is in a range of different ways. You might have come across non-corporeal citizens of Adelaide who are ocular appartitions, or maybe -sorry, I shouldn’t discriminate, they might be present in this room right now- maybe you are a smell. Maybe you are a sound, or maybe you are a cold spot. I don’t know how you might choose to manifest or maybe there’s no choice in the matter. But that’s what we mean by non-corporeal.
Sasha Grbich 3:00
Okay, and that’s a fairly specific use of language there.
Andrew Purvis 3:03
Yeah. Yeah. In fact, that was one of the questions that we got over the website. User CarnivosaurusRex, asked: “The department seems very sensitive in its approach to to language, why don’t you use terms like dead and departed?”
Sasha Grbich 3:19
Well, actually, I just, yeah, we don’t use the D word, dea- no, don’t use it. I think something that becomes clear when we’re speaking about the department is that this is all about fostering positive relations with non-corporeal presences. And to put the emphasis on maybe that split second, you know, that probably not a very good moment when they passed away, potentially, you know, that seems like, against our sort of ethos and aims. And so we’re much more focused on the previous, you know, 50, 20, 70 hundred years, that that that presence may have had. And also, you know, their ongoing presence as a non-corporeal format, that might be very positive as well. So yeah, we try not to, please try not to…
Andrew Purvis 4:06
Yeah, we like to believe that it’s very possible to live a very full and active life/existence as a non-corporeal entity.
Sasha Grbich 4:15
So I’m just following on, you know, in terms of who we are what we do, and we had another question from another user online: Swayze’sNotDead. He says “Are you guys like the Ghostbusters?”
Andrew Purvis 4:32
We get this quite a bit. We’re not interested in busting. We don’t do any busting. It’s not what we’re about. It’s not more interested in. What we’re interested in is really community wellness, about building social cohesion between different community groups between the living and the and the non-comporeal communities in Adelaide. That’s what drives us and getting to know and understand members of our community that maybe you don’t have much common interaction with, or, you know, even perceive on a day to day basis, I think is very important to us.
Sasha Grbich 5:12
Do you have a question for me?
Andrew Purvis 5:13
Yes, I do I keep forgetting that I do. So, I think this question brings us around to the theme of today’s talk, which is about the value of the arts. So, User DuckTailSucks89 wants to know “Why are my ratepayer dollars being spent on this crap?
Sasha Grbich 5:43
And look, it’s a fair question. And I think it’s at this point that we do need to acknowledge the support of the Adelaide City Council. But, you know, but seriously, I mean, there, there is a very serious side to this. For me, and I think for you, and all those others that were involved in setting up the department, which is to say that we are concerned about, sort of, perhaps you might call it a cultural amnesia, a tendency to forget the past very quickly. And we noticed this in Australia quite a bit. And so we believe that this project, amongst many others, is really important in terms of honoring, remembering, and having a strong relationship with the past. Whether it be, you know, the in the last few years or pre-colonial times. So this, for me, is the importance of the department. And also because I think for too long, we’ve treated ghosts as scary.
Andrew Purvis 6:43
Yeah. And I think that’s something that we’re very much about, is this idea of sucking the spookiness out of this idea of non-corporeal presences; a ‘ghost’, if you want to use that term, is a person too. Or was.
Sasha Grbich 7:01
Or a dog.
Andrew Purvis 7:02
Or a dog, yeah. In fact, we don’t entirely know what they were… Yeah, depending on their age, they may be single-celled organisms or something that might go back to the Proterozoic era.
Sasha Grbich 7:12
I have a question for you Andrew: What services do you offer?
Andrew Purvis 7:18
As part of the department -and we are supported financially by the Adelaide City Council- so we are providing services for the citizens of Adelaide and the wider community as well. One thing that we can offer is working as an investigation and consulting service. If you have, or suspect you have, a presence in your home or in your workplace: feel free to either contact us through the website or come into the offices, and we offer site visits, and we also conduct investigations working in conjunction with the City of Adelaide’s archives department to look into the history of your property, whether that be a home or an office and think about who was there before? What was this land used for before, what was this building used for? And maybe we can narrow that down for you. Maybe we can tell you who lived here before. I mean, if you hear a noise in the middle of the night, and you don’t know what it is, that’s frightening. I mean, we’re all scared of what we don’t understand and we don’t know. But, if we’re able to tell you that 70 years before, a woman named Gladys lived in your house, and Gladys had a job and she had a family and she had children, and were able to tell you that, next time you hear a noise them in the night you say “that’s Gladys, that’s nothing to be frightened of”. It’s just like having a housemate; it might be one way of thinking about it. We also are very interested in working as a research hub. So people that want to come into our offices, and just share their experiences, we can write those up and record those experiences. We’re really interested in hearing experiences from people from a different culture who have come here. We’ve already had people come into the office from Hungary and tell us about the spirits they brought with them in coming to Australia. So we’re really interested in hearing more about that. Which I think leads us, Sasha, to you know, the idea that if people don’t want to come into the office, or they don’t have a physical presence and are unable to come into the office, how else can they make contact?
Sasha Grbich 9:34
It’s a really good question. So we also have a website, which is one of the most active sites of interaction I suppose. On that website, we have the ghost registry where you are welcome to submit an experience. If you can’t type, if you’re non-corporeal there is also a Ouija board in the office you are welcome to contact us on. And as always, one knock for ‘yes’, two knocks for ‘no’.
Andrew Purvis 10:07
One for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’.
Sasha Grbich 10:11
So which brings me to an important question. Um, could you tell us a little bit about some of the encounters that have been reported so far, Andrew?
Andrew Purvis 10:18
Well, as I was mentioning earlier, there’s the gentleman from Hungary, who was telling us about the spirits that he bought with him. We’ve had another person come into the office and tell us in quite long detail about an ear infection that they’ve been suffering from for quite a long period of time, which apparently is the manifestation of a non-corporeal entity. And we also received a submission over the website just last night, about a spirit that, in the middle of the night, managed to put on a Fleetwood Mac LP on a turntable. It didn’t start from the beginning of the track, it started from the center,
Sasha Grbich 10:59
Early Fleetwood Mac; pre-Rumours
Andrew Purvis 11:00
Yeah it wasn’t Rumours or anything like that
Yeah. From the center of the LP, so there was no scratch marks, nothing.
Sasha Grbich 11:13
No, gently placed it on, beautiful. Better than I could do.
Andrew Purvis 11:15
Yeah, I mean, really sort of interesting. And I think that that goes towards also, what we were saying before about understanding the interests and the desires of the non-corporeal citizens of the city, if we can get to know them better. If we know what their musical tastes are, then maybe we can live together a little bit more happily. Yeah so…
Sasha Grbich 11:40
You know, if you have a question,
Andrew Purvis 11:42
I’ve lost thread of who has the questions, was it my turn?
Sasha Grbich 11:46
Andrew Purvis 11:50
So another question we received on the internet was, inquiring whether or not we’re in contact with any of the other paranormal researchers or ghost hunters in the city?
Sasha Grbich 11:59
Oh, absolutely. So of course, if we position ourselves within the council, one of the important things that we can offer is to provide a directory of services and projects. And so we are quite interested, we’re also putting in part of the work that we’ve been doing since setting up the department is documenting and pulling together other projects and practices and businesses are in this area. So you know, and this is probably a great point to acknowledge the wonderful Sera Waters who’s been interviewed so far for that aspect of our project with her ghost stories project -and I think I’ve got the title wrong there- but her work is also in the Artpod, and you can view it there. We’re also speaking to paranormal investigators, and it’s fair to say that we’ve been somewhat mentored by Allen Tiller, who is… well you tell us.
Andrew Purvis 12:50
I think is one of the most preeminent paranormal researchers in South Australia. He runs a haunted Adelaide website, he has also appeared on the Haunting Australia TV show, Allen’s approach to ghost hunting is very similar to ours. Allen is also the South Australian emerging historian of the year. And it is his research into hauntings that has earned him that accolade. Allen is very interested in identifying and researching the history of hauntings and understanding where they might come from, what they’re about. He is not, as you might have seen on TV, some sort of… some ghost hunters who are very interested in the scientific and the gadgets and the devices… Allen is much more research-oriented.
Sasha Grbich 13:35
He is, and so he also records ghost voices, which I’m so into. Yes. Okay, so I have a question for you now: If, for example, I had a threatening presence in my house, and they were non-corporeal..
Andrew Purvis 13:51
If they’re corporeal, just call the police.
Sasha Grbich 13:57
Good start, yeah. Could you help me?
Andrew Purvis 14:00
Sasha and I are amateur paranormal researchers. We lay that out there, we’re very upfront. We’re probably not equipped; our skill set is limited, and if there are any hostile or aggressive presences in your home or workplace that are non-corporeal,
Sasha Grbich 14:18
gallery or studio
Andrew Purvis 14:19
gallery, studio, whatever it might be; our recommendation would be to contact a professional or to contact a representative of whatever belief system that you subscribe to. So that might be the church or, or many different faiths. I mean, if you’re an atheist, I believe you can contact Richard Dawkins, I think he really loves to get emails like that. I think he can be a big, big assistance to you.
Sasha Grbich 14:46
And look, just sort of finishing off now: we were talking just before about, I mean, we love the SALA Festival, we love it, but we think it’s perhaps missed something.
Andrew Purvis 14:47
Well, we do think in the way it is framed, and the terminology they use, it is a little bit exclusionary. So as we lead up towards the… the department is has a finite lifespan -as do we all- it will be leading towards a closing around October 6, the actual date is yet to be set.
Sasha Grbich 15:18
You’re welcome to come, everybody
Andrew Purvis 15:19
Yeah. But for our closing event, we are going to be addressing some of the things that SALA perhaps isn’t servicing; the parts of the community that aren’t being service. So we’ll be running the South Australian Dead Artists Festival, and we invite all of you to come along.
Sasha Grbich 15:39
Thank you. Now look, that concludes, I think all the questions that that we sort of pulled from our website and our experiences so far, but if you have any questions yourselves, you’d like… feel free. Yes. Straight in.
Audience Member 15:52
How important are the uniforms to the work that you do?
Sasha Grbich 15:55
Hahaha, so important.
Andrew Purvis 16:00
I don’t think we could do it without it, to be honest
Sasha Grbich 16:06
I hope that answers your question.
Andrew Purvis 16:09
I mean, the uniforms are an acknowledgment that we are largely bureaucrats and we provide a social amenity, that’s what we’re here for. We’re not, we’re not conducting, we might conduct séances, but we’re not sort of like with lit candles and, you know, a skull in the corner or anything like that. We’re trying to take the kind of very traditional sense of the Gothic or horror out of the conversation. That’s not what we’re about. So the uniforms help us do that, and they position us in a certain way.
Sasha Grbich 16:47
I mean, one member of the team might have suggested that she would only collaborate if she had a uniform also
Andrew Purvis 16:53
Yeah I recall a conversation like that, yeah.
Audience Member 16:57
Andrew Purvis 16:59
Okay, well, thank you very much.
Episode 6: Sundari Carmody
In this episode, Kate interviews artist Sundari Carmody about her practice, which gives sculptural form to unseen phenomena. Carmody is drawn to research in the areas of dark matter, sleep and the study of nocturnal creatures, and in her work considers how to engage with universal systems and aspects of being using materials such as concrete, textiles, mist and neon. See her work at ACE Open as part of If the future is to be worth anything: 2020 South Australian Artist Survey.
‘Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ Dr Matthew Walker
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD) in ‘Confessions’.
Sundari Carmody, One: all that we can see, 2017, neon light with 95% painted black, electrical components, 40 x 40cm
Sundari Carmody, white white (summer and winter solstice), 2017, neon light, electrical components, 70 x 100cm
Sundari Carmody, The Build Up – masks, 2014, installation view, CACSA Project Space. Photography by Steve Wilson
Sundari Carmody, The Build Up, 2014, (Volcano) velveteen, poly-fill wadding, calico, steel, tent-poles, felt and sequins, 163 x 520 x 520cm, (House) painted plywood, mdf and steel, dollhouse lights, 130 x 30 x 40cm / Installation view at CACSA Project Space
Hello and welcome back to the SALA Podcast. I’m joined today by Sundari Carmody in her studio at ACE Open, which is on Kaurna land. And I’d like to acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and pay my respects to Elders past, present and future. Sundari is a sculpture based artist working with diverse materials, including concrete textiles, mist and neon. She also works with video and performance. Her practice concerns itself with the question of how to engage with universal systems and aspects of being which linger in the category of the unknown. Her work explores the subjects of dark matter, sleep, and the study of nocturnal creatures. The scope of her investigations take into account the scientific, cultural, physiological and psychological aspects of the dark, and give form to things that are invisible and just beyond the limits of our perception.
Sundari your work explores the unknown and the enigmatic often drawing on our unconscious relationship with the cosmos, and the universal forces that influence our experience of the world, such as seasonal changes in daylight, gravitational pull and planetary motion. Your practice is steeped with symbolism and is also highly theoretical. And I would say that maybe it’s placed somewhere between science and intuition. What percentage of your practice would you say is spent on researching the subject matter, and on the conceptual side of developing the work as opposed to the physical side of making it?
Hmm, interesting that you asked about percentages. That’s a difficult one to answer. I haven’t actually thought about how much I spend on each. There’s probably a lot of researching just because that’s what I’m interested in every day, I’m listening to podcasts, or I’ve ordered a book online about the history of the enlightenment and scientific discovery. And then I’m taking notes as I’m reading, if something sticks out, then I note it down in my book, and then it might feed into an idea eventually, it could be immediately or it could be a few months down the track. So I think it’s probably both happening at the same time. I’m developing ideas as I’m listening to things or reading things.
And how do you know in that sort of research, in those times, how do you know when you sort of stumbled upon like the kernel of an idea that you want to work with? Or how do you know, when you’ve struck something that you want to follow that line of inquiry?
To give one example, I was listening to BBC Radio 4 podcast called ‘In Our Time’, and each episode is about something different. And I listened to a discussion on bird migration, maybe three or four years ago, and the ideas of bird migrate- the theories of bird migration- there’s still a lot that is unexplainable. There’s, there’s a lot of… people don’t know where birds learn, to fly to. It just seems to happen. And I was really drawn to that mysterious force that drives these, these birds to travel thousands and thousands of kilometers each year. And I didn’t make anything right away with that. But I noted it down and I knew I wanted to do something with it. It’s this invisibility in the idea that I was drawn to. And now maybe four years later, I’m, I’m working with with a bird themed sculpture that draws on those migratory patterns.
And do you think, you know, sort of looking at how your artwork is sort of investigating this unknown and the sensations that we as people but also you know, the animal kingdom experience and are influenced by but or not easily definable and are often unseeable, those things that are maybe just beyond the limits of perception. Do you think that you use a lot of intuition when you’re creating your work?
Quite possibly. I think intuition, it’s difficult to measure, if I use it a lot, or a little bit, but there’s always a scientific way of depicting something where it’s measurable, and repeatable. But this is a more poetic interpretation of a scientific idea that I’m more interested in seeing the poetry or the, the mystery of it, rather than focusing on what is measurable.
You work with neon in a number of your sculptures, and in your work called ‘One: all that we can see’, you refer to a contemporary physicist’s hypothesis, that dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the universe. And normal visible matter makes up only 5%. Coming back to percentages. I love this idea, and I think it really encapsulates that theme that you play with in your work that you were just referring to. Can you talk a little bit about your neon work, that one and the others that you’ve made, and why you chose that as a medium to express some of those ideas?
The material of neon is really interesting. For that particular work, I used them because the idea and the material, both work together, it is about light. And it made sense to use a material that was illuminating; was light itself. And the circular neon called ‘One: all that we can see. It’s it’s a neon bent into a circle. And it’s a white tube, but 95% of it has been blacked out. And so only 5% of it is actually admitting light. And there’s all these pie charts online that refer to the idea that everything that we can see in the universe that is visible, that emits light, or that blocks light. So planets, dust, stars, and galaxies. They’re visible to us. But there’s a whole other world out there that makes up the other 95% that we can’t see. So it made this pie chart become an object that was light, and blackness as well. And the other neon light that depicts two neon lines, neon tubes, rather, that are in the shape of lines on the graph that I found that measure the intensity and duration of light on the summer and winter solstice. So they using a light to depict measurements of light. It just kind of came together. In that way when I was thinking about these lines and how to make them a physical object.
There’s a thread that runs through your work connecting individual experience with the enormity of the universe, and studies of biology and physics, and the forces that rule our universe. Ideas that are both all-encompassing, but also very intimate at the same time, connecting human experience with these giant, cosmological questions. You’ve suggested that maybe through sleep, or the unconscious or altered states of the mind that some of these big questions might be better understood. Can you talk a little bit about this idea and how that relates to your work?
I think the planetary movements and astronomical events that include the gravitational pull of the earth, the alignment of the planets, all these things seem quite big. And on an individual level, they don’t seem to affect us. But then we are deeply affected by the events of the universe and of our solar system. The fact that our Earth revolves around the Sun in a particular pattern, the 24 hour cycle, and a 365 and a half or and a quarter, day orbit, that that is affecting the way we have evolved as humans, but and it also affects our daily rituals, our sleep/wake rhythms… the rhythms of life on this earth are affected by astronomical events. So, I was thinking a lot over the years about sleep, and in the darkness and things that happen in the dark, while at the same time also becoming increasingly interested in astronomy and how this new research and old ideas being revived in astronomy that are being proven or disproven. And these two, these two areas of astronomy and sleep studies or sleep; the experience of the dark. They seem quite disparate, or they seem like they’re unrelated, but they’re completely related. And it took me some time to really marry those ideas together in a really succinct way. And when I came across the idea of sleep, being an astronomical event, it just, it seemed quite simple. Like, it was so obvious, I don’t know why it took me so long to bring those two together. But it is, it does demonstrate to me just how much we are affected by by nature and by what’s happening on this ball that we’re on the floating in space.
I love that idea of sleep as an astronomical event. It really ties that kind of universal with the very personal.
Have you ever played around with your circadian rhythms, you know, practice different sleep cycles or tried to emulate different sleeping patterns that animals and humans have had over the years?
I think I had a long hangover of my teenage years. I think well into my twenties I was sleeping really really late and waking up really late. I’ve worked really hard to adjust my sleep patterns and I’ve read a lot about how to improve my sleep quality as well as my sleep rhythms/cycles. It’s really hard for some people. And I’ve learned that some people… the idea of a night owls and and morning larks. In the book I read, called why we sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker, he refers to the to the night owls and skylarks when he’s talking about the studies that they’ve done on people, people’s sleep cycles. And they’ve put people in bunkers in complete darkness for weeks, I think. And I’m not sure how legal those studies would be now. But he refers to these old studies and they discovered that some people have a naturally 23-hour cycle and some people have a naturally 25-hour cycle. And that’s why we have that division of morning larks and night owls. And so it is hard to switch from being one to the other. And I think probably, like most people, I have a very complicated relationship with sleep. I drink too much coffee; I do all these studies and and then I ignore them all.
Yeah, I think sleep is something that feels like it comes naturally to most of us -obviously, there are sleep disorders and things- but try to mess with those things, it sounds so much easier in theory like wake when the sun comes up. And you know, it’s not always compatible with our lifestyles either. So…
No and Thomas Edison was famously afraid of the dark. And then he invented the light bulb, I’m pretty sure I have the right person. And and just how much that light has affected our sleep. Having light at nighttime when we should be producing higher melatonin levels to get ready for sleep and the light’s messing with that.
Oh, that is a very fun fact. Afraid of the dark. Oh, that’s a good motivation for invention, isn’t it? The passage of time and temporality is always present in your work in some form. So, you know, again, referencing those laws of nature, from the representation of data that tracks hours of sleep, to comparisons between seasonal daylight and the collection of thousands of opium poppy seeds from your own garden over several seasons, and it suggests a real durational work that sort of a thread through your practice. is time a medium for you that you consciously practice or is that part of your work?
Time is incredibly important to studies of sleep and to astronomy. And it’s something that’s really, I think, important in not only in my practice, but I think it’s a reflection on how much it is a factor in the way we live our lives. When people… we talk about time all the time.
Yeah, ha ha ha.
But we do we, there’s so many poems about time, there’s lots of stories about time travel, or… we don’t even really know what time is. I’ve started trying to read more and more about time, from a physicist’s point of view. And it’s very complicated. There’s an astronomer, I think, from the Middle Ages, his name escapes me, but he famously said that ‘if, if no one asks me, I know what time is. But when I’m, when I’m asked to explain it, I know not’. or something along those lines, and it is a mysterious force too, in a way we, we, we can stretch it to be quite long or short. And it seems malleable, but also something that just is like a current and just flows on, without, without any control. It’s beyond our control, in a way. And the whole idea of daylight saving time, it’s very interesting that that humans try to sort of control time, I think there’s all these political ideas of, of time to like the way we set our clocks to be synchronized to the Greenwich Mean Time, because that historically, that’s where they set these things up. And so that there’s it’s a very rich area to explore, and I’m sure I will keep exploring it. And yes, it does. There’s, there’s an element of time with the seasons and with the way that the Earth’s orbit affects the growing of things. So like the poppy seeds that I’ve been collecting, I have to wait for them, I can’t make them happen. They have their own time. And I have to work on their time, each season collecting the seeds, after they’ve sprouted and grown and bloomed and then losing their petals and then drying out. It’s kind of similar to the way an astronomer works. They can’t make the stars appear, they have to wait for them; we’re at the mercy of time.
Some of your work references the black swan metaphor, and uses swan symbolism either explicitly or implicitly. Can you talk a little bit about what the black swan means, in the context of your work?
The black swan, such a beautiful creature – again with the birds. The work of mine that uses the black swan, I think is quite different to everything else, in the way it appears. But there there are a lot of elements of it that follow the same thread. So the black swan was a mythical creature to Europeans, it didn’t exist. The oldest ones that we can see are white, and therefore there are no black swans. And then there was the discovery of the Antipodes and we had black swans in Australia. And it disproved this idea that was completely false. And so the black swans only live in Australia. There used to be black swans in New Zealand, I believe. But these swans were brought back to Europe as novelty pets, I think. But in my work, the way I’ve depicted the black swan is I’ve come across a memoir written by a great, great aunt of mine, who was a nurse, a World War 1 nurse. Before the war broke out. She was living in London. She’d moved from rural Western Australia to London, and was working as a nurse in the hospitals there and she joined the monster march of the suffragettes and she and other Western Australian nurses decided to make a banner. And on that banner, they depicted the black swan. And so they marched, holding this black swan in London. And it’s kind of this interesting for me that I mean, there’s obviously a political aspect of the story that I could have gone down, that I could have followed, and worked with more, but I was just drawn to the idea of this, what was a mythical creature, but is actually alive. And is such a beautiful creature, and then being marched on a banner down the streets of London. And it kind of is like a way of showing a mysterious force or, or sharing, or empowering, something that wasn’t seen; making something visible that was invisible.
Yeah. And on that ‘making something visible’, or, you know, sort of embodying something, your work often alludes to human presence, more implicitly, like the suggestion of a head impression on a pillow. And some of your works refer more overtly to bodies such as the use of masks. And that sort of directly references the corporeal as well as cultural practices. Can you tell me a little bit about cultural influences and how your formative years growing up in Indonesia helped shape some of your arts practice and some of those works that you’ve made with the masks?
Hmm. It’s an interesting question. I get asked a lot. What was it like growing up in Indonesia? And it’s a difficult question to answer because I need to be able to make a comparison. And that was my only experience really, I didn’t have two childhoods that I can compare. Grow growing up in Indonesia, I think, has had a lot of influence on my work, but not in any way that I deliberately make visible. It’s such a rich visual culture there, especially in Bali, which is where I lived, and masks and temples and flower arrangements, paintings, there’s just so much to see everywhere, and there’s a big element of animism. So the island practices Hinduism, but it’s a different kind of Hinduism, where it’s combined with a lot of Buddhism and animism as well. So the trees and rivers, they are personified, and they are revered. And they have spirits, things that we can’t see. But we, as the inhabitants of the island have to pay our respects to. And Bali is quite famous for the way that it depicts its culture through carvings and paintings. But I have been drawn more to the ideas of things that can’t be seen, but are acknowledged as having a presence. I don’t know if ‘being drawn to’ is even the right idea, I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to incorporate that it kind of just became part of part of how I saw things.
And your work, I think you’ve made a couple of works that sort of hinted at the volcanoes that were part of that experience, and how that relates back to your ‘seen and unseen’, you know, on the surface and hidden beneath the surface sort of themes.
Yeah, I made my very first sculpture was a velveteen volcano, was four meters wide and almost two meters high or not quite. And it’s called ‘The Buildup’, which alludes to this powerful, unseen force deep below the volcano, deep below the earth. So we can see the volcano and the crater. But there’s this terror of the unknown when we see a volcano. We don’t actually know when it could spew up all of that lava and erupt and change everything around it. And it was definitely a big part of the landscape in Bali and the rest of Indonesia. And I think, returning again to the idea of things that we can see are affected by things that we can’t see. And we know that the invisible things are there, because of the way they affect things that we can see, kind of like consciousness and dark matter and dark energy. We don’t know what they are, but we know that they’re there because of the way they affect the things that we can observe.
Like gravitational pull, indeed, and the tides and everything connected. Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about the new work that you’ve got in ACE Open in the exhibition called ‘If the future is to be worth anything’.
I’ve got a series of sculptures in the foyer of ACE Open, there’s two concrete sculptures, which take up the form of architectural models, and they’re black. And then there’s two other suspended works. One is a brass ring. And the other is a sheer organza piece of fabric that is hanging from the ceiling all the way to the ground, and it has a gold leaf circle embedded in the center of it. And these works, I was developing them, in my mind, I think for quite some time. And I started working with clay while I was away on residency last year in Berlin, and I bought a bag of clay because I knew that I could make a lot of different things and then just put it in a bucket and just smoosh it all down and reuse it and just kind of sketch out my ideas. So I started playing around with these forms that look like architectural sites that are used in cosmic spaces. So like observatories or temples, or just dark sky spaces, where we can observe the night sky with the naked eye. And there are temples that I have referred to in the making of this work. There’s also a site in India called the Jantar Mantar, which is actually a very scientifically accurate site where they have steps and towers that precisely align with certain times of the year, they precisely align with stars that they can observe. And it’s essentially one big sundial, in a way, and I haven’t visited this site, but I’ve seen images of it. And it resembles like a temple, but of science. And I was also exploring cathedrals, while I was away, and looking at thermal baths. And the way that these spaces, they create a mood, or have an atmosphere that is quite different to other spaces. They’re contemplative; there’s the sky and then or there’s the water, and just air. There’s just you in that space, either looking up, or looking in, to yourself. And so the site, the models that I’ve made from concrete, draw on a lot of these architectural spaces will and one, one of them in particular, does actually take the essential elements of a Water Temple in Bali, right next to my mother’s house where I grew up. It has the steps leading into the water. And it’s situated in a valley so the only view is up.
There’s a, particularly with the works that you’re talking about here, a very spiritual element. There’s sort of a, you know, the contrasting or maybe complementary relationship between science and spirituality. And humans sort of grappling with that. Again, these works as sort of have a disembodied, you know, like a suggestion of humans with, you know, steps leading down and things that are there for humans to interact with. But, but again, there’s that absence so that I suppose the audience can contemplate being in that space.
Yeah, that’s right. I think creating a model that is to scale would allow someone to sort of mentally walk through, walk through the space and imagine being in there to scale. I think we’re, we’re a pretty special creature, humans. I think there’s a there’s a lot of hatred, self-hatred, at the moment with with humanity. And rightly so. But I think we also need to appreciate the the specialness of being a being a human. I mean, my cat gazes up at the sky, but I don’t know if it’s the same kind of thing. There’s a lot of wonder and yearning for something beyond that is quite unique to us. We we create so many artifacts, there’s so many relics of spaces and objects that are reaching to the sky.
I think that’s a really nice place to wrap things up with with us gazing into the abyss lying back and looking up into the darkness with all the light and stars and the unknown around us. So thank you for for joining me today, Sundari.
Episode 5: Juanella McKenzie
In this episode, Kate interviews Port Augusta artist, Adnyamathanha and Luritja woman, Juanella McKenzie.
Juanella is the recipient of the Country Arts SA Breaking Ground Award, and speaks to her next steps in developing this work.
Episode 4: DIY Audio Tour
This episode actually doubles up as a do-it-yourself Audio Tour! You can follow along in real life with your headphones in, or simply enjoy tuning in like you would any other episode. Hear from Jacinta Koolmatrie as we roam the CBD and recontextualise some of Adelaide’s sculptures and monuments, visit Troy-Anthony Baylis’ Nomenclatures at the Art Gallery of South Australia and finish up at Nexus Arts with Makeda Duong’s exhibition Mixed Race Female. Each stop falls within Adelaide’s free tram zone and you can press pause as you move between them.
- Statues erase more history than they tell – Jacinta Koolmatrie
- White Australia Policy
- Art Gallery of South Australia
- Troy-Anthony Baylis: Nomenclatures at Art Gallery of South Australia
- Troy-Anthony Baylis (AGSA video)
- The National 2019
- Nomenclatures Act 1917
- Guildhouse fellowship (supported by the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation)
- The Castle (1997 film)
- David McDiarmid, When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you, 1994
- Catalogue Essay by Daniel Mudie Cunningham
- Meet Your Maker: Troy-Anthony Baylis (Adelaide Review)
- Troy-Anthony Baylis – Instagram
- Nexus Arts
- Mixed Race Female at Nexus Arts
- Makeda Duong’s Mixed Race Sweater: I was born wearing one, and I can never take it off’ (Adelaide Review)
- Makeda Duong and the warp and weft of identity (CityMag)
- Makeda Duong – website
Episode 3: Textiles and Craftivism with Britt Burton & Sera Waters
Christina talks to Britt Burton, Public Programs Coordinator at the Centre of Democracy, and South Australian artist Sera Waters, about craftivism and textiles in art.
Episode 2: Artist Interview with Cassie Thring
Steph talks to SA artist Cassie Thring about her practice, her work bringing art to different communities, what it’s like to have a space in Floating Goose Studios plus a few words from Olive the dog.
Music: ‘Pinky’ by Blue Dot Sessions via freemusicarchive.org