Smith’s Migratory Projects are a series of cross-disciplinary
works focusing on migration, mobility and proposed elaborations on
Australian do-it-yourself culture. Transported into the Gallery, this
interconnected system creates a parallel space to renegotiate the outside,
everyday world. The projects, initiated in Western Australia and the
Netherlands in 2000, are a series of sculptural and process-based works,
notably now brought together in Sydney for the first time.
Partly informing Sunley Smith’s practice are the profound effects of
migrating from the North of England to Australia. Out of this experience emerged
a fascination with the turbulence and displacement of migration, as well as
an interest in techniques of survival and the creation of comfort in an unknown
1978-2006, Trailer Garden and Sauna can all be viewed as direct and
pragmatic responses to ¬this personal history – and yet they
also reflect the artist’s critical scrutinisation of the economy
of the art world, as well as a reassessment of the ideas proposed by
much conceptual art. But although these projects aim to offer something
back to visitors (whether that be a movie screening, book reference,
fresh food or a relaxing sauna), they are not solely altruistic; these
resources are used on a daily basis by the artist himself, and represent
his own interest in permaculture, recycling and modular architecture.
All of Sunley
Smith’s projects use pre-existing objects or practices, converting
them into functional sculptural machines for living that are manufactured
on a human scale - for example, Sauna is made from an artwork packing
crate, Trailer Garden is a standard car trailer that was built from
scratch and then modified, and the Carrier vehicle has been transformed
to become a reference library, campervan, portable cinema and studio.
The objects he makes or modifies (usually by hand) implicitly question
the value systems culturally inherent in them, and automatically reaffirm
the importance of the prototype as a form of thought or research. These
are then placed into a museological setting, creating a kind of museum
of manufacture - for example, Microgestures operates as a sculptural
and photographic record of all the materials and techniques used in
the transformation of Carrier.
earlier works (such as Urn) require viewers to actively participate
if reward is to be achieved, more recent works (such as Microgestures)
emphasize Sunley Smith’s interest in the exchanges of labour,
both within the art world and in a broader context. This reflects a
commitment to process on many differing levels; from the process of
manufacturing the works themselves to the interactive process that
occurs within the gallery or museum. It is also important to note the
interlinking of the works within the overall project (the Carrier connects
with the Trailer Garden, which is also built to transport the Sauna,
and so on). This is more immediately revealed in Road Trip Dinners,
where the artist and friend drive Carrier to catch and prepare a fish
for dinner, cooking it over the engine of the vehicle itself, and using
fresh vegetables and herbs from the Trailer Garden.
recent project, Drive Out Cinema, further investigates the themes of
migration and loss, and how these might impact upon human relationships
and material possessions. Repeatedly, we see items of domestic furniture
dragged and eventually destroyed on deserted roads, while alternately,
unknown figures run towards us, anxious to catch up and not get left
behind. Finally all the viewer is left with are a series of dissolving
lost highways and silent dust clouds, in what could be a poignant ending
or a new beginning.
not only reflect an abiding interest in mobility and the resulting
situations that are created; Sunley Smith’s practice itself stems
from a continuous movement between creative fields and disciplines.
Migratory Projects is a concrete investigation of the pragmatist proposal
that “our aesthetic concepts, including the concept of art itself,
are but instruments which need to be challenged and revised” (1).
These projects, then, are not a reproduction of the world, but a borrowing
of forms to create new formations, aiming to move beyond the oversimplification
of the ‘representative’ and ‘non-representative’ dilemma.
questions the belief that objects have fixed and unalterable values,
suggesting instead that form exists only in the encounter itself. Migratory
Projects creates a parallel position of activity and exchange, a kind
of workable utopia that can operate on an individual, everyday basis.
January 2005 Footnotes: (1) Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics, Rowman & Littlefield,
Tin Sheds Gallery, Sydney, 5-26 February 2005
The artist would like to warmly thank the following people:
Mark Brown, Ray and Barbara Brown, Hamilton Darroch, Danny & Debra Egger
and the Egger family, Sarah Goffman, Nicole Hewitson, Peter ‘PJ’ Jackson,
Adam Laerkesen, Julia Charles, Tom McKim, Paul Thoms, Abigail Moncrieff, Philippa
O’Brien, Sharnie Shield, Martin Sims, Bruce Slatter, Tom and Nena Smith,
the Thompson family. Special thanks to Sophie O’Brien.
This project was supported by the National Association for the Visual Arts,
with financial assistance from the NSW Government Ministry for the Arts.