Artist interview: Sally Smart - Art Collector

13 March 2013

Sally Smart’s latest exhibition at Breenspace is the first Australian exhibition of her new body of work The Pedagogical Puppet. Art Collector interviews her about the inspiration behind this new direction.

Sally Smart, Choreographing Collage, 2013. Synthetic polymer paint, ink on velvet cotton and various collage elements, video, steel, cotton string, rope, cardboard, pins, photographs, chalk, pastel, glue, all on canvas (detail), 1150 x 332cm. Courtesy: the artist and Breenspace, Sydney

You’ve recently returned from a post as artist-in-residence at the University of Connecticut, where you developed your Pedagogical Puppet Projects. Can you elaborate on your experiences there? What is the pedagogical nature of your project?

Yes, I was the University of Connecticut’s 2012 Raymond and Beverly Sackler artist-in-residence culminating in a solo exhibition at their Contemporary Art Galleries. I produced a new body of work that includes an exploration with time-based media and performance. While on the campus, I was able to take advantage of the expertise of UCONN’s world-renowned puppetry arts program and the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, and use the School of Fine Arts' newly outfitted media lab to do editing and high-speed film rendering

Pedagogical Puppet Projects developed from research into choreographer’s drawings, looking at how dance movement might be described and documented visually and to make a connection to the performative processes involved in making my work, and lead to me thinking about showing the process of my thinking/mapping/planning through diagrams and notes. I was researching Rudolf Laban’s drawings (a pioneer of modern dance in Europe), connected with the philosopher Rudolf Steiner who used puppets in his teaching and blackboard dissertations to impart his knowledge. So I was inspired to use the blackboard to literally document my notes/writing ideas/meetings daily at UCONN and also as a visual connect to the pedagogical process.

I then divided my works into various projects and the videos I made reflected these. For Choreographing Collage I was working with Marie Boyette, a choreographer and dancer trained in Laban techniques. She developed and performed a choreography for me based on her response to my cut-out works, which I made in response to Martha Graham’s choreography costume and set design in the performance/ballet Appalachian Spring. The work combines my cut-out elements in a stop-motion animated sequence with dancers performing the choreography. I build my time is the blackboard, as an installation wall work, chalk drawing, puppet elements and cut-out works.
The Pedagogical Puppet Instructions for Cutting and Tearing combines shadow puppetry and movement; chalk board drawing with text from the writer Maria Tumarkin commissioned to work with ideas around cutting and in particular my interest in the neurosis described as delicate cutting. Finally, The Pedagogical Puppet was working with a group of puppeteers to produce a marionette of myself and a puppet performance work which is currently a work in progress.

Above right: Sally Smart, Choreographing Collage (Pedagogical Puppet series), 2012. Type C print, 76 x 78.5cm, edition of 5. Courtesy: the artist and Breenspace, Sydney

Can you run us through what visitors to Choreographing Collage can expect to see?

The exhibition at Breenspace titled Choreographing Collage focuses on the choreography aspect of my project, the video of the same name and various cut-out assemblages works. There are collage painting works using silkscreen elements of dance and drawing, along with photographic works made in the USA. All the works are combined into a large floor to ceiling blackboard installation work, documenting ideas and process including embroidery works that are based on fragments of costumes from the Ballet Russes, as artefacts of performance. This installation includes new sculptural works from the Artists Dolls series, commissioned for the GOMA exhibition Contemporary Australia: Women in 2012.

The female figure is literally and metaphorically dissected in a lot of contemporary art. What does your approach offer?

I have always seen the act of cutting as political, which I refer to as the politics of cutting. This approach developed in the 1990s, along with ideas of identity and gender politics, referencing the unstable nature of identity. I used the technique of cutting and pinning to emphasise this, a pin away from dismantling. It was also a methodology to explore the body, using and referencing medical metaphors to dissect and analyse conceptually and technically in the art I made. In the early works the dismantling of the stretched canvas was to emphasise the cut-out, cut-up attitude, to re-construct, a sign for political, psychological and aesthetic dismantling.

Sally Smart, Choreographing Collage, 2013. Synthetic polymer paint, ink on velvet cotton and various collage elements, video, steel, cotton string, rope, cardboard, pins, photographs, chalk, pastel, glue, all on canvas, 1150 x 332cm. Courtesy: the artist and Breenspace, Sydney

The materials I use are still integral to the conceptual unfolding of my work along with these processes of cutting, pining, staining. The relationship between the body, thought and culture are recurring themes in my work, along with neglected women’s histories, as subjects for contemporary art too.

Alexandra Djurichkovic

Sally Smart's exhibition
Choreographing Collage continues until Saturday 23 March at Breenspace in Sydney.

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