Sally Smart: Assembly (Daughter Architect) comprises new drawings and textiles by the renowned Australian artist, whose practice has engaged with the female subject for over 30 years; employing women’s bodies, histories and legacies to consider female subjectivity within broader cultural frameworks. Working across film, performance, painting, collage and multi-layered installations, her preoccupation with cutting, collage and fabricating has embodied a long-held commitment to feminism and the desire to take risks and transcend boundaries; a practice that has continually foregrounded women as both authors and subjects.
The work in Assembly (Daughter Architect) continues this trajectory, however – as its title suggests – these new textile works and drawings frame the female subject more emphatically as agent and architect. Transgressive female agency is certainly at work in major new textile works Assembly (Performance), in which Smart orchestrates a line-up of female subjects who, in a powerful subversion of the female gaze, turn their backs to the viewer. The work references that of avant garde choreographer Pina Bausch – who, like Smart, was well known for combining text, movement, imagery and emotional directness in complex collages that lay the human condition bare – specifically her iconic work Viktor (1982) in which human transactions are reduced to gender struggles and games of power.
Recent collage drawings take inspiration from a wide range of sources including Surrealism and Dadaism and also refer to earlier works in which Smart takes familiar motifs such as beds and parts of the human body, and unites and transforms them in ways that are surprising, unfamiliar and unsettling. An embroidered version of the Surrealist map of the world that first appeared in Variétés magazine in 1929 is also included in Assembly (Daughter Architect). A subjective projection, with its erasure of the United States, banishment of Europe and centrality of the Asia Pacific region, My Global Body (surrealist map) provides a mischievous punctuation to the exhibition, suggesting that nothing is really ever fixed or permanent. Along with the strong visual impact of the imagery in Smart’s work, it is the richness of this implication that provides new possibilities and potencies for the ‘daughter architect’.