Apr 21 - May 16 2010


SALLY SMART  |  Decoy Nest
Exhibition text by Dr Melissa Miles, 2010

Named after the decoy nests made by birds to keep their predators at bay, Sally Smart’s Decoy Nestrepresents an alternate strategy – part of a complex scheme that keeps us guessing and continually exceeds our grasp. Smart forages in the undergrowth of cultural memory, and gathers up fragments from which to build her elaborate assemblages. Elements of fabric and photographs of bodies and trees are cut and layered to comprise this large-scale construction. Variously textured bark photographic elements overlap to form a sturdy tree trunk which sprouts branches that are entangled with ambiguous and evocative forms.

The bed that sits in the treetop alludes to the home as nest. From a nearby tree hang a pair of human limbs as disembodied outstretched fingers and hands simultaneously extend the tree’s reach. These oscillating patterns of life, loss, growth, decay, extension and retreat mirror the larger movement both towards and away from tangible meaning that characterises Smart’s practice. Above this conceptual snare is perched a giant dense black nest.

Decoy Nestis a development of Smart’s earlier work, Family Tree House (2000-2005), which invoked the family tree, the tree house and the tree of life through paradoxical arrangements of homely and unhomely imagery. The blues, blacks and greys of Decoy Nestset a much more ominous tone. Coupled with the tree’s bare branches, this dark palette encourages us to question whether this tree is really dead and merely a host to the activity, or is a deciduous tree in the stasis of winter and a living partner to other cycles of life, death and renewal. Decoy Nestconsequently stands as a potent metaphor for our contemporary moment in which we are being forced to reconsider our past and future relationships to a planet in the grip of global warming and environmental degradation.

The fine straight lines that establish more explicit points of connection between the different elements in Decoy Nest recall practices of map-making and the linear structure of a family tree. However, unlike the cartographer and genealogist, Smart seeks ultimately to unsettle our expectations for structure and transparency in order to open up new spaces for imagination and intervention. The white gallery wall on which the work is pinned thereby transforms into a psychological space in which countless associations are layered, entwined and dispersed.

In Smart’s practice, photographic elements and silhouetted forms are fractured and hybridised to heighten their symbolic potential. Moreover, by emphasising the pins and joins that connect each of her formal components, Smart makes visible the highly physical and performative processes of collecting, cutting, reconstructing and pinning through which her work is produced. This performative quality is reiterated by the figure that appears towards the top of Decoy Nest,a photograph of Smart herself. Layers of practice, material and metaphor overlap and double back in this nest, as Smart’s practice of pinning forms a decoy whose meaning cannot ultimately be pinned down.

Dr Melissa Miles 
Lecturer in Theory of Art & Design at the Faculty of Art Design, Monash University, Australia.