5th to 17th September 2017
ARO Gallery, Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia
Video of exhibition:
Kingsford-Smith artistic practice identifies the trans-historical cultural assumptions underpinning seemingly unrelated artistic traditions. The belief that at the end of our earthly existence that there will be an afterlife was common to the religious and or spiritual beliefs of most cultures. The artworks in the exhibit signal both Egyptian tombs and medieval European art that represented the relationship between the sacred and the profane. These cultural references are combined to demonstrate the extent that existential concerns transverse both disparate paradigms of thought and religious doctrine. In this exhibition he invites viewers to contemplate their own spiritual beliefs by way of comparison to earlier cultural understandings of human mortality.
This exhibition consists of an adult female in the fetal burial position seated on a wooden block. She is surrounded by her personal effects and the artifacts required for her journey into the afterlife. 19 framed etchings, titled ‘Scenes from daily life,’ line the gallery walls alluding to the ancient Egyptian practice of painting scenes from the life of the deceased onto the walls of their tomb.
Both the female figure and her grave goods are inscribed with narrative paintings that represent the imagined life journey of the female figure and the collective understanding of the human condition associated with both ancient Egyptian and medieval European cultures. The sources of the narratives are highly diverse and complicate the division between individual and collective memory. Kingsford-Smith combines narrative associated with fundamental dimensions of human experience (the cycle of life, love, despair, etc), rituals associated with ancestor worship, burial, the impact of the dead on the living and mythological representations of the relationship between the earthly and heavenly realms. He also draws on contemporary narratives to draw out the lingering impact of ancient spiritual beliefs on present times.
There is a consistent colour palette and range of imagery painted on both the female figure and her grave goods. This establishes that they are woven into a common narrative thread and that the significance of the objects is bound to their symbolic role in the life of the female figure. Painting representations of the inner life of female figure onto her body dissolve the division between her inner world and the outer world of appearances.
The status of the installation as a portrait of the female figure is ambiguous and does not conform to the general expectations of the genre. The female figure is shaped into the crouched/fetal burial position common in the pre-Christian period and in Peruvian Inca mummification burials. While some of the narratives painted on the figure and her grave goods represent individual life experiences, and convey a sense of an individual’s life journey, they are in fact representations of a category of experience and the artist’s fictional account of a woman’s life. This complicates the understanding of the burial scene as a site of memorial for a specific individual. What is provided instead is an oblique representation of the artist and of the collective cultural inheritance of the viewers.
The diversity of cultural sources signalled in the narratives provides a self-portrait of Kingsford-Smith’s imaginative life. The connections between the cultural sources of the narratives are lateral and are driven by the artist’s personal interests and explorations. Why are we drawn to disparate ideas, cultures, and artistic traditions? The complex matrixes of imaginative and intellectual explorations that we make during our lifetime are a vital source of our sense of self and help us to comprehend our place in the world and its history.
The installation instigates a dialogue with the deep historical roots of western culture. Kingsford-Smith’s desire to work in relationship to traditions and identify continuums within them can be viewed as the product of our existential desire to connect our individual contributions to something larger and more significant. Tradition itself can be viewed as a type of afterlife for those who have participated with it – the life of the artist lives on in the streams of cultural knowledge produced and extended by others even when their name and individual biography falls from history.
Historical perspectival and pictorial conventions have a critical role in the installation as the artist uses them to signify the belief systems and spiritual frameworks associated with them. Kingsford-Smith appropriates archaic pictorial conventions to question the hierarchical status awarded to them and by association the cultural framework they grew from. By reviving and elevating medieval pictorial conventions he questions the hierarchical importance awarded to the perspective systems developed during the renaissance and the emerging
tendency to reduce reality into terms compatible with mathematical models.
Signalling diverse cultural traditions associated with burial practices Kingsford-Smith seeks to create a vehicle for the viewer to reflect on their own relationship to spiritual ideas and their mortality. The interplay between historic and contemporary visual references forms continuities and also allows the viewer to be aware of the specificity of their beliefs by way of contrast or identification with past beliefs and traditions. The horizons of the other, is used to bring the horizons of the viewer into presence.
(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ)
Notes on the grave goods:
Statues: There are 4 female and 1 male naked statues. In Egyptian burial practise these statues could stand in for the body of the dead person and family in the afterlife if the body was destroyed. Nakedness of the statues clearly expressed a wish for resurrection with sexual organs intact. A naked woman found may have been intended to function as a sexual partner in the afterlife. A male statue might symbolise/represent her husband in the next world.
Large wooden box and small box with folding lid: These boxes are the storage required for clothing and bedding the tomb owner will need for the afterlife.
Dog, rooster and horse: In Mexican burial practise a dog was required to lead the tomb owner through the afterlife. The Rooster and Horse mirror the practise of burying the tomb owner’s needs in the afterlife. Warriors/village chiefs from early Britain were often buried with their horse and more rarely their chariot. Egyptian tombs often had model ships, bakers, fishers, etc all needed in the afterlife.
Pottery: These are the storage, eating and drinking vessels needed by the tomb owner in the afterlife. These were specifically made by a potter to my designs.