CATALOGUE FOR IVY HILL APRIL 2011
Shunyam Smith Essence of Place
Stories are a fundamental and defining characteristic of all human life. They are receptacles for our memories,
dreams and myths. As repositories, these stories form a foundation on which traditions, cultures and histories are
created. Memory is given shape and force through an array of artefacts and practices, rituals and monuments.
They become the stories we live by, that shape our sense of who we are.
Tapestry as a medium has traditionally been used both to tell stories, personal and historical, full of allusion and
metaphor. It requires a deeper reading to uncover the hidden layers of meanings and memories that are entwined
with the physicality of the material, and the slow nature of the weaving.
Working in the field of ‘landscape’ today can have its pitfalls, avoiding the weight of past representations, finding a
way to liberate the image from the pictorial. This work is an exploration of the essence of place – an attempt to
chart my relationship with the place I inhabit. Cropping and framing images, varying perspectives, and focusing on
small details, intensifies and also frees them, finding the links often hidden in insignificant objects that weave nature
and human culture together.
Stories of places are created by history as well as their physicality, and to begin to understand the essence of a
place one must absorb these slowly, over time. Some of these tapestries tell more obvious stories, of human time
and histories, but always shaped by the intangible boundaries between land, humankind, and the influences of
place. For decades now, watching the changing process of the land where I live has allowed me to ‘read’ and
absorb these stories and memories stored in trees, rocks, lakes, rivers, forests and mountains. Our human
memories are traced in objects all around, and nature has written her history everywhere if we choose to look slowly
The Spotted Gums tell of their usefulness to man with their tall strong, straight trunks. The Snowgums, so like the
‘Spotties’ in some of their habits and their beauty, with their fragile, bent and twisted shapes, are considered to be of
no use at all, telling of the values we humans place on the strong and the weak. Rocks tell of deep time, stories of
elemental powers, of volcanos, waves and wind etched into their shapes. Beaches and rivers change with floods
and droughts, but lakes change their shape more slowly - the result of human interference. Marks on trees and
rocks relate them to each other, and through these silent notations I read histories and memories that talk of the
relationship between all things.
At the heart of my work is this interrelation of stories and the material, their mutual intrication a metaphor for the
weaving process, revealing the richness and complexity of the essence of this place. The reality is that the whole
world is revealed in the local and the intimate. Tangible objects carry our cultural heritage, helping to illuminate the
present moment and even the future if we care to look slowly and deeply. We can see the riches and incredible
beauty we have all around us but also how fragile and transient it is.