A new sculpture by Sundari Carmody was unveiled in lot fourteen today, through which the early-career artist explores the ways in which humanity’s search for knowledge sometimes leads to a deeper sense of ignorance.
Sundari Carmody has always been fascinated by the invisible.
Growing up in Bali, in the middle of the Volcanic Ring of Fire, the artist looked at the active volcano Gunung Agung – a massive geographic mass in the northeast horizon – and wondered about the life he lived under the surface of the earth.
“There is a lot of recognition of invisible energy in this culture, and [how] the things we can’t see have an effect on the things we can see,” says Sundari.
“Gunung Agung… had a really big explosion in the 60s. It erupted and did a lot of damage, and a lot of people went there to pray while it was erupting, trying to appease the gods.
“The volcano is a shape that is a good example of alluding to things that we cannot see or feel or know.”
The influence Gunung Agung had on Sundari was evident in his first sculptural work, “The Build Up”, exhibited at CACSA Project Space in 2014. It was a 1.6 meter high velvet likeness of a volcano .
Prior to “The Build Up”, Sundari mainly did two-dimensional art as a photographer. Even then, she strove to showcase each photograph as a physical object as much as an element of visual communication.
“I often tried to push the photographic object into an object, being careful not to clean up too much dust and all that – because I was shooting with film,” she says. His goal was to create “a more tactile and sensory experience” for the viewer.
To create ‘The Build Up’, Sundari learned to sew, and she was encouraged by her partner, artist Matthew Bradley, to consider the practicalities of building a three-dimensional object for a gallery. (“It’s not going to float in the air. How is it going to work?”) Executing the sculptural work proved to the artist that she was capable of communicating her ideas through more ambitious methods.
There hasn’t been a job in Sundari’s career as ambitious as the one revealed this week on the forecourt of lot fourteen, outside the Australian Space Discovery Centre.
Entitled “One: all that we can see”, the work is a large black tubular ring, made of steel and measuring four meters in diameter. There is a light section at the top of the ring, illuminated by LEDs.
“One” is the result of another of Sundari’s fascinations with the invisible, this time in the realm of astronomy. The lit section represents the five percent of the universe that humans are able to see; the pitch-black steel represents the 95% that is invisible to us – so-called dark matter and dark energy.
Sundari first presented a version of “One” in 2017, as part of his show Regular illiterate movement at the Seventh Gallery in Melbourne. It was then much smaller – 40cm x 40cm – and was essentially a 2D work, hung on the wall.
Even in this grandiose form, the artist humbly describes “One” as a circular graph. But it is the result of an intense period of study of the work of pioneering astronomers, such as Vera Rubin and Kent Ford.
In the 1970s, astronomers studied the Andromeda galaxy by looking at photographic plates, measuring the speed of its stars. Andromeda is a spiral galaxy, like our home, the Milky Way, and the hypothesis they started with was that the stars at the center of the galaxy should move faster than those at the outer edges, due to the effects of the gravity and dissipating mass. “What they actually saw was the opposite,” says Sundari. “That they were moving so fast, as fast as the center, they should have been flying off into space.” There must be, the scientists deduced, some invisible matter affecting the motion of the stars.
It is an example of the accumulation of knowledge that only leads to a deeper sense of mystery.
“I was so drawn to this idea,” says Sundari. “Seeing something, but knowing that there is so much more beyond what you can see because of the effect it has on the things you can see.
“It’s so fascinating to watch this and realize that we’re just these little things and we’re part of this huge system – that we can’t see.”
Sundari was selected for the Lot Fourteen commission after being invited to apply by Guildhouse, which advised the project alongside the Australian Space Discovery Center and the Lot Fourteen Arts and Culture Advisory Group. After receiving the opportunity, Guildhouse put Sundari in touch with Exhibition Studios, who built the work.
‘One’ has obvious thematic links to the Space Discover Centre, but Sundari still seems unable to fathom being selected to contribute to such an important site in South Australia.
“I just thought it was way beyond what I could do. I mean, maybe further down the track, but I didn’t think it would be this soon,” she said.
“There’s a lot of paperwork, there’s a lot of bureaucracy, there’s a lot of engineering reporting. Is anyone going to climb it? Is someone going to tear it down? All that stuff.
“It was a great experience working with Guildhouse and Exhibition Studios as I feel like they really protected me from all email exchanges.”
When we ask Sundari what it means to have an artwork of this size in the public domain at this point in his career (it was part of Adelaide Contemporary Experimental’s Studio program for early-career performers last year), she speaks dreamily of how Bert Flugelman’s ‘Spheres’ merged into Adelaide’s identity to become colloquially known as Mall’s Balls.
“If it can become part of the community, like the Malls Balls, then that’s amazing,” she laughs. “There’s been some really funny comments from people already, which I’m very open to.”
But Sundari doesn’t go too far ahead of her. She has seen other South Australian artists follow “this same path”, only to then, once again, become invisible. “It can fall apart,” she says.
On the day we speak, the protective packaging is partially removed from ‘One’. Even now, she barely accepts the commission as a deserved success.
“Do you remember at the Olympics, Bradbury, who won ice skating? That’s kind of what it does,” laughs Sundari.
“But he worked very hard to get to the Olympics. He trained and he put in hours and hours and hours – but no one expected him to.
“So it’s humbling, but it’s also, well, there’s also a lot of work that’s been done in there. But it’s still a surprise,” she laughs again. is like a Bradbury moment.”
Crippling humility aside, Sundari hopes that “more and more artists will be able to experience what I have experienced”.
“There are so many great artists in this city, doing such interesting work, and I think they would benefit from this support,” she says.
“But I also think the city would benefit from seeing contemporary artists doing work, not just seeing works from the 70s – which are great works, but I think we need to continue to support artists today .”
Find ‘One: all that we can see’ at Lot Fourteen, outside the Australian Space Discovery Center on North Terrace.
Connect with Sundari on instagram.
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