Travels and transience

Jen Smith: "The exhibition is all about the past year, the journey from Edinburgh to here. It's a mixture of sculpture and photography, including portraits of people who showed us a lot of kindness." Photo: Gregor Richardson
Jen Smith: "The exhibition is all about the past year, the journey from Edinburgh to here. It's a mixture of sculpture and photography, including portraits of people who showed us a lot of kindness." Photo: Gregor Richardson

Scottish artist Jen Smith's first Dunedin exhibition documents not only her travels but also the kindness of strangers, writes Shane Gilchrist.

A year ago, Jen Smith quit her management job in Dundee, Scotland, and set off with her husband to travel the world.

A year later, she is living and working in Dunedin and preparing to showcase artwork inspired by her journey.

Her exhibition, "Transience'', which opens at the Robert Piggott Art Gallery, Dunedin, on Friday (May 6), will feature a selection of photographs comprising monochrome portraits, landscapes (some of which are in colour) as well as sculptures made with found and discarded objects.

As its title implies, the exhibition documents change.

Though that could be viewed in the more literal sense of moving from place to place, of reconfiguring one's existence, Smith says her work also attempts to explore the potential of unexpected friendships.

"People have been so generous on our travels. People have fed me, picked me up, driven me to places, clothed me. It's incredible the lengths a complete stranger will go to help.

"The exhibition is all about the past year, the journey from Edinburgh to here. It's a mixture of sculpture and photography, including portraits of people who showed us a lot of kindness.

"Photography was my main medium while I was travelling but since I've been in Dunedin, which has only been a few months, I've been able to create the physical work.''

Tahoe at Dawn, from Jen Smith's exhbition Transience.
Tahoe at Dawn, from Jen Smith's exhbition Transience.

Smith, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee in 2012, says one of the toughest aspects of travelling was having to curtail her penchant for collecting objects.

"I'm also very visual, very tactile. I like making three-dimensional objects, be it wood-turning or working in plaster. However, travelling with just a rucksack meant I couldn't make things. So this is me channelling that urge to create when I don't have anything. Hopefully, that might encourage people to see an opportunity for creativity despite not having anything.

"The sculpture has a more abstract feel. I use found and discarded objects, looking at that idea of transience and impermanence.

"Normally, I would use materials such as wood and ceramics and a lot of tools in a workshop. This time, I'm trying to get people to think about finding beauty in other things, and also examine our impact on the places we visit, be that an environmental thing or through a conversation or relationship that you form.

"I have wee anecdotes throughout the exhibition that will hopefully engage people in conversation and get them to think about their own stories and relationships with people.''

One sculpture uses eggshells to examine the idea of impermanence and fragility, the repeating forms of the broken shells a comment on the similarity of daily activities, routines shared by people, be they in a North American city or a Fijian village.

"I found that wherever I travelled people all over the world have the same sort of rituals,'' Smith (26) explains.

That sense of new-yet-familiar experience extends to Smith's current situation: she grew up in Edinburgh but feels at home in Dunedin, where she has secured a job as associate director of the New Zealand International Science Festival (to be held in July).

Being based at Otago Museum has its advantages, too.

Her husband works there as a science communicator.

"As luck would have it, we are now working within about 20m of each other.''

 


The exhibition

Jen Smith's exhibition, "Transience'' opens on May 6 at Robert Piggott Art Gallery, 8 Jetty St. Members of the public are invited to meet the artist and enjoy refreshments from 5-7pm. The exhibition will run until May 17.


 

 

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