Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

A beef patty, crispy prosciutto, basil pesto mayonnaise, wild rocket, caramelised carrot, Provolone cheese and orange puree served up on a house bun? Or how about a rich chocolate marquise with vanilla ice cream to the side, balanced on a soil of Milo and Coco Pops, alongside a smear of salted caramel, and topped with milk foam?*

It’s difficult to argue with temptations like these. Constantly at our fingertips, just around every corner in this cosmo-multicultural playground of our own creation. And the consequences of this endless, indulgent choice? Cast your eyes to the hidden end of the chain: the waste, the excretion, the kaka. In Underworld, DeLillo writes of waste as the ‘devil twin’:

Because waste is the secret history the underhistory, the way archaeologists dig out the history of early cultures, every sort of bone heap and broken tool, literally from under the ground. All those decades, he says, when we thought about weapons all the time and never thought about the dark multiplying byproduct.

Kevina-Jo Smith’s preoccupation with this devil twin borders on obsessive. ‘I have always collected everything around me, I see a use in everything,’ she confesses. ‘I cannot stand the thought of anything becoming landfill.’ Her recent exhibition at Melbourne’s c3 Contemporary Art Space, titled KaKa, was made entirely from waste and materials left over from past work.

Smith’s denial of paint and canvas is emphatic. ‘I still have the ingrained desire to paint, but in many ways I feel it is too decadent. How can I “paint” with what is around me without making further sacrifices?’ Her refusal to contibute to landfill leads her to experiment with unusual materials and improvise new practices. Plastic bags, string fruit bags, string, leather, rope, ribbon, seeds, shells, sticks, grass and plants are knitted, woven, knotted, braided and reborn as totems for a new age. For Smith, the method comes before the outcome. Following only her obsession and her instincts, the end point is never certain and the works, in her words, ‘morph organically through process and craftsmanship.’ Her knitted wall hangings express an abstract painterly quality, landscapes rendered in a newly tactile form, yet are also reminiscent of relics displayed in a museum. Other pieces tend towards more abstract symbolism, with titles like First Rites and Winter Prayer. Some works take impressively ambitious forms, like Tent: a shelter of woven plastics, fixed with a branch that reaches its arms towards the sky in an almost pleading gesture.

In making her own waste ‘disappear’, Smith transforms it into a very visible cry, a call to arms. She creates a bold, vivid and fascinating world, which evokes both past and present in a strange twisted unity. Her works are the evidence of another way of existing, a redefinition of kaka and a demonstration of alternate ways of being. ‘Magic,’ Smith asserts, ‘is just knowledge.’

*A respectful thank you to Bill and Toni’s Pub Life and Hemingway’s for the tantalising inspiration.