Sue Pedley

Under the pier
Artspace, Sydney

Sue Pedley's installation, Under the Pier, was dominated by a wave-like thrust of plaster surging up under the harbor windows and extending across the width of the gallery space. This shape was suggestive of a swell of water, a sand bank, or perhaps an extension of the land upon which the gallery stands-something huge, demanding and absolutely solid. Pedley's process in constructing this work incorporated exploration and mapping of the geology, history and environment of the site of the gallery and its surrounds-the harbor foreshore, the naval station and the Finger Wharf. The play between the results of these investigations and the materials already intrinsic to Pedley's practice make for an evocative presentation of the inextricable nature of site and place within art practice.

Plaster is Pedley's material. Plaster as material holds connotations of the formality of building and of traditional sculptural practice, but here it is transformed into something else, something organic and amorphous. Something perhaps more closely associated with its genesis as a by-product of gypsum which is itself produced by the historical vagaries of geology and climate. Where marine salt water is washed up or pools inland, and evaporates in an arid climate (such as Australia's) it leaves behind deposits of gypsum, which is used in agriculture, cement manufacture, and of course, in the production of plaster. A property of plaster, once it has been moistened and moulded, and a factor in Pedley's usage of it, is that, under the right conditions of humidity, it will gradually break down, compromising its passive unity. Pedley's interest here gives rise to a sense of a tinkering with temporality and its cycles, and alerts one to a suggestion of chaos and change in the human, the historical and the environmental terrain.

Accompanying the plaster landform in the gallery space was another, more nebulous component, made of another material familiar to Pedley's practice. Skeins of red wool tracked around the raw wood pillars which support the gallery, and which, in the environment constructed here, were appropriated as the piers supporting the "pier". The wool on the one hand enclosed and delineated the space within the pillars while on the other its ephemeral and flimsy quality denied its power to achieve this end and provided a reaffirming counterpoint to the solid immobile mass across the room. Scattered under and around the space delineated by the red wool were a series of rounded plaster shapes (like little aliens), each enclosing a humidifier ejecting spurts of steam into the gallery space. The steam and its ability to act on plaster are essential features in Pedley's ongoing process, however in terms of this installation they were a perturbing interruption of the dynamic between the wool and the wave, and did not sufficiently alter the atmosphere in the space to warrant their incursion.

Some necessary background perspective to this installation was provided by a visit to Pedley's studio, upstairs in the Gunnery building. The same materials (plaster, wool) and colours (white, red, blue) were evident but were constructed very differently, much more delicately, to achieve a scattered multiplicity. Cultural artefacts and environmental fragments alike were plastered and dyed and wrapped in the ubiquitous red wool, altered and preserved-tea bags, sheafs of local reeds, domestic objects rendered unrecognisable by their plaster shrouds, leaves which had fluttered into the studio window (some of which were deployed downstairs, scattered across the plaster construction). Shards of blue-dyed plaster embedded with shells lined up along the studio wall, backed by a mathematical web of red wool and flanked by red net baskets and items of clothing. The work in the studio suggested a chaos greatly at odds with the unified order to be experienced in the installation downstairs-it was a complementary environment, and one which provided a much stronger perspective on the way in which the exhibition was constructed around an interactivity with the history and products of the site.

The text of Sue Pedley's practice is an amalgam of elements- it is about the poetics of place, the politics of space, about environment, its history and its structural components, but also about the very materiality, the alchemy even, of place and space- the elemental ingredients which mix up to make both the site and the artwork.

Jacqueline Millner's eloquent catalogue essay which explored Pedley's work via each of the material components (water, plaster, grass, sand & air) provides useful historical, geological and geographical detail with which to contextualize this work, however it clearly refers more to the genesis and process rather than to the installation which was finally completed in the space. This reinforces for me the necessity of viewing this practice (and possibly all art practice) with a perspective which takes into account its complex production processes and history, its materials, and the parts of it which were not exhibited on this occasion, rather than merely requiring the end result to embody the entire practice, and to say it all, every time.