Review: ‘My Jesus Lets Me Rub His Belly’ exhibition by Martin Smith at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st April – 16th May 2009


Martin Smith. 'Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still' 2009


Martin Smith
Pigment print and collage
90 x 130 cm



This is an interesting, well constructed exhibition of photographs, collage and sculpture by Martin Smith presented at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne that addresses issues of place and faith: memories of growing up within a religious framework. The work is well resolved, the themes explored are poignant, full of pathos, laden with sardonic humour and pull no punches.

The main body of the exhibition are contemporary personal photographs of sunsets, landscapes and urban spaces (such as the photograph of Central Park in New York, above). Incised into the surface of the photograph, actually cut into the surface, are narratives of boredom, anger and the blind injustice of devotion, memories of stories of a fifteen year old boy. In some of the photographs the lettering follows the pictorial representation of the photograph, in others it overwrites it. The cut letters fall away to the bottom of the picture and are captured by the picture frame, sitting at the bottom of each image like the leaves of autumn – half remembered stories that become jumbled in the mind, played over and over again.

These images consolidate both photographic and written texts while at the same time undermining their veracity and referentiality. Image and text are performative, playing off of each other to provide a transgressive textuality that becomes a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject. In this engagement between image and text the work becomes intertextual, the ritual of production engaging a network of texts, a discursive multiplicity that traverses the entire scope of social, cultural, and institutional production. The childhood taboo of not criticising ‘faith’ is cross/ed in the process of re-remembering, re-inscription.

In these assemblages the surface of the photograph and the body of the text are subverted through a ritualised cutting, like the incision of the stigmata into the body of Christ. They become sites of resistance. As Deleuze and Guittari have noted of this process the site of resistance is both a productive and disruptive re-territorialization and de-territorialization of meaning:

“For them (Deleuze and Guattari), assemblages are the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process involves a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings. The organization of a territory is characterized by such a double movement … An assemblage is an extension of this process, and can be thought of as constituted by an intensification of these processes around a particular site through a multiplicity of intersections of such territorializations.”1

The particular site, the particular intersection that Smith addresses in his work is that of memory, faith and place. The lack of fixity in this intersection provides the artist with abundant opportunity to reinscribe the already inscribed ritual of faith, subverting the iteration of the norms already attributed to it, providing a loss of original meaning and the gaining of new meanings. This productive, disruptive re-inscription provides the positionality of the work and the viewer struggles with the emotional conflicts that result from this territorialization: even if you don’t know these stories they challenge what you believe, now.

Counterbalancing the colour photographs are white collages that are embossed with the answer to the celebrants greeting “The Lord be with you” to which the people respond “And also with you.” Hovering in the background of the work the words are again subverted, this time in a resurrection of cut letters – instead of being cut into the photograph the letters project outwards towards the viewer forming commodified shapes such as cars, underpants and people. The joy doesn’t stop there: the two sculptures in the exhibition add to the chaos with a wonderful sense of humour.

Through their hypertexts the work “becomes more and more layered until they are architectural in design, until their relationship to the context from which they have grown cannot be talked about through the simple models offered by referentiality, or by attributions of cause and effect.”2

Without absolute attribution the work becomes a form of transubstantiation. The flexibility of memory and the orthodoxy of religion are transformed into a spirituality of the self that the child of fifteen with blood running down his arms from his personal stigmata of boredom could never have imagined. At the end of days, when all is said and done, the funny diatribes with their ambiguous photographs are homily and heretic, and together form a more inclusive body of bliss: ‘And also with you and you and you and you’.

Whatever your faith, whoever you are.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


  1. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p. 166
  2. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138

Thank you to Edwin Nicholls for his help.


Martin Smith. 'Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still' 2009 (detail)


Martin Smith
Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still (detail)
Pigment print and collage
90 x 130 cm


Installation view of Martin Smith exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne


In the above installation photograph you can just see the cut letters lying at the bottom of the picture frame


Martin Smith. 'I still hate that man' 2009


Martin Smith
I still hate that man
Pigment print and collage
130 x 180 cm


Martin Smith. 'My Frenetic, Anxiety Driven Snuffing' 2009


Martin Smith
My Frenetic, Anxiety Driven Snuffing
Pigment print and collage
90 x 130 cm



Artist statement

I grew up in the bayside suburbs of Brisbane, Australia with a speech impediment. My teenage years were spent watching and observing, as I was too embarrassed to speak. My inability to express myself during this time left an indelible mark on my personal history and has provided the impetus for my artistic enquiries. Therefore it is no surprise that my art practice is primarily about language and the modes of representation used to express and interpret personal experience.

Among the studio methodologies that I employ are the combination of traditional story telling writing with vernacular photography. The text and the images have no literal relationship and I am very careful to avoid any obvious connection between the two. I write personal stories then hand-cut the text out of the image. The removed letters from the image are collected and captured by the picture frame, sitting at the bottom of each image like fallen leaves creating an Autumnal scene where visible change has occurred and the picture and the figure are going through a transition. The text punctures the surface of the image disrupting the way we view and read the work. We can’t fully view the image because of the text and we can’t read the text without the image creating a constant back and forth between the two. When viewing the visual and textual oscillation between the two narrative devices that have no literal connection we find balance outside the picture frame in a new discursive space. It is through this collision of narrative and languages that unique interpretations of personal experience are built. I am interested in exploring spaces of meaning that are created when two or more narrative devices are blended.

In other works the letters are also glued directly onto the wall of the gallery to form recognisable but featureless figures. These installations explore how meaning and identity are generated through language. The individual letters (the building blocks of language) combine together to form a representation of a life that exists only through the formulation of language.

Recently I performed a stand-up ‘comedy’ routine as another vehicle for exploring story-telling and personal histories. The routine titled “Hello Newmarket Hotel” was performed at an ‘open mic’ night in front of a regular comedy audience. The aim was to recreate and recontextualise a particularly painful childhood memory while incorporating known ‘comedy’ tropes. This work along with my whole practice is interested in the role that photography, and other forms of narrative, plays in the construction of our identity and how personal histories are written and interpreted.

Martin Smith 2017


Martin Smith. 'The Relationship Blossomed' 2009


Martin Smith
The Relationship Blossomed
Pigment print and collage
115 x 115 cm


Martin Smith. 'The Relationship Blossomed' 2009 (detail)


Martin Smith
The Relationship Blossomed (detail)
Pigment print and collage
115 x 115 cm


Martin Smith. 'The Homily' 2009


Martin Smith
The Homily
Pigment print and collage
130 x 90 cm


Martin Smith, 'And also with you #2' 2009


Martin Smith
And also with you #2
Collage on paper, eva
42 x 30 cm


Martin Smith. 'And also with you #3' 2009


Martin Smith
And also with you #3
Collage on paper, eva
42 x 30 cm


Martin Smith. 'After 3 months on the road Mary started to loosen up' 2009


Martin Smith
After 3 months on the road Mary started to loosen up
Photographic carving on marble base
18 x 10 x 10 cm



Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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