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


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


Martin Smith
‘Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still’ (detail)



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.


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. 'My Frenetic, Anxiety Driven Snuffing' 2009


Martin Smith
‘My Frenetic, Anxiety Driven Snuffing’



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


Martin Smith. 'The Relationship Blossomed' 2009


Martin Smith
‘The Relationship Blossomed’


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


Martin Smith
‘The Relationship Blossomed’ (detail)


Martin Smith. 'The Homily' 2009


Martin Smith
‘The Homily’



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.


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


Martin Smith
‘And also with you #2’


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


Martin Smith
‘And also with you #3’


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’



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.


M Bunyan




Sophie Gannon Gallery

2, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Thankyou to Edwin Nicholls for his help.

Sophie Gannon Gallery website


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.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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