Sundari Carmody has always been fascinated by invisible things.
Growing up in Bali, amid the volcanic Ring of Fire, the artist looked out for the active volcano Gunung Agung — a huge geographic mass in the northeastern skyline — and marveled at the life he lived beneath the Earth’s surface.
“There is a lot of recognition of invisible energy in that culture, and [how] things we can’t see affect the things we can see,” says Sundari.
“Gunung Agung… had a really big explosion in the 60’s. It erupted and caused much damage, and many people went there to pray as it erupted, trying to appease the gods.
“The volcano is a shape that is a good example of hints at things we can’t see, feel or know.”
The influence the menacing Gunung Agung had on Sundari was evident in her first sculptural work, ‘The Build Up’, which was exhibited at CACSA Project Space in 2014. It was a 1.6 meter high velvet likeness of a volcano.
Prior to ‘The Build Up’, Sundari mainly made art in two dimensions as a photographer. Even then, she would struggle to emphasize each photo as much as a physical object as a piece of visual communication.
“I often tried to push the photographic object to become an object, making sure I didn’t clean up the dust spots and all that too much — because I was shooting with film,” she says. Her goal was to create “a more tactile, sensory experience” for the viewer.
To create ‘The Build Up’, Sundari learned to sew, and she was encouraged by her partner, artist Matthew Bradley, to consider the practicalities of building a three-dimensional object for a gallery. (“It’s not going to float in the air. How’s that going to work?”) Performing the sculptural work proved the artist was able to convey her ideas through more ambitious methods.
No work in Sundari’s career has been more ambitious than the work unveiled this week in the forecourt of Lot Fourteen, in front of the Australian Space Discovery Centre.
Titled ‘One: all that we can see’, the work is a large, black tubular ring, made of steel and four meters in diameter. There is a glowing area at the top of the ring, lit by LEDs.
‘One’ is the result of another of Sundari’s fascinations with the unseen, this time in the field of astronomy. The illuminated portion represents the five percent of the universe that humans can see; the pitch-black steel is the 95 percent that is invisible to us – what’s known as dark matter and dark energy.
Sundari first exhibited a version of ‘One’ in 2017, as part of her show Steady illiterate movement at Seventh Gallery in Melbourne. It was much smaller in size then – 40cm x 40cm – and was essentially a 2D work, hung on a wall.
Even in this grander form, the artist humbly describes ‘One’ as a pie chart. But it is the result of an intensive study of the work of pioneering astronomers, such as Vera Rubin and Kent Ford.
In the 1970s, astronomers studied the Andromeda galaxy by looking at photographic plates and measuring the speed of its stars. Andromeda is a spiral galaxy, just like our home, the Milky Way, and the hypothesis she started with that stars at the center of the galaxy should move faster than those at the outer edges, due to the effects of gravity and disappearing mass. “What they actually saw was the opposite,” Sundari says. “That they moved so fast, just as fast as in the center, that they should have been thrown into space.” There must be, the scientists concluded, invisible matter influencing the motion of the stars.
It is an example of the accumulation of knowledge that only leads to a deeper sense of mystery.
“I was just so drawn to that idea,” Sundari says. “Seeing something, but knowing that there is so much more than you can see because of the effect it has on the things you can see.
“That’s just so fascinating, to look at that and realize that we’re just these little things and part of this huge system — that we can’t see.”
Sundari was selected for the Lot Fourteen committee after being asked to apply by Guildhouse, who advised on the project alongside the Australian Space Discovery Center and Lot Fourteen’s Arts and Culture Advisory Group. After being given the opportunity, Guildhouse put Sundari in touch with Exhibition Studios, who built the work.
‘One’ has clear thematic links to the Space Discover Centre, yet Sundari does not seem to understand that he has been selected to contribute to such a prominent South Australian site.
“I just thought that was way beyond what I could do. I mean, maybe a long way, but I didn’t think it would be that fast,” she says.
“There is a lot of bureaucracy, there is a lot of bureaucracy, there are a lot of technical reports. Is someone going to climb it? Is someone going to tear it down? All that sort of thing.
“It has been such an amazing experience working with Guildhouse and Exhibition Studios because I feel like they really protected me from all the back and forth email.”
When we ask Sundari what it means to have a work of art of this size in public space at this point in her career (she was part of Adelaide Contemporary Experimental’s Studio Program for aspiring artists last year), she talks dreamily of the way Bert fused Flugelman’s ‘Spheres’ with Adelaide’s self-identity and became popularly known as the Mall’s Balls.
“If this can become part of the community, like the Malls Balls, that’s great,” she laughs. “There have been some really funny comments from people already, which I’m very open to.”
But Sundari isn’t too far ahead of itself. She has seen other South Australian artists “go down the same road”, only to go unseen again. “It can get out of hand,” she says.
On the day we speak, the protective packaging will be partially removed from ‘One’. Even now she hardly accepts the assignment as a deserved success.
‘Do you remember at the Olympics, Bradbury, who won the speed skating? It’s kind of what it feels like,” Sundari laughs.
†But he worked very hard to get to the Olympics. He trained and spent hours and hours and hours – but no one expected him to do it.
“So, it’s humble, but it’s also, well, a lot of work has gone into it. But it’s still a surprise,” she laughs again. “It’s like a Bradbury moment.”
Aside from crippling humility, Sundari hopes that “more and more artists can experience what I’ve been through”.
“There are so many great artists in this city who do such interesting work, and I think they would benefit from that support,” she says.
“But I think the city would also benefit from seeing contemporary artists making work, not just seeing works from the 1970s – which are great works, but I think we still need to see the artists of today.” continue to support.”
Find ‘One: all that we can see’ at Lot Fourteen, in front of the Australian Space Discovery Centre, on North Terrace.
Connect with Sundari on Instagram.