Meet the artists: Sam Matthewman

Meet the artists: Sam Matthewman

Sam Matthewman in their studio. Photo credit: Luana Rigolli.
Sam Matthewman in their studio. Photo credit: Luana Rigolli.

An interview with Sam Matthewman, Helpmann Academy Resident, in which they speak about the work he has produced during their residency at the BSR from April – June 2023, ahead of the Summer Open Studios.

Your practice focuses on acrobatic performance in circus. What is your idea of making it accessible in the field of visual arts?

My journey into the world of circus and contemporary art has been shaped by my passion for creating accessible and engaging experiences for audiences. It all started during my final year of high school when I began creating circus shows with a collective called Vertical Insanity Circus. We worked tirelessly to produce over 7 different shows, and what I loved about circus is its inherent accessibility. It brings people of all ages together, creating a shared experience where everyone could find something to connect with.

However, when I embarked on my studies in contemporary art, I encountered a different kind of response. When sharing my university degree with others, I often faced puzzled looks and phrases like, “why would you study that, I don’t get it.” It made me realise that contemporary art can sometimes feel like there is a barrier, preventing people from fully engaging with it. This realisation fueled my desire to create work that resonates with people on multiple levels, much like a circus performance does.

By incorporating acrobatic performance into my artistic practice, I bring the human body and unconventional skills into my work. These elements have universal appeal, engaging every human being in some way, even on the most basic level. From this foundational point, I build upon, to create multidimensional experiences that bridge the gap between circus and visual arts.

Balancing Act (detail) 2021 installation, slip-cast ceramic, cotton cord, and acrobatic projected moving image (8 min) with audio track

Blending different art forms allows me to create a diverse range of entry points for engagement with viewers. By merging acrobatics with visual arts, I create a hybrid space where movement, sculpture, installation, and other mediums coexist. This approach not only breaks down the barriers that exist between disciplines but also invites audiences to explore and appreciate acrobatics from a new perspective.

Through my performances, I seek to challenge the notion that circus and visual art are separate entities. I want to showcase their interconnectedness and demonstrate how they can enhance and complement one another. By creating visually stunning and immersive experiences, I aim to captivate a wider audience, introducing them to the beauty, grace, and expressive power of circus disciplines within the context of visual arts.

Ultimately, my goal is to make circus performance for gallery spaces and further highlight the credibility of circus as an expressive medium, creating work that sparks curiosity, invites dialogue, and resonates with diverse audiences. I believe that by blurring the boundaries between disciplines, we can open up new possibilities for artistic expression and create transformative experiences that connect people through the shared language of movement and visual aesthetics.

Understand (frame capture) 2022 moving image (3 min)

Your research in Rome focuses on performances of (and on) the Greek potter’s wheels. How did you come across this theme?

My exploration of performances on the Greek potter’s wheels began in 2021 during a collaboration with Mireia Sala, a talented acrobat and artist from Spain who was living and training in Adelaide, Australia with me at the time. Our shared passion for art within the circus community brought us together. During our collaboration, we integrated my ceramics wheel into an acrobatic and dance performance, allowing me to throw a pot while showcasing our act. The experience was transformative, and upon refining and presenting our act, we sensed its uniqueness and potential.

Driven to document our creation, I produced a film of the act, and it was during the exhibition of this film that I discovered the captivating connection to ancient Greece. I discovered that acrobatic performances on the pottery wheel were extensively documented in ancient Greek culture. It was humbling to realize that our seemingly innovative concept had historical precedents. I came across a paper, written in Italy, that delved into this connection, and through further research, I was able to establish contact with Massimo Vidale, one of the professors involved in the paper and the recreation of a replica wheel.

Film photography of Sam's BSR Studio. Photography has always been a hobby of Sam's and has proven to have captured an inside look at what life at the BSR is like.

Over the course of a year-long correspondence, our collaboration flourished, and with the opportunity of my Helpmann residency at the British School at Rome, we are currently working together to create a performance that combines acrobatics with the historical context of the Greek potter’s wheel. During my time in Rome, I have additionally delved deeper into the history of Roman performances, exploring acrobatics, juggling, clowning, and street performing—disciplines that now fall under the umbrella of the circus. This research has allowed me to uncover examples of Roman performances that shed light on the rich traditions and artistic expressions of the past.

This journey has been a convergence of my passion for circus arts, visual arts, and historical exploration. By unearthing the historical significance of performances on the pottery wheel, I aim to bring awareness to this ancient practice and recontextualize it within contemporary artistic expressions. Through my research and collaboration, I aspire to create a performance that pays homage to the past while pushing the boundaries of artistic innovation, bridging the gap between ancient traditions and modern artistic practices.

Acrobatic Cerámica (frame capture) 2021 moving image (8 min) with audio track, collaboration with Mireia Sala

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