Podcast: Simone Slee on Sculpture, Vulnerability and Failure


For Simone Slee the perfect sculpture is the sculpture that ‘fails’. These failures come in many guises; sometimes her works are left to the fallibility of humans, cucumbers and rocks. At other times Slee’s sculptures fail by toppling over, as weight and gravity eventually exert their influence. At the heart of these failures is an ongoing interest in the nature and the parameters of sculpture; an investigation that’s being extended in Slee’s exhibition, Rocks and Things Happy to Help at Sarah Scout Presents.

As both an artist and Head of Sculpture and Spatial Practice at the Victorian College of the Arts, Slee’s two-decade exploration into sculpture and performance has revolved upon design, materiality, absurdity, embarrassment, vulnerability and the legacy of modernism. As she discusses in our podcast conversation, her current show ultimately considers the forces needed to produce sculptural forms. The idea of support and ‘helping’ is central to this, as the artist says, “I’m really interested in this idea of helping because of the idea that helping is an act of agency that is enabling of other things.”

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Simone Slee, On_community, 2002, inkjet print, variable size. Image courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne.

Spanning sculpture, video and photography, Rocks and things happy to help also includes a series of new works; sculptural pieces created with stone and glass that were inspired from a glass residency Slee completed earlier this year in Berlin.

Threading this exhibition with Slee’s previous works are the ideas of surprise and the unexpected.

Rather than evoking a binary where sculptural forms can either succeed or fail, her practice seeks to provoke new ways of seeing objects and their functions. To explain this tendency within her work Slee coined the term ‘abfunction’, which she describes as “using the wrong things for the right things or, its inverse, using the right things for the wrong reasons.”

This circles back to notions of failure and vulnerability, which the artist sees as not only important to the practice of sculpture, but useful for questioning how society typifies success in very conventional (and often economic) ways.

Throughout the podcast Slee also talks about the trajectory of her practice, from her early days as a landscape architect to creating her first major work. She discusses further the idea of the ‘perfect failure’, the frisson of having private emotions aired in public settings, and what her career has revealed to her about sculpture.

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Rocks and things happy to help
Simone Slee
Sarah Scout Presents
17 November – 16 December

Podcast Words by Tiarney Miekus