Sonia Payes – ALCHEMY

As a modern alchemist, Sonia Payes is confronting the challenge of restoring balance to our relationship with our host planet. Bringing together her photographic works, and the sculptural work that has developed from it, she documents the impact of human intervention on the planet and provides a vision of a possible future.

Hybridity is an integral part of Payes’s artistic practice, and over her professional career, she has combined her foundational photographic work with digital imagery, 3D technologies, animated film, and sculpture. In this exhibition, she continues to blur categorical distinctions, bringing together her photographic works and the sculptural work that has developed from it as a way of interrogating these key questions confronting the human species.

Initially true to the process of capturing her world solely through a camera lens, the images of her daughter Ilona re-emerge in her new works to explore the theme of humanity’s responsibility to protect our planet. Payes transforms her daughter’s facial likeness into what Daniel Pateman calls “a digital avatar” who stands in for all of us as we undertake the process of reintegration and re-engagement with our planet. Emerging from the ocean, the sky and a variety of verdant landscapes, her haunting image speaks eloquently of our plight while offering hope for a re-imagined future.  

Like much of Payes’s work, it is personal, deeply personal, involving family, and rooted in direct experience, but as with all significant art, the series transcends its origins to address universal concerns. In this current exhibition, Payes has captured and then manipulated images of the environment to illustrate and reflect upon the resilience of humanity and its opportunity at this time to redress the iniquities of the past. Hers is an art of faith and aspiration. Filtered by a veil of memory and awareness, she constructs images that work on a slow fuse to document the cycle of transformation, charting humanity’s capacity to continually adjust to changes in the earth’s mutable environment.

Mediaeval alchemists worked on the cusp of science and philosophy to radically shift the world’s natural order. To take control! Their aim was to transform base metals into gold, disrupt natural processes, and facilitate transmutation. In some ways, these processes have never ceased as human beings continue to intervene and disrupt, most often for self-aggrandizement or financial gain. 

Themes of the cycle of life and humanity’s ambivalent relationship to the environment fuse together in these works. What could be more urgent than this revaluation of our tenuous symbiosis with our planet at this time when world leaders have discussed the crisis we face at The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, when marchers around the world showed their support, and young activists like Greta Thunberg articulated their anxiety and the pain of younger generations at the inaction and lack of vision of their elders?

Yet, from the disasters we have wrought, and the even worse outcomes that loom before us, Payes’s avatar emerges as a symbol of hope, her presence capturing all that is nurturing and sustaining from the sky, land, and sea.

Sonia Payes – ALCHEMY 
27 January – 12 February 2022
There-is, Perth, as part of Fringe World Festival Perth

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