‘The Summer That Was’ explores the psychological currency of the artist’s often-annual pilgrimage to Victoria, where she recently spent the summer reconnecting with the coastal landscape that she grew up in. Historically, pilgrimages have been taken for spiritual and cultural reasons, and in our contemporary technological era of widening urbanity and prolific digitisation this need to escape permeates collective consciousness. ‘Even though a pilgrimage is usually voluntary, there can be also a strong urge or desire that feels involuntary’ says the artist.
Realistically rendered vignettes of coastal landscapes, pathways and beach houses explore the mnemonic power of place. Through trees and native shrubs we glimpse vacant fibro shacks veneering surreal, single-toned skies that feel airless and parched, as if the silent salt breeze has triggered a kind of atmospheric osmosis. There is an uncanny familiarity about these ubiquitous Australian vistas, and yet they feel distant – static moments fossilised in time like a relic from the receding past. For Sweaney, visits to a family beach shack conjure spectral images from the past tempered with the transient shadow of the present. While memories often create a bridge for one to reconnect with places from their past, the artist contemplates how they can also foster an estrangement from personal history. Reflecting on her summer in Victoria, she says ‘I got a real sense of being a visitor, an outsider, someone returning – not someone that has continued a narrative from the same story.’
In addition to her nostalgic snapshots of landscapes, Sweaney also depicts vintage vases and native foliage – not merely as picturesque still lives but as synecdochal representations of place. Collecting flora and ceramic vessels from places she visited became an obsession, channeling an intuitive urge to fill her home with memories. These collected objects ironically physicalise fragments of place by being displaced – pried from their original residence and recontextualised as revenant presences from another time and place.