In conversation: Troy Emery

Strange Nature exhibition artwork by artist Troy Emery.jpg

Image: Artist Troy Emery’s works challenge the boundary between Natural History and Fine Arts objects in QVMAG’s Strange Nature exhibition. 

Melbourne-based artist Troy Emery creates large-scale textile-based fauna sculptures that intrigue and inspire — a legacy from his childhood. 

“As a kid, I really loved going to the Natural History Museum,” said Emery. “Growing up in Queensland, I really loved the big dinosaur models and the taxidermy. It was also an introduction to the institution and objects on display – objects that make you think about ideas outside of themselves. 

“So, that's indicative of my practice, where you have these figurative sculptures with this textile-covering component, a manipulation over the top. These are all kinds of patterns you can transpose onto art. I think the Natural History object is like a Fine Art object, and there's a wavering line between them, where they sometimes cross over.” 

His tactile creations are featured in QVMAG’s new exhibition Strange Nature at the Art Gallery at Royal Park – an exhibit that leans into his interests as an artist. 

“I like to engage in that shifting boundary between institutional objects around the world and art objects, and the history of the collections of objects themselves,” Emery noted. “This often started with what was known as wunderkammer, which is a kind of pre-museum.  

“It's where we formalised categories of the world, where we decided the difference between a mineral and an animal, a plant to a fish to a bird. It's where we first positioned ourselves within the natural world, but also brought it to order.  

“I think the animal form is very much symbolic of that interest — that history of museums and pre-museums and natural history as a curated experience. It makes you think about your place in the world sometimes.” 

Melbourne-based artists Troy Emery and Kate Rohde at the Strange Nature exhibition.jpg

Image: Featured artists and friends Troy Emery and Kate Rohde at the opening of QVMAG’s Strange Nature exhibition. 

Emery’s journey as an artist began in none other than Tasmania. “Before I went to art school, I studied fashion. It wasn't really for me. But I did find an interest in textiles and haberdashery, with the Spotlight craft aisle as a site of inspiration.  

“I took that with me through the art school process. I studied here in Tasmania, at the Hobart School of Arts in my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I was interested in formal sculpture but bringing this textile element.” 

Emery recalled the evolution of the Strange Nature exhibition, beginning with a meeting with QVMAG Senior Curator Ashley Bird. “Ashley came to Melbourne for a coffee catch-up with my fellow artist Kate and I,” said Emery. “Kate and I are quite close friends, and we live near each other. We all got together in Brunswick, and Ashley pitched a loose idea about what the show would be: a Natural History show, acknowledging the early interpretations of the collection when the museum first opened. We thought it sounded great. 

“I travelled down to Launceston with Kate. We went back-of-house to see the collection and consider the space. It's a beautiful historic building with a really extensive collection. We got to see all the taxidermy collections, and all the objects behind the scenes. It was really great to bounce ideas off that experience. And that's where we came to this idea of this ‘collection from the museum’, faux collection presentation for my work. 

“My work for Strange Nature is displayed on a steel shelving unit with pallets. It’s the same shelving from the Museum's own collections storeroom, and these are the Museum's pallets. We just painted them white to bring them into the space.  

“And it's almost like my work is now being put into a museum collection. You're exhibiting that idea of collections and museums; it plays on those shifting boundaries I mentioned earlier.” 

Image: Troy Emery, Big Blue 2022. Courtesy of Martin Browne Contemporary.

Image: Troy Emery, Big Blue (2022). Courtesy of Martin Browne Contemporary. 

Emery is happy to discuss a few of the pieces as part of the exhibition, noting that Big Blue held a special place in his heart. “My work in Strange Nature is an array of works from different points over the last few years, that come from different shows and different bodies of work,” noted Emery.  

“Big Blue is a large lion form, covered in a blue polyester fringe that changes the silhouette and turns it into this ‘other’ type of creature. It's not really a natural colour. Nature is very colourful. And I think the animal world, and science collections, can be very colourful. I suppose I'm just riffing on that idea, and maybe exaggerating it a bit, with my colour choices.  

When asked what the phrase ‘strange nature’ meant to him personally, Emery paused. “I think there's this idea of the sublime, that nature is this kind of overwhelming experience.  

“It's the act of looking and studying the living world around you. You realise the size and variety of the world around you and your position. It locates you within the universe, by studying what's around you. And it's quite a strange experience.” 

Strange Nature is at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery at Royal Park until 14 April 2024.