Inside the immersive art at our SXSW Sydney® pop-up

Inside the immersive installation at SXSW Soho House pop-up | Soho House

As Soho Residency opens, Australian artist Paul Davies unpacks his special installation and shares why he’s passionate about storytelling through architecture

Monday 16 October 2023   By Anastasiia Fedorova

This week SXSW Sydney® kicked off with Soho Residency – a Soho House pop-up at The Old Clare Hotel in Chippendale from Sunday 15 to Sunday 22 October. In between talks, gigs and social events, members and guests will get to enjoy the Soho House atmosphere, while celebrating contemporary art and how integral it is to our creative community. To emphasise this, we commissioned Australian artist Paul Davies to create an immersive installation for us, in which he explores architecture, memory and sound, as well as our role within the changing landscape. 

Currently based in Los Angeles, Davies – who began his practice in Australia – uses painting, stenciling, photography and sculpture to create evocative, colourful works depicting various built environments. Whether that’s modernist poolside houses, imposing staircases or ghostly palm tree-ridden horizons, he explores how we, as humans, construct and engage with our surroundings, and the emotional, social and creative undercurrents of our cities. 

Davies has been a Soho House member for a few years and has works in various Houses around the world as part of the Soho House art collection, curated by our Global Director of Art, Kate Bryan. His pieces are always meticulously handcrafted – but for the SXSW Sydney® pop-up, he is showing a multimedia collaboration with Ivan Shaw that allows viewers to step into one of his paintings and experience it up close.

To celebrate the launch of the installation, we sat down with Davies to talk about his work, his love for architecture and connection with Soho House. 

What’s the story behind the installation you’ve created?
‘The installation emerged from a collaboration I had with a friend, New-York based artist Ivan Shaw. We worked together on a project when I was back in Australia during the COVID-19 lockdown. We also had two musicians working with us. It’s a short two-minute video with music, which deconstructs one of my paintings and flips it around, and you can sort of move through it. And the painting has also been turned into a large printed format that will be at the entrance of the foyer when you walk into the Soho Residency. The image was the starting point, and then you can watch the video afterwards to see how it was manipulated with the collaboration.’

You work across a variety of elements, like painting and sculpture. What was it like working within a less tangible medium this time? 
‘Everything I do in my practice is handmade: it’s a very slow process with the painting or sculpture, or even the collages. That slow process is sometimes lost in something that’s quicker. But I think this installation, because of the scale and where it’s located, will still showcase all the layers.’ 

You have quite a few works on display across our global Houses. How do you feel about having your art in an environment where people can interact with it more freely than they can in a white cube gallery space? 
‘I love it because I think it opens up conversations. People feel a bit more able to ask questions about the work. You’re literally inhabiting the same space, even if you’re just having lunch. It reminded me of an installation I had at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles in 2017, which was located in the Fitzpatrick-Leland House by architect Rudolph Schindler up on the Hollywood Hills. It was my first experience of doing a show where the work was sitting inside a domestic space. When they were visiting, people were responding partly to the artwork, but also the interior space. It's not something you have a chance to do all the time, but it's an exciting opportunity to look at the work afresh.’

Inside the immersive installation at SXSW Soho House pop-up | Soho House

Which of the Houses can members see your work on display? 
‘For Soho Warehouse in Downtown LA, I created a three-panel, six by six-foot painting for the rooftop restaurant. That’s my biggest commissioned work around the Houses. The others are in Soho House Mumbai, DUMBO House, Little Beach House Barcelona, Electric House in London, and a series of collages for Soho House West Hollywood.’

For people who may not be familiar with your practice, how would you describe the main themes you explore? 
‘The overarching theme is telling stories through buildings and architecture. It’s about manipulating the place, like your memory does, where you take snapshots of things. But then your memory sort of folds those into different ways so that you take away something that’s personally yours. I look at how our memory and photography can work against or together with one another, using architecture to tell those stories.’

You’ve been a Soho House member for a while. What are you looking forward to the most about the House opening in Sydney? 
‘For such a long time, Australia has been perceived as looking inward, but there are so many things that are happening in Sydney (especially post-Covid) that are outward looking. The museums have got bigger, with residencies inviting international artists over. Soho House is similar because it creates a community that is globally focused, so people feel connected. It’s really important as an artist to create connections, and I think that’s going to provide a great platform for that.’

Explore the Soho House art collection at our Houses around the world