Mental Convolution, Sculpture at Barangaroo 2017


Client: Sculpture by the Sea, Barangaroo Delivery Authority

Location: Sydney, Australia

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $15,000

Project Team

Founding Director

David Handley

Sculpture by the Sea


Geoffrey Edwards

Sculpture by the Sea


Commissioned by Barangaroo Delivery Authority and Sculpture by the Sea, Mental Convolution is a large-scale, site-specific installation created from recycled timber. The artwork explores abstract notions, thoughts and images to create a physical manifestation and emotional imperative of a given mindscape: a labyrinth of the mind. The existing environment sets the platform for this psychological narrative to manifest physically and visually. The constructed nature of the site, being formed from a series of sandstone blocks, provides the underlying structure for the installation and lends itself perfectly for a continuation of a constructed aesthetic. The installation is constructed from an assortment of timber in an interconnected mass, both visually chaotic and structurally interwoven: organic yet fixed. Invited to enter, the audience will explore a frozen moment of endless thought, and weave their way through the space.

Visitors of the exhibition enjoy 14 artworks by nine established and emerging Australian artists, including five new works created specifically for the exhibition and nine existing sculptures that have been hand selected by curator Geoffrey Edwards to compliment the striking landscape and backdrop along the Sydney Harbour.


Expressive sculptural figures form crystallise and dissolve into the timber framework of the installation, immersed in everchanging thoughts. They physically articulate the emotions generated from the mind, acting as a reference point for “projection” for the onlooker. Illusive and easily missed they are intriguing to discover. Doorways and window frames make an appearance throughout the installation, marking the physical manifestation of a marked change in direction, a metaphor for pathways and positive possibilities. The window frames also act to literally frame multiple sections of the background view of the harbor and guide the direction of the audience to certain viewing spots.

By physically entering this artwork the audience enters an intimate space created from an intuitive process in which I let the mind unravel and freely construct. The focus is on sensation in the body: the only way to veritably communicate the inner labyrinth is to recreate in a neutral, abstract material a space that parallels an internal visual and mental state, in such a way as to elicit a visceral, physical sensation in the audience.

The aim is not to transform. Neither is it to transcend. Rather, it is but to enter, to open, to explore.


Elyssa Sykes-Smith was invited along with 8 other artists to exhibit in the prestigious Sculpture at Barangaroo exhibition of public art. Sykes-Smith was encouraged to create a site-specific installation at a site of her choosing at Barangaroo Reserve. This process entailed working in collaboration with the exhibition team to plan and install the artwork. A thorough site-visit was required to plan the artwork which included taking photos, videos and measurements of the site, and discussing the limitations regarding fixing elements to the site such as the ground and the rocks. The artwork was pre-fabricated in the artists studio in many sections and then delivered to the site. The installation process was treated as a public performance over six days, where the artwork was constructed onsite with a team of installers. Engineering sign off was required. The exhibition was presented to the public for 15 days and received high visitation and positive response from the public, critics and the media.

Additional Information

“The labyrinth symbolizes the many compartments in which a person can hide, which has developed as a means of self-protection. Just as we protect our bodies against injury, we protect our minds against psychic pain.” – Victor Bloom, MD “...It makes me cry, I want to talk about something I am not sure I can talk about, I want to talk about the inside from the inside, I do not want to leave it. I am so happy in the silky damp dark of the labyrinth and there is no thread” ― Hélène Cixous, The Book of Promethea