Loose Canons – Talia Smith

In our latest Loose Canons series, we invited artist and curator Talia Smith to share five things that have informed her work. Her practice explores the notions of time, memory, and familial histories.

Posted on
09.11.22

Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Talia Smith is an artist and curator who was born in Ngāmotu, Aotearoa, and now lives in Sydney, Australia, on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. 

Her practice looks at notions of time, memory, familial histories and the reclamation of the colonial tool of the camera. She has a particular research focus and interest in time-based practices. 

Talia has built an impressive international career. As a curator, she has created exhibitions with a number of organisations, such as the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Artbank, Cement Fondu, Artspace Sydney and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. In 2020, she completed a curatorial residency with Basis Frankfurt. 

She has most recently curated The Salt of the Earth for the Singapore International Photography Festival. The group exhibition, which features Arini Byng, Edith Amituanai, Dennis Golding and Nathan Beard, explores the way in which family and the ties that bind shape and inform who we are. 

Talia is currently a participant in the Australia Council for the Arts international curators’ programme for 2022/23. 

Family photo. Left to right: Uncle Ta, Aunty Moe, Grandma, Grandad.
  1. My grandma and family 

Maybe it's a little weird to be so influenced by someone I’ve never met, but here we are. My grandmother was born on a boat between the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, she was essentially sold to a white family to work as their maid, and flew via seaplane to Aotearoa. For the first few years, she lived in Dargaville and worked off her ‘debt’ (fare) to the family, before moving to Tāmaki and meeting a charming yet flawed Sāmoan man. This, obviously, was my grandfather. They married and had seven children, with my mother being the fifth. Grandma passed away at the age of 48 – my mother was 18 at the time and I was not born until about six or seven years later, so I never got to meet her. In fact, only one of my cousins did, but she was just a baby at the time. 

My grandma lived a short, hard life and she has been an influence in my life through the few photos we have of her, and the stories that my mum and her siblings tell. She has been the focus of a lot of my visual-arts work and curatorial research – it is the not knowing that draws me in. She had this whole life before and during children that I never got to know and there is nothing written about it, so I have tried to tell her story through my eyes, to acknowledge those histories that go untold and to draw attention to the small, personal histories just as much as the larger ones. This was my thinking behind the show I have curated in Singapore – the idea of family. I am incredibly close to mine – despite the fights and the disagreements there’s laughter, and they inspire me daily, so I wanted to celebrate that.

Still from BTVS, S2, episode: Becoming, Part 2.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003)

For anyone that knows me, having this TV show on the list will be no surprise at all. I remember being about 13 when I started seeing ads on TV for this new show Buffy the Vampire Slayer – I had actually seen the movie it was based on, so I was already intrigued. I was at my friend Stacey’s house and we were having a sleepover, and I pleaded with her to watch the first episode. We turned the TV on and as soon as I saw SMG (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays Buffy) on the screen making some kind of witty remark, I was hooked. Stacey was not, and tried to distract me through the whole viewing. I have written before about the show’s influence on my life and how it still resonates with me, but in terms of its inclusion on this list I simultaneously wanted to be Buffy but also thought I was her. She spoke to my teenage angst, the want for a boyfriend, the want to be noticed or acknowledged, she was hot girl-power, she was dry and funny and sad and heartbreaking… to a small-town gal in Aotearoa, she was pretty much everything. I actually curated a show around being a fan, which stemmed naturally from my own foray into that world – I made fan art and wrote extremely bad fan fiction under many pseudonyms (thank god for my forward thinking that none of it could be actually traced back to me) and taught myself how to make websites so I could create fan pages. I was able to have a creative outlet and take all of the pent-up feelings I had and make something out of them. I guess that is what my art really is. Just some pent-up feelings in an image.

Still from What I am looking at, Marie Shannon, 2011.

3. UNITEC

I was extremely lucky to study twice at Unitec (graphic design and then visual arts, majoring in photography) under the tutelage of some absolute badasses who continue to inspire me to this day. In particular, Marie Shannon, Yvonne Todd, Edith Amituanai, Karen Crisp, Neil Finlay and Allan Mcdonald, among others that I am sure I have missed. I guess you could say I really was there during the golden era, as I now know that the programme is not what it used to be, which is pretty sad. There have been some great artists come out of there, so it hurts to see such good programmes go. 

I have been lucky enough to work with some of my old lecturers in my capacity as a curator, and they have supported me through their kind words, encouragement, support letters and the works that they continue to make. Marie taught me that it was OK to go personal, Yvonne taught me that it was OK to laugh and not be so serious all the time, Edith taught me that this was the right pathway for me, Karen and Neil taught me a myriad of technical skills, and Allan taught me to trust in myself. It’s corny, I know, but it really was A Time, and when I returned for my second undergrad at age 25 they all really helped in shaping me to get to where I am today.

Still from Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

4. Chantal Akerman

I first saw one of Chantal Akerman’s films at the Auckland Film Festival years ago. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was playing at the SkyCity Theatre (the most uncomfortable damn seats in the world!) in the Slow Cinema section. I went along with my friend Anya and, honestly, I remember being pretty bored and my butt hurt from the stupid seats and then BAM the end happened and suddenly I didn’t care about all that waiting anymore. I won’t spoil it but it was truly masterful, also the set design is beautiful. I love a lot of her films and they have influenced me to no end, in particular News from Home, which features a narrator reading out parts of letters from Akerman’s mother over the top of scenes from New York. It is so simple and I wish I could articulate the distance between mother and daughter as beautifully as she can.

Cover of Beach House’s self-titled first album.

5. Beach House 

I have seen this band play many times and I still listen to their records (albeit only their first ones because I am a SNOB) over and over. I like to have them on in the background when I am making or writing. I still kick myself that I was too sick to go and do karaoke with them after their gig at the Kings Arms! Then they played at Laneway a few years later and there were 1000 bros singing along to their lyrics, and I thought, “Well if they can even make a bro in a tight, too small t-shirt and beige shorts with sneakers bellow out a tune then they must be fucken good eh.” 


In my biopic (think more outrageous exaggeration like Blonde rather than actual truth) I would like to have a scene where, at my wedding to someone extremely hot, we do our first dance to ‘Somewhere Tonight(2015). That song makes my heart expand until it fills my chest, almost painfully so, and as the music wails in a crescendo I let all the breath I have been holding in just rush out and my heart retracts and I feel the loss acutely until the cycle starts all over again.

Love me, see what I see tonight

Let us find elation

Somewhere in a ballroom tonight

Nowhere on an ordinary night

‘Somewhere Tonight’