There's a moment of pause before the full breadth of Sally Smart's The Violet Ballet exhibition is revealed at ACE Open gallery.
The fleeting stillness comes courtesy of a sort of prologue to the exhibition that hangs in an antechamber of the gallery – a space separated from the rest of the room by a highly intricate and colourful textile artwork strung from the ceiling. Along the wall of this confined area, a collection of collaged costumes are a soft introduction into Smart's world. Within which, somehow, the depiction of a dismembered limb as part of a display of couture-like clothing is unsettling not because of its brutality, but because of its poetry.
The time and space offered by this initial part of the exhibition is essential. Smart's work is overwhelming – the Australian artist is known around the world for artworks built using as many layers of meaning as layers of material. The quiet introduction is a much-needed opportunity for acclimatisation before the barrage of the main space is unleashed. Here, three enormous screens cycle through the video installation components of The Violet Ballet. The moving images incorporate iconography related to the history of the Ballet Russes and traditional Indonesian puppetry and Smart uses these visuals to ruminate on ideas of colonialism and orientalism.
The experience of being in the main gallery is affecting, but more a result of confusion than comprehension. It will take a viewer with a strong knowledge of art history and theory to fully decode Smart's work. For everyone else, there are hints of meaning and a lingering, non-specific feeling of disquiet.
The Violet Ballet, ACE Open, 2-17 Mar, Free.