Kiki Smith is an artist whose work has always inspired me. Primarily known as a sculptor, she also works in many media including photography which was the focus of I Myself Have Seen It: Photography and Kiki Smith, an exhibition of hers we recently attended at the Block Gallery on Northwestern’s campus. (This show was curated by Elizabeth Brown, chief curator at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle.) I was immediately energized as I walked into the room.
Unlike our traditional notions of photographic art where there are images in frames on walls, there was a very clear sense when one walked into the space that everything was connected and part of a larger whole. There were thousands of 4 x 6 photographs in cheap frames along the floorboards of the room, sometimes two and three deep, working to connect the entire space together. Some of these photographs actually began to creep up the walls in various places making the whole space feel very organic and electric. These photographs were intentionally, not randomly, placed and selected. There were images of nature, of her art, of herself. They looked to be like the working photos of an artist as she deliberates what she will do or what she has done. Some of these photos were out of focus, the exposure wrong, but seeing these photos was like crawling inside Kiki Smith’s mind and actually sharing an intimate glimpse of her thinking and creative process.
And the rest of the show of larger work was equally inspiring. The photographs of her sculptures, nature, and of herself became intimate through selective focus and composition. One has the feeling that Kiki Smith has the remarkable blessing of time to sit among her pieces and riff off each one. Sometimes an image takes her in one direction, sometimes in another. Processes which utilize the multiple image (printmaking, photography) allow an artist to expand on a single idea in lots of different directions through all kinds of manipulations (drawing, collaging, etc). Multiple repeated images are potentialities. As one walked through this exhibit, this feeling of fertile creativity was visceral and alive.
And because she is an established artist, she has a contingent of support from galleries and various studios who help and aid her in making her ideas and imaginings become real, ie to help cast her, to help her in the practical and physical areas of printmaking, etc. Anything is possible.
I have spent the past few days, since seeing this exhibit, overflowing with ideas and possibilities.
Time to get to work in the studio.
(We purchased the catalogue and were pleasantly surprised to find that the director of this prestigious gallery/ museum is an old friend, Sylvia Wolf, who wrote the foreword to the catalogue.)