Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Kiki Smith


I am a Wanderer by Kiki Smith, at Modern Art, Oxford

Having thoroughly enjoyed Memory by Kiki Smith in Hydra this summer, I was really pleased to see more of her work in Oxford last week.

For over four decades Smith has created a multifaceted body of work that explores the political, social, philosophical and spiritual aspects of human nature. In this exhibition one can see three areas of Smith's artistic practice: the Jacquard tapestries, her small sculptures and prints.

The tapestries:

The tapestries are inspired by the natural world and cosmology. Smith portrays the connection between animals and humans in new configurations, emphasising friendship, survival and protection. These tapestries conjure the artist's visual universe of sky, moon and stars; wildlife and beasts; and woman as visionary seer, in what amounts to an individual story of creation. These imaginary reals are informed by medieval belief systems and pageantry of medieval life, in which the boundaries blur between fantasy and reality, conscious perception and dreams, metaphor and historical fact.

Smith's tapestries are made using an electronic Jacquard loom; an update of weaving technology first developed in 1801 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, and one of the punch card forerunners of computer programming. The multi-coloured warp and weft threads of Jacquard weaving achieve a mosaic-like blended effect far closer to the look of painting and printmaking than the solid block colours of traditional weaving. Magnolia Editions, with whom Smith collaborated to produce the tapestries, describe the process as 'halfway between printmaking and sculpture, rooted in the medieval and yet informed by digital sophistication'.

Smith first made cartoons, using her own lithographs and drawings on Nepalese paper, which were cut up and collaged into compositions. The cartoons were then scanned to enable many adjustments of image and colour. Woven in Belgium on a double-headed Jacquard loom, some of the tapestries have additions of drawing or gold leaf. Together they suggest 'how imperative it is at this moment to celebrate and honour the wondrous and precarious nature of being here on earth'.

Congregation, 2014

Cathedral, 2012

Sky, 2012

The sculptures:

Io (Seated), 2005 (porcelain figure with jewellery)

Shooting Star, 2015, (silver)

Me in a Corner, 2005, (porcelain)

Woman and Sheep, 2004, (cast iron)

Skull, 1985, (concrete and steel)

Spiral Nebula (Large), 2017, (aluminium)

Annunciation (small), 2007, (bronze)

The Seasons Go Away, 2014, (silver)

The prints:

The prints were produced over a period of 30 years. 'Prints mimic what we are as humans: we are all the same and yet every one is different. I also think there's a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries'. 

Smith often transforms the imagery generated through her printmaking into sculpture or other forms: a monoprint can become a silver necklace; a lithograph can become an object cast in bronze. The silver sculptures seen previously were originally made as prints. This enlarging or transferring process across media is what structures her practice as a whole. As Smith explained in 2017, one printmaking technique in particular suits her methods: 'Etching is really a physical cut in the universe, you are cutting into a clean piece of metal, and that line has such strong integrity that you can blow it up 20 feet and it will hold'.

The story-telling in Smith's prints unfolds an all-encompassing universe of enchantment, spiritual dimension and individual mythology, as well as the powerful imaginative space of childhood.

I was not able to include some of the prints I really liked due to too much reflection on the images.

Goat Moth, 2015

Kiki Smith: I am a Wanderer at Modern Art Oxford

Pool of Tears

Esperanza, 2015, (etching and collage on Hahnemuehle paper)

My Blue Lake, 1995, (photogravure and lithograph in 3 colours on En Tout Cas paper)

Sueno, 1992, (intaglio in 2 colours on Echizen Kouzo)

Breath, 2012, (7-colour lithograph on Zerkal Book smooth white paper)

Homecoming, 2008, (etching with hand-colouring on Saunders Watercolour HP paper)

Jewel, 2004, (aquating and etching on Nahnemuehle bright white paper)

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