UNTITLED, projection on plaster casts, casts approx 10 x 15 cm, 2006
Emily Smith: I was very lucky to thoroughly enjoy my degree and Ma, I pretty much lived in the studios spending nine hours a day working. Like a lot of art students I found the technicians far more inspirational than the tutors, although this changed during the Ma where I was tutored by Dr. Chris Short and Louise Short (no relation!) both extremely demanding and passionate artists. I studied ceramics and painting at Ba (with Visual Culture as a minor) - the multidisciplinary approach suited the way I work. There was a interesting tension between my 2D and 3D work as I felt and still feel that the sculptural pieces are the real focus.
BS: Your work often appears as if it reflects time gone by. Several of your pieces have an aged quality about them. Is that something you strive for? Or am I just interpreting the works that way? What do you think of my observation?
ES: Yes there is certainly an aged quality, like a thin film of dust on objects which picks up fingerprints. In recent years I have been working with objects that have not been touched for many years so there is a kind of archaeology to the process of rediscovery. In earlier works the manner of construction is deliberately crude to suggest former use and clues to their construction. I am very interested in traces left by my own hands through the process of making, as well as the traces of a former use present on all objects, which give clues to who may have touched the object.
BS: Tell us more about the themes that you deal with in your work...
ES: Theories I focus on tend to pivot around the uncanny (specifically the unhomely or 'unheimlich'), feelings of nostalgia and loss. I see much of my work as a kind of detective work, seeking out traces of others in myself, revealing clues to long past events. However there is also a sense of me acquiring memories that are not my own, a conscious attempt to become someone I didn't know.
BS: Can you tell us about some of your other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements?
ES: Artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse whose work is now experiencing a revival (or long overdue recognition) influenced me on a practical material level but also on a more poetic level, especially Bourgeois who combines objects, installation, traditional sculpture and words in a rich poetic structure. Bourgeois has created an extremely personal vocabulary of symbols and objects that reappear, but never lose their freshness. I find Doris Salcedo's examination of both a personal and a pluralistic, ‘meta-memory’ very powerful. Surrealist collage and poem objects fascinate me, as does Rachel Whiteread's use of casting unseen spaces and making the transient solid.
BS: I really enjoyed the images I've seen of His Cabinet and Drip. Can you tell us about these two installations and the thoughts behind them?
ES: 'His Cabinet' began as a cataloguing of an old cabinet filled with paint, wood stains, glues and other woodwork materials that hadn't been touched for years. It was interesting to see how the cabinet had been used; the bottom shelves were most densely stacked, the top shelf - out of reach - almost empty. The listing, dusting, sorting and cataloguing was cathartic and I felt like I was not only unearthing old memories but absorbing and reappropriating the history of the bottles and jars. of course none of this process is revealed in the piece but for me as artist it was vital to understand each object before casting began. By casting in plaster traces of the labels were transferred and when overlaid by the slide projection a palimpsest of traces was created; the plaster cast as trace, the fragments of label and paint picked up on the surface and the very transient photographic trace of the projection. The illusion is broken when a viewer walks between the projection and the cabinet, revealing the objects as non-functional simulacra.
The installation 'Drip' really emphasises the fragility of the material - plaster. It is a more directly emotional piece, a response to the effects of grief. A literal staining occurs, there is a slow measuring drip and a gradual darkening as the plaster absorbs stain. I am interested in how furniture is so close to the human body that it can often stand in for a person or take on human characteristics.
ES: My practice feels fairly disparate at the moment, I think partly in response to a recent studio move and all the stresses and changes that entails. I am really enjoying pinhole photography and playing with lighting my cast objects with projected images.
Untitled (work in progress)
BS: Tell us about your process... how does a piece go from being an idea to a physical reality? Place us in your mind during the process of creation.
ES: Each new work stems from a previous piece so there is rarely a complete change of course. Most inspiration comes when I am away from the studio and have time to dream without being distracted by practical tasks. From initial sketches there is a direct jump to the actual pieces; I work directly without models or trials so my work is very labour intensive and there is always the risk that I spend weeks on a piece but then am not happy with it. My work is more like a jigsaw or collage, individual pieces can be modified and developed within the restraints of the whole. I sometimes miss the immediacy of paint but cannot move away from my love of process driven work. I suppose my ceramics background has a lot to do with this, within each stage there is freedom but the production of work has a clear process and direction. I use repetitive methods such as casting and sewing which are deeply absorbing. I have developed a deep knowledge of materials and respond to the physicality of the work, which is often tiring and almost always messy!
BS: Finally, will you be involved with any exhibits in 2008? Where can our readers view your work?
ES: There are a few shows planned for 2008, mainly in Gloucestershire. All are in the preliminary stages but more details coming soon!