“Smith is the sound music makes as it collapses.”—Anthony Huberman
A fishing hat, caked with red, heat-resistant rubber, nailed crown-flush to a wall; a pair of gnarled black safety goggles, melted into unrecognizability; a thin, boomerang-shaped piece of translucent yellow plastic in which two animal snouts have been imbedded; the seat of a prisoner transport van; birdhouses; boilers; children’s clothes; diving accessories; old doors; animal scrotums; artificial hearts; grill covers; forklifts. Michael E. Smith’s works are not found or lost objects but sculptural collages originating from a strategy of emptying, “a reduction until arriving at a semantic point zero,” writes Martin Germann. Spare gestures in the exhibition spaces emerge out of the dimness thanks to the absence of artificial light. Accumulated traces of human experience conjure up a brink beyond which things and their attributes disintegrate and form a new constellation that seems to “betoken a funeral solemnity, as if [it] were the result of some kind of vigil or ritual,” as Chris Sharp states.
Initially conceived to document three solo shows at de Appel in Amsterdam (2015), Kunstverein Hannover (2015), and S.M.A.K. in Ghent (2017), the publication also gathers new commissioned texts and a reprint that shed light on the artist’s decade-plus practice. Martin Germann’s text centers on the phenomenology of Smith’s installation process, revealing the role of context, craftsmanship, and improvisation for his creative act. Chris Sharp attends to the artist’s work from the early days, tackling core concepts of horror, postapocalyptic sublime, and non-signification, and how his installations are to be read as attempts to deepen loss and exhaustion by way of working through them, thereby “disarm[ing] the trauma.” Anthony Huberman captures the struggle of translating Smith’s work into language by reading it through the lens of music. As the artist himself states, his art may be “like listening to a cheap cassette player running low on batteries slugging along ‘T.B. Sheets’ by Van Morrison while working as a dishwasher.”