Allison Smith: Source Materiel

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Allison Smith : Source Materiel

Feb 19 – Apr 17, 2016 // Muñoz Waxman Gallery

Santa Fe-based Jane Kimball has been quietly amassing thousands of souvenirs, love tokens, personalized trophies, and other examples of trench art made by soldiers on battlefields, in hospitals, or at p.o.w. camps. Having largely slipped through the cracks of both military and decorative arts history, these compelling objects are literally made of charged materiel -- a term that can be used for military equipment, supplies, or surplus. Oakland-based artist Allison Smith has been working with trench art as material culture and concept for over a decade, using it as a source of inspiration for sculptures, installations, workshops and large-scale participatory events. For this unique exhibition, Smith presents a sculptural framework for viewing a selection from Kimball's collection, incorporating objects that are already a poetic response to material sourced at the location of armed conflict. Smith connects the "home front" to the "front lines," combining the use of textiles with objects made from bomb shells, bullet casings, cannonballs, shrapnel fragments, airplane propellors, fallen zeppelins, and much more. A series of lectures, panels and workshops accompanies the exhibition.

Allison Smith: Source Materiel will feature Smith, a sculptor and installation artist from San Francisco, responding to a juxtaposed exhibit of trench art, objects made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians, where the object’s making and materiality are directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences, often using the detritus of war. The intersection of craft and war has been a long-standing interest of hers, where artist and soldiers can be in conversation, where the home front meets the front lines. She works in what can be described as a curatorial manner, positioning the work of others within a specific frame. The exhibition is about her approach to trench art as objects, working with them as a medium, bringing them into association with contemporary art. In her words: "I create temporary social formations driven by themes of conflict and creative democracy. I employ a range of tactile media such as textiles, ceramics, printmaking and wood furniture to produce performative sculptures, interactive installations, and artist-led participatory projects that rethink, restage, redo, and refigure our sense of collective memory."

Smith combines elements of traditional craft, performance and participation in her social practice, creating objects through traditional handicraft techniques into the context of contemporary art. Much of her art focuses on ways in which objects and their making reflect how we construct narratives of history as well as of personal and national identity. Her work will be in the form of an installation, something more sculptural, rather than a typical museum arrangement with display cases for the trench art. She may create large-scale printed images of some of the objects, or sculptural renditions in response to the objects. The style and format may be along the lines of projects by Jeremy Deller (Folk Archive traveling exhibition and catalog), Vladimir Arkhipov (Home-Made exhibitions and catalogs) and Kader Attia (The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, Documenta 2012). Other precedents for the type of artist's interpretation would be Jean Dubuffet's interest in art of the insane, or the Surrealists’ interest in children's art.

About Allison Smith
Allison Smith received a BA/psychology from The New School for Social Research, BFA in fine arts from Parsons School of Design, and MFA in sculpture from the Yale University School of Art. She lived in New York City from 1990-2008 then relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the faculty of California College of the Arts, where she is a tenured professor and Chair of the Sculpture Program.

Allison Smith’s work is “a unique combination of studio-based sculpture and social practice via a long investigation of historical reenactment and the role of craft in the construction of national identity.” For this exhibition, she will explore ways to connect trench art to strategies and practices in modern and contemporary art, and devise interactive public events that engage participants in explorations of identity and social issues. “I am interested in taking on the discourse around material culture and visual studies that has really broadened how we can see cultural production beyond art works or craft. That’s where I can enter into something like trench art and think about it as a kind of creative practice that changes the way I see myself as an artist in the world. What does it mean to take the conflicts of the world and try to do something creative from those extreme circumstances, using what is at hand?”

About Jane Kimball
Jane Kimball has a BA/Philosophy, Scripps College, MSLS, U of Southern California and MA/History, UC/Irvine. She was an academic research librarian at UC for most of her career, Local History Librarian for a year in England and a Fulbright Fellow at Univ. College/Cardiff, Wales. She has collected trench art since 1970. Her book Trench Art: An Illustrated History is a comprehensive survey from Napoleonic Wars to present, placing objects within their social and art historical contexts.