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KIKI SMITH WOVEN TALES

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KIKI SMITH WOVEN TALES

May 13 - July 30, 2016

1011 PASEO DE PERALTA T 505.954.5800

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SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

PETERSPROJECTS.COM


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A WALK IN THE WORLD: KIKI SMITH’S TAPESTRIES WITH MAGNOLIA EDITIONS Essay by Nick Stone

The Japanese concept of shinrinyoku might help explain why Kiki Smith's tapestries feel so much like a breath of fresh air. Shinrinyoku, or "forest bathing," is the practice of simply walking through a forest as a therapeutic remedy for mental and physical ailments; several dozen forests have been officially designated by Japan's Forest Agency as effective sites in which to "bathe" one's senses by taking a quiet walk under a canopy of trees. An encounter with Smith's tapestries is like taking such a walk: they are calming and meditative, but with a beguiling, dynamic sense of aliveness that makes one feel as if each work is gently pulsing in time with one's own heartbeat. It is as if they have been infused with the restorative qualities of a palliative encounter with nature. In fact, Smith's tapestries offer a forest bath that extends far beyond the forest – visiting the seas and the skies, touring cosmic and microcosmic worlds, from the stars and galaxies above us to the silent strata of bone and fossil beneath our feet. A 1998 Smith exhibition was called "All Things Great and Small," and her work has always had this sense of active taxonomy, a kind of universal cataloguing of living beings, focusing in particular first on the human figure and in later years on a host of signature animal motifs – wolves, birds, rats, and rabbits – and animated natural phenomena such as stars and frost.


Likewise, Smith's practice has incorporated a host of mediums, re-interpreting a personal repertoire of motifs in drawings, photolithographs, or sculptural multiples. Her tapestries are perhaps the penultimate expression of this impulse. Smith works at the scale of the tapestry, creating large collages on paper from cut-out drawings, photolithographs, and various textural elements. The collages are sent to Magnolia Editions, photographed, printed at scale and sent back to Smith for more handwork and collaging; this cycle continues (often for months) until the design is ready to be translated into a digital weave file and sent to an electronic, doubleheaded Jacquard loom for proofing as a textile. "It's the way that I work," she told me from her studio in New York last summer, "the imagery is multiplied as it moves from drawing to lithography to collage to digital printing to being woven on a loom, so it has various lives. It’s the same process I use when making sculptures: moving from one way of generating an image to another, effecting multiple transformations." Smith's choice to compose her tapestries at scale rather than enlarging smaller images is crucial to their impact. To work large is "to emphasize the holiness of it," she explains: "historically, these objects were made to blanket walls. They're blanketing space. In mosques there are kilims that are hundreds of years old sitting on top of each other for prayer. There's a relationship between cloth and life and protection." Smith's tapestries are the product of a fascinating convergence of influences: in addition to the medieval kilim, over the course of our conversations the artist references the historic 14th-


century Apocalypse tapestry in Angers, France; the work of 20th-century Parisian weaver Jean Lurçat, whose tapestries Smith describes as "very colorful, very French," noting that "the French invented hippie art, or the aesthetic for it"; and the "whimsical” paintings of early modernist Florine Stettheimer, which inspired Smith with their "brilliant color and weightless space." Perhaps the tapestries' most unexpected influence is the medieval taste for spectacle, as reinterpeted and reflected in the Hollywood of the 1920s. "About ten years ago in sculpture, I started thinking about the 1920s," Smith says: "I wanted to make sculptures that were like floats at a parade, that had a pageantry to them and a sense of spectacle. The Middle Ages and the 1920s both had that aesthetic in common." This was the inspiration for elements such as the dramatic beams of blue light that seem to emanate from the backgrounds of Sky (2012) and Congregation (2014). "I envisioned tapestries with RKO lights in them," explains Smith, "movie lights, lights on marquees or the lights in the street during movie premieres – a fractured light. And I wanted them to reflect the grandeur of the 1920s aesthetic by saturating them with detail and decoration." This quality of saturation is one of the tapestry medium's strengths: each of Smith's woven editions is saturated both with color and with a multiplicity of forms. The tapestries are "actually a great opportunity to color things," she says, "because I love color more than anything… But often I keep it at bay. Most of the design is printed: I make photo-lithos of drawings and then I collage them together. The biggest opportunity the tapestries offer is to fill those printed designs

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out with color." Likewise, the artist's work tends toward what she calls "singular images" – "my downfall is monotheism," she laughs – whereas her tapestries "are much more integrated images in the sense that the constituent elements are literally woven in and out of one another." Smith uses the word "density" to distinguish between her drawings and tapestries: weaving yields an object "that's much denser in terms of color and population than my drawings are." The visual density of Smith's tapestries is offset by a compositional strategy that divides each image into an upper sky realm, a central or "Earth" realm, and an underworld beneath. This principle, the division of our world into three vertical realms, is an ancient way of representing the universe common to traditional African, Celtic, Native American and Central American mythologies. Smith's first three editions with Magnolia (Sky, Underground, and Earth, 2012) directly address and represent these three realms; they continue to appear in subsequent editions via horizontal bands at the top and bottom of each tapestry. Evincing the impulse to catalogue the world as described above, Smith explains: "At first I thought, I’ll cover everything: I’ll make the earth, the sky, and the underworld." The artist looked closer to home for inspiration for the next four editions, populating her tapestries with the creatures – foxes, owls, eagles, coyotes – glimpsed on her road in upstate New York. The kaleidoscopic Spinners (2014) was created after a friend gave Smith a group of silkworms, on the verge of hatching, to look after. "But I didn’t want to simply be trying to make an encyclopedia of nature," says Smith: "when the work becomes too representational, it’s a trap." The focus of subsequent editions has begun to shift toward inanimate players – the constellations of stars in


Visitor (2014), the rocky islands of Harbor (2014) – in a deliberate effort to introduce a degree of abstraction. Despite their inanimate nature, these elements are still both profoundly dynamic and grounded in reality: Smith describes the constellation in Visitor as "like a figure standing or kneeling" and notes that the islands in Harbor were inspired by a visit to the Skellig Islands in Kerry, Ireland; their rocky textures are the result of woodcut prints depicting firewood, which the artist cut into shapes and manually rearranged. The marriage of the industrial strength of the electronic loom to Smith's own meticulous, handmade practice has yielded a family of extraordinary progeny: a series of visions of the natural world that are truly spectacular, even to an audience numb to spectacle. The warp and weft unite a multiplicity of varied textures, flora, and fauna in Smith's tapestries, catalyzing a powerful sense of connection and oneness that extends even to the viewer. While she does add details by hand to their woven surfaces, Smith deliberately aims to maintain their integrity as tapestries: "Sometimes I added some leaf," she told me, "It doesn’t hurt to have a little touch in things – but I don't want it to appear as a painted surface. That's not what I'm interested in, really." By virtue of their sophistication, scale, and the enormous amount of collaborative work that goes into their development, Smith's tapestries have set a new standard for collage: in brilliant fashion, they speak to the possibility of a balanced and peaceful coexistence – an unprecedented unification of the digital age and the artist's hand.

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Earth, 2011 cotton jacquard tapestry 118 x 76 ½ inches edition of 10


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Sky, 2011 cotton jacquard tapestry 119 x 76 ½ inches edition of 10


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Underground, 2012 cotton jacquard tapestry 119 x 78 inches edition of 10


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Guide, 2012 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Cathedral, 2013 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Congregation, 2014 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Spinners, 2014 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Fortune, 2014 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Harbor, 2015 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Visitor, 2015 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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Sojourn, 2015 cotton jacquard tapestry 113 x 75 inches edition of 10


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KIKI SMITH | WOVEN TALES MAY 13 - JULY 30, 2016

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1011 PA SE O DE P E R A LTA SA NTA FE NM 87501 T 505.954.5800 P E TE R SP R OJ E C TS.C OM

Kiki Smith-Woven Tales  

Kiki Smith Exhibition Catalog Peters Projects, Santa Fe

Kiki Smith-Woven Tales  

Kiki Smith Exhibition Catalog Peters Projects, Santa Fe