This spring the University of Washington made a grand gesture in attempting to expose students to new methods in contemporary art practice by offering a new course aptly titled, Critical Issues in Contemporary Art Practice. The class is taught by Eric Fredericksen, director of Western Bridge, and has been made possible though the coordinating efforts of Michael Van Horn.
The course offers students the opportunity to craft their own understanding of contemporary art practice through readings, discussion, and guest lectures from artists like Mungo Thomson, Heather and Ivan Morison, Stuart Bailey, Hadley+Maxwell, Will Rogan, and Joe Scanlan. As part of the coursework, students were asked to write up an exhibition review of a local show in the Seattle area and a number of students decided to write about the exhibition, I Myself Have Seen It: Photography & Kiki Smith now on view in the North Galleries. I asked students if they would be interested in posting their reviews on the blog and received a few submissions which I will be posting over the next few weeks.
The following review is from a student in the Art 361 class, Karen Orders, a Seattle photographer.
Filling all six rooms of the Northern Galleries, there were an overwhelming number of photographs included in this exhibition. Each room has the base of the walls lined with small (4×6?) framed prints that at first appear to be random snapshots, but also seem to be documents of some of the sculptural work that is exhibited in most of the rooms. Due to their small size and location next to the floor, these prints are hard to take in as individual images but do serve to underline the use of photography by Smith.
The majority of the photographic prints were interpretive documentation of her various sculptural works, some of which are in this exhibit. These photographs are much more than run-of-the-mill artist documentation. Smith has taken the time to frame her works in different angles and use varying depth of field to create beautiful photographic works of art that can stand on their own. I was very impressed at how she was able to capture these inanimate objects with such grace and tension.
Unfortunately, the photographs of living beings left much to be desired. The Sleeping Witch series (some black and white prints, some sepia, some full-color, and one sepia with red color added in spots) were less compelling than the non-living items. They lacked the same artfulness and use of depth of field that I found pleasing in the other images. The sepia photograph of the sleeping witch with the red spot-colored apples had a very amateurish feel to it, something cliché that was popular for a period in the advertising field, and then later in the amateur arena when Photoshop easily allowed for such an effect. Smith’s nod to photographic history in her video of animal motion is nice, but once again, it doesn’t measure up to her status and capability as an artist. It is a sweet gesture but her attempt falls short on its ability to get across any message beside the recognition of the past.
In short, Kiki Smith’s photographs of her beloved sculptures give the audience a privileged view of how the artist sees her creations. These images have wonderful framing that shows us the special connection she has with her sculptural works. It was a great addition to have some of the actual sculptures on hand to be able to see the scale of the original objects. And for that matter, it was nice to see the rest of the photographs too. The images of the woman (sleeping witch and some multiple image prints or herself) highlighted the artistry of the rest of her work.