Carrie Smith is a recent graduate from the University of Regina Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Her studio practice is spent divided between experimentation and exploration of medium and muse – chasing discovery until it can be captured and dissected. She works primarily in ceramic sculpture, incorporating ideas of the abject, the surreal and the internal landscape. Her works are often unsettling or strange – being manifestations of her memories or dreams, she hopes to confront viewers with the subversive places of their own experience – to find some commonality in the abject symbols of human experience.
She feels that the need to communicate necessitates creation. By exposing her internal landscape, she aims to touch those same places in another – that there is a commonality to memory. Veiled in the language of symbols, held within a reliquary of bones, she hopes to elicit a visceral response from her viewer, to momentarily share an emotional consciousness. We had the chance to chat with Carrie about her most recent sculptural work.
1. Can you tell us a little more about your work and your creative process?
The process from idea to finished work is quite long for me. The nature of ceramic is such that it benefits you to work with the medium, using its best attributes so to speak. Quite often I find that I actively fight with my medium, and that working is an endless amount of problem solving, testing, research, trying, failing and trying again. Through this I find that the content of my work evolves with the physical making. I love research, and though my work is incredibly personal, it is also the result of really exploring and analyzing a concept. The creation of my sculptures as three dimensional forms is integral to this evolution of concept. Chemistry, content and form all come through the making - obsessive and technical making. If you make a thing once, it can always be re-made and improved upon. I'm always trying to challenge myself in this way - what can I do next? The puzzle of figuring it out is rewarding in many ways, most importantly when it teaches you that you have so much to learn, so many ways to grow. In terms of the how, my works are primarily created via slip-casting, a ceramic process of pouring liquid clay into plaster molds to create forms. I've always loved casting, and the process is actually what led me to porcelain initially. I will also throw or hand-build if it suits the work. One of the many reasons I love casting so much is that I really enjoy making molds. Visualizing objects and breaking them down to simpler components seems like it would be straight-forward, but there are so many challenges to the process. Also, casting allows to create multiples which allows me to try many things at once. I also love how little of the hand is apparent in the process. It can facilitate works that look as though they have grown, giving the illusion of autonomy. I'm a total sucker for great trompe l'oeil. Mold making gives me the opportunity to challenge this, and also to challenge what clay can be. The complexities and technical problems are a bonus, in terms of keeping me really engaged in the work, as the scope of my projects is becoming years now, instead of weeks. The science of it all keeps it feeling productive while I explore risk in other ways.
2. In your sculptural work, you feature visceral representations of objects like bones, flesh and hair in a way that is dreamy, deadly and decaying, yet, contrasted with blooming flowers and gold details. How do you view these as "abject symbols" and what kind of response do you hope to illicit from your viewers?
My interest in the abject comes from the notion that sometimes we clothe the hardest truths about ourselves in the smallest and most banal ways. The idea of the uncanny is in part that which is approaching death (to really simplify it), but I also feel that it is that which is hyper-real. Hair and flesh, are innocuous on a person, detached from the host they become symbols of disgust and signifiers of absence. A body is implied, but explicitly withheld. My bones were at once an evolution of this idea and also a wicked departure - starting as a play on #yolo and it's similarities to the memento mori movements of the past. The work was intended to be a kind of cheeky comment but also a celebration. As all things do, it evolved. I felt the work was much more interesting formally than conceptually, and it created this whole new language I could speak. In fact, the bones allow for me to move past the deadly or decay. Death and decay aren't present for them because they are in an alternative space to that. The only decay and death are the signifiers of such - enshrining in flowers and gold, a memento of life - the unabashed beauty and luxury we lay on our dead. I'm interested by this - how we make a vanitas paintings-like tableau of our dead, shrines to their bodies, which also act as memento mori to survivors: preserving the precipice of fragility before decay (as we do to our loved ones in modern embalming). That precipice of fragility is what I hope to imbue in my work, though porcelain achieves this so effortlessly - one of the many things I love about it. Porcelain is a medium of duality - incredibly strong but also brittle, luminous and fine but also simply earth. Porcelain occupies an interesting space that has an intriguing intersection with the nature of being - mainly that it cannot exist in its entirety forever, but once fired, its entirety will surely exist in perpetuity. Like our bodies, porcelain is temporary and also infinite. It really is an amazing medium.
I feel like the bones work well as this ephemera of eternity in acting as metaphor for the psyche, but also a signifier of hyper-reality and altered-reality, or death. It is so important to also acknowledge that bones are structures for life. I'm just ripping off the covers of the body and playing with the interior - the deep interior. Enshrining them in flowers and gilding important aspects to specific pieces are allusions to funerary traditions as well as art-historical symbols of life, death and temporality. This is all layered over references to Slavic ideologies of life and death, pulled from the myths and legends of my heritage. As a result, I hope to position my work between my identities as well as my philosophies. For the viewer, I hope to lure them with refined forms and seductive materials, to bring them in close so as to acquaint them with parts of their own inevitable reflection.
3. Can you tell us more about "the internal landscape" and your fascination with dreams?
The internal landscape is an allegory of the psyche - at once a metaphor, but also the reality of the eternities inside the mind. There is an incredible complexity to people and this complexity is what interests me. I find that when we allow ourselves to truly explore our own depths, we learn there is still more to discover. We are ever changing and ever evolving. This is where my fascination with dreams comes from. Dreams act as a chronicle of this evolution. Our memories, hopes, desires, and fears all surface there in one way or another. Sometimes we dream in ways that are incredibly direct - like manifestations of phobias, other dreams are symbolic and confusing. We all dream, even if we don't remember it. Even though we may have subjective symbolism in personal and specific dreams. I feel that the commonality in the act of dreaming is an astounding enough connection. We are all born, we all live, dream, and die. Dreaming seems to be an intermediary between the triad of life truths - birth, life, and death. I'm interested in this. At times it seems to me that our bodies are just a husk for our dream selves - that the corporeal realm is actually the brief intermediary between states of being. My work is part expression of this belief and part inspired directly from my subconscious sojourns.
4. Are you currently working on any new art projects?
Yes! I have so many ideas that I'm never working on only one thing. I suppose right now I'm getting extremely excited by the potentials posed with 3D printing. People are doing really incredible things with the technology, and I would love to try it out for myself. I'm not so interested in the machines as a specific art-making mechanism, but as a tool to facilitate my practice. As I said earlier, I love mold making, but it is a really involved practice. Having the ability to digitally test via 3D imaging is not only going to speed me up, but also allow for all kinds of my wildest imaginings to become a physical reality. The scope of my work is so far into the future that I'm excited for this year as foundation and perhaps learning this new technology to help with something really large in 2017.
You can see more by Carrie and keep up-to-date with her latest work by visiting her website.
All images © Carrie Smith, reproduced with permission.