Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith’s Sojourn + To Live Forever: or my hour alone at the Brooklyn Museum.

Kiki Smith
Kiki Smith

I went today to the Brooklyn Museum to see Kiki Smith’s Sojourn and the Egyptian exhibition To Live Forever. It’s funny because I was excited to see this work and when I was by myself I took a deep breath of happiness right before I entered thinking ” I have all the time to look at every little detail I want to, and I can stop, and revisit, and relook, and circle around aimlessly as I please for hours…”. But it didn’t end up that way. I was sort of manic in the way I traveled through Kiki’s exhibition, eating everything quickly with my eyes, trying to slow down, read some wall text, and really evaluate the materials/ the touch she left there. I become a type of barometer or just a wind blowing this way and that to anything that attracts or affects me. I think this is the way I tend to look at art, instinctually, trying to leech onto feelings or vibrations coming from the work.

When I started through the exhibition I read the description of how Kiki’s show started with looking at this 18th century needlepoint illustrating a woman’s cycle of life. I think both this idea and the context of the Beverly Sackler Center for Feminist Art seem merely to be starting points, or merely fake parameters for this work. Somehow it doesn’t seem to be about those ideas of a woman creative space, or not just that idea. It all seems a whirlwind of fragile paper, magic bursts of glitter, thin lines, birds, prehistoric stars. I think there was too much, too many drawings at one time to distill a singular sense of feeling/emotion in the first part of the exhibition. I wish this first section was edited down a bit, or not all packed in so tightly. I was most affected by the aluminum sculpture figures, especially “The Singer”, the lone woman with her one hand in an upward gesture and the other holding a beautiful bouquet of silk flowers. I thought this piece was going to be miniature, but it turned out to be close to life-size. I also loved these small paper-mache chairs with small drawings on them leaning against the wall and died over the plain wooden coffin propped open with spare, otherworldly flowers made out of glass growing inside. The last section with the dark woodcuts and woman holding her mother or older self were very emotive and expressionistic.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt that profound nothingness and everything-ness that people describe in front of some art works. I didn’t experience it today either, but I did start to feel my heart race a bit, almost like a congestion in my chest, it was like an itching to create. I know this is the effect of Kiki’s work. While I may not like everything that she makes, I totally understand the utter need to make/create/feel/destroy/and just be flowing in and out of her work, like an animal. I remember her speaking at Parsons when I was a grad student and really enjoying her talk about not over-thinking what work means, but to go at it and it’s meaning will present itself. I know she just goes for it because she loves it, and because making work fulfills and challenges her.

The To Live Forever exhibit is a perfect companion show to Kiki’s work as it explains how Egyptians used imagery, symbols, objects, stories to deal with mortality and death. It is such an overwhelming sense of brilliance, magic, and history I felt looking through all the mummies and amulets. This exhibition is very inspiring to some of my new work dealing with death/rebirth/creation. I know I am tapping into these ancient traditions of commemorating and embracing life/death transition through artistry, objects, and performance. The Egyptians’ dedication to beauty, tradition, ritual, death, and life is a source of constant fascination. I had to run to get to the studio to make something with my hands before I exploded, and so concluded my hour at the Brooklyn Museum.


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