David B. Smith: 2016 Jerome Fellow

I play with photographic images in a sculptural way.  I do this using a computer-code like language and intuitive organic compositions related to natural processes of growth and decay.  I act out apparent contradictions to capture synchronicity and the fleeting sensation of the present moment.  My language is an ever-expanding vocabulary of actions, which I carry out on familiar photographic images.   Examples of actions which take place in digital, physical and mental space are: layering, grafting, mirroring, combining, reversing, looping, scattering, isolating, weaving, transferring and rotating.   As the image passes through several actions, it emerges as unfamiliar which in turn feels idiosyncratic and alive.  Photography is at the core of this game as it conveys the paradox of time and space being both fixed and fluid and can be used to show how image and language are never one and the same.  Through transforming these familiar images and changing my relationship to them, I hope to ease the tension between apparent opposites like: memory and forgetting, the self and the community, body and mind, originality and appropriation, depth and surface, difference and sameness and black and white thinking in general.


Intimate Strangers 

Digitally printed vinyl, used aluminum cans and plastic, nylon thread, wood, field stones
9’9″ x 17’3″ x 19’7″

Describe your creative process:

D.B.S: My process varies depending on the type of project / medium, but generally I work with found images or material and transform them using a computer-code like language I have been developing.  For example, I might be interested in something nostalgic that I remember from my childhood like a slinky.  I’ll start playing with the slinky in unconventional ways, bending it crumpling it, knotting it..  Then I might combine say 10 slinkies into a big ball – and keep it around the studio – one day I might think of how to install it, or maybe I would make 10 slinky balls and pile them up somehow..  My work is a combination of appropriation, improvisation, and installation.11

Tell me about your project at FSP

D.B.S: My project is an adaptation of a way of working I have been practicing for the last few years.  I take photographic images that are familiar to me – either photos I’ve taken or screenshots – and design fabric patterns from them.  I then make the fabric into various shapes of pillows which can act as single sculptures (sometimes interactive) or can be combined into a larger installation. 
For FSP I proposed to do this, but instead of using fabric, I would use billboard vinyl – and I would use images I found or took related to FSP.  I ended up making 5 large sculptures– each composed of 2 pieces of 8×12 foot vinyl – printed in mirror images so that the front and back of each sculpture is the same. 
The images are: (1) digitally altered image of a sculpture, Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastien, by Michael Richards, a previous FSP fellow, (2) a picture of a boys face, isolated from the FSP instagram page, (3) a photo-collage of 2 sculptures that I helped a couple of kids make at Kids Make Sculpture, (4) a photo of lichens growing on a rock that I took at Interstate Park nearby, and (5) a photo-collage that layers a photo of several baby photos of FSP community, with a photo of a fire I took on my first night at FSP. 
After I received the prints, I collected aluminum cans and plastic bottles and containers from FSP and from nearby recycling centers.  I cut the prints into pillow forms and stuffed them with the recycling – hand sewing everything together. 
I then tried all kinds of configurations before deciding to put several posts in the ground to allow the sculptures to interact with each other, and to get some height on the posts – and to allow people to move amongst the sculptures and to go under it in places. 
I put 7 posts in the ground ranging from 3 to 6 feet – and placed a small wooden circle on the top of each so that the wood wouldn’t damage/rip the sculpture – then, put a couple thousand field stones on the ground to make a base for the sculpture.  Next I played with the sculptures on this wooden/stone apparatus – with the help of a couple interns, I composed a shape where the pieces are intertwined and there are a couple of ways to get inside the sculpture.

Why did you propose this project for FSP?


D.B.S: I wanted to continue what I was doing, but to expand it, both in scale and in concept.  I wanted to make something truly ambitious and outlandish – that would challenge myself and my viewers.  I also wanted to give something to the FSP community – and to provide joy and to also question the function of art and sculpture.

What did the experience of working here offer you?

D.B.S: It was amazing working here – I had full days to tackle this project and amazing people to bounce ideas off and to ask for advice.  I felt that my assumptions were constantly being challenged and the people here gave their honest opinions and expertise on how to make my ideas a reality.  Also, in ways not directly related to the art making process I learned so much.  About communal living and working – helping each other, communicating, building things together.  As my piece was essentially about my experience with this place, my day-to-day experience fueled my piece and vice versa.  I will take my experience here with me when I leave and I feel so much more capable of building things, engaging with a community and providing and accepting support from others.

How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies?

D.B.S: Franconia was pretty intense in that you are working outside everyday – building something large and robust and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone constantly.  Making work outside for an outdoor environment is extremely challenging when you’re not used to it – and the people here, while very supportive, aren’t gonna do your work for you, so you’re confronted with this intense gap between what you think you can do and what you have to do.  Most of the time is pushing yourself to figure out how to close that gap.  And now that the piece is done I feel a tremendous sense of pride and growth – of course there is failure built-in to this process, but I learned too that you just have to keep pushing forward and learn from the failures. 

Where and with whom did you study?

D.B.S: I studied Art History at Oberlin and my last year became obsessed with photography, practicing day and night and studying with Pipo Nguyen-Duy.  I then took 6 years to learn from going to shows in NYC and working in photography galleries like Yancey Richardson and Robert Mann galleries.  I also served as a studio assistant to a sculptor.  I went to graduate school at ICP / Bard – a photo based MFA program at International Center of Photography, but accredited by Bard.  It was chaired by a sculptor, Nayland Blake, who helped me continue my education of photography as sculpture.  In the past 10 years, I have been developing my practice in my community in NYC and have done a couple residencies – recently I began to show at Halsey McKay Gallery – Ryan Wallace who runs the gallery and is also an artist, who I consider to be one of my mentors.

What did you learn at FSP? // What was your biggest challenge?


D.B.S: Starting with my biggest challenge– I would say it was to keep my vision of the work clear – to have a balanced an open mind – to not get overwhelmed by my emotions or the countless frustrations.  To know that the piece will come together by doing one thing at a time – and to keep a sense of play alive throughout the sometimes tedious process.
I honestly feel like a different person then when I came – Living in NYC you get so disconnected with your body and since being here, I’ve regained trust and understanding in what I can do physically.  I have become stronger and more willing to learn new skills / try new things– I’ve learned that small steps add up to big results over time and I’ve learned to be more patient – something I’ve struggled with.  I learned that if you have an idea but it’s strange, just ask – for example, I collected thousands of cans and bottles from recycling centers which was much easier than I thought – I thought the people would be annoyed at me, but on the contrary they seemed intrigued by what I was doing and I will send them all photos of the finished piece as they requested! 
The biggest thing I learned was how to live in a community of diverse and hard-working people – to enjoy the awkwardness, to learn from each other, to help each other – to communicate efficiently and to all push each other to do the best we can do and make something extraordinary.

One comment

  1. […] out earlier 2016 Spotlight installments: Shanice Jackson,  Zoran Mojsilov, Ellie Murphy, Lu Xu, David Smith, Jess Hirsch, Ian Jones, and David B. Smith! We will be featuring all of our 2016 Fellowship […]

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