I know these building exist. I have lived in them.
In Shelter in Place, her fifth solo exhibition at Front Room, Patricia Smith explores the subject of architecture and the psychological and emotional underpinnings of the impulse to build sheltering structures. In the process, she wanders in the foggy interstice between the imagined and the real, the built and the unbuilt.
In a series of 10 works on paper, meticulously rendered in ink and watercolor, Smith envisions structures, shelters and cityscapes that are designed to contain conflicting desires, thoughts and impulses. Her titles and text captions point to a process of capturing ideas floating in the mental field and translating them into concrete objects. In considering the spatial foundation and corporeal properties of language itself, the works allude to various lines of philosophical and linguistic theory, such as Walter Benjamin’s evocation of space in his literary experiments with the “Denkbild”, or figure of thought.
Smith’s structures effectively function as containers for “housing” phrases and ideas that have become trapped in consciousness through saturating news reports, overheard conversations or emotional touch points. By giving repetitive or troubling thoughts their own buildings, she suggests that one might arrange, contemplate and recontextualize them until they become understandable. Or at least give them a place for a decent burial.
The titles and embedded texts often descend into jokes and puns, sometimes tinged with sadness or desperation. Leftist Hemisphere Disintegration Study, Gerrymandered Version is a poignant elegy, where the almost impossible delicacy of the image conveys the ephemerality of an ideal and its crumbling before one’s eyes.
These buildings project a convincing materiality, yet seem to float in some imaginary plane, evoking such questions as, can we treat ideas as substances that go into the construction of a shelter? And, how does the impulse to hide, to put one’s head in the sand, to protect oneself in the midst of current events influence the physical environments that we create?
In a further step toward teasing the boundary between the imaginary and the real, Smith enlisted two architects to create building plans from a few of her drawings. Through the analytical processes of the architect, the structures gain a new dimension and a new authority in the world of manifested objects, all the while retaining their fanciful and somewhat absurd characteristics.
Patricia Smith has exhibited widely in the US and internationally, including a recent solo project at 34 rue Gutenberg in Paris, and exhibitions at l’ESAD in Grenoble, France, Broadcast Gallery in Dublin, BRIC in Brooklyn and Stedelijk Museum in Aalst, Belgium. Her work has been reviewed in numerous publications, including Art in America, The New York Times, the LA Times, Daily Serving and L Magazine. She was awarded artist residencies for 2013 and 2015 at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and in 2014 was an artist-in-residence at Kaus Australis in Rotterdam. She was a 2014 New York Foundation of the Arts fellow in Drawing/Printmaking/Artist’s Books. She currently lives and works in Paris.