A Collaboration of Ghosts
The latest collaboration between Kiki Smith and Valerie Hammond has brought one of the best shows to the SCAD Museum of Art to date. Even though this collection of work is small, it encapsulates the two artist’s abilities to work with any medium without fear. From printmaking to bookmaking to sculpture, there’s nothing Hammond and Smith won’t try.
The largest pieces in the show are the staple work of Kiki Smith: fine etchings on diaphanous eastern paper with ample imagery of women, birds, and flowers. But some of the new experimental techniques are not to be missed.
“Apports” is a four-color photogravure image of the tattoos and bruises from an ancient Chinese massage called Gua Sha on Smith’s back, inverted and printed into a dreamy ghost of a galaxy on her skin. In the middle of the gallery in glass cases sit painstakingly flawless accordion bound books. Hammond’s, “Substance of a Dream” is the most impressive, every page has the image of a ghostly face, and within that shape are excised words cut in precise, perfect handiwork.
Nearby, two wax hands sit on their own pedestals: one a deep blue with glass beads stabbed into the pressure points like astrological maps, and the other molded into a rose with fingers blooming from the edges. The pieces are all differing in colors, mediums, and imagery, but they all still manage to retain the same wispy, intangible quality—the same spirit.
However, when I walked into the gallery to view the show, I was immediately off put by the emptiness of the room. There weren’t enough pieces to fill up the giant space they were put in, and the arrangement seemed very haphazard and strange. Hammond and Smith create in intricate details and delicate lines, and are at their best when intimately viewed. In this gallery with the big white walls and vast expanse of wooden floors between each piece, the aesthetic was lost, and it really understated the subtlety that makes this show so genius. But perhaps this speaks volumes to how much of an experience the work between these two artists has become.
It’s important to keep in mind that Streaming Spirits was not created as a single cohesive body of work to achieve a specific end. Instead, it’s about the evolution of a partnership: the result of two friends and colleagues teaching together and learning together; changing, shifting, growing, and feeding like electric smoke into something more meaningful and unpredictable than a collection. The show first appeared at the Galerie Pfriem, at SCAD’s study abroad campus in Lacoste, France. The idea began as a play off of 1800’s spirit photography, when pictures were created as illusions through multiple exposures in a blurred, phantom image. Then, Hammond and Smith traveled back to SCAD’s Atlanta campus, and learned the art of photogravure from the chair of printmaking, Robert Brown. Photogravure is a complicated photographic etching process that few have the knowledge of today, and with these new skills, the collection grew and traveled to SCAD’s last campus in Savannah, along with the two artists.
Noelle Pflanz, a SCAD graduate who is now pursuing a master’s degree in Printmaking at Washington State, had the opportunity to see the show in its first presentation in Lacoste, and attended two
workshops held by both Smith and Hammond. Pflanz was most affected by the way the two artists communicated with one another: “I think they’ve been friends for so long and have taught together for a number of years that they can expect what the other one will do and say, which makes them incredible to work with. It’s a great thing to witness two artists with such an intimate working knowledge of one another, and to realize that those relationships cannot just be made, but can also last long term.”
And long term is exactly what we should all root for. With two artists so in tune with each others minds and aesthetics, we can only hope to see more collaboration between them, and maybe discover a little more about their spirits along the way.