Allison Smith: Needle Work. With an essay by Wendy Vogel and interviews with Allison Smith and Lauren Adams. St. Louis: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2010. 64 pp., soft. LCCN 2009942917. ISBN 978-0-936316-30-7. Distributed by University of Chicago Press.
Contemporary artist Allison Smith’s diverse creative practice critically engages with popular forms of historical reenactment through a variety of mediums, including sculpture, textiles, ceramics, and photography. Focusing on the handmade and performative aspects of “living history” and material culture, Smith restages, refigures, and replays the role of traditional crafts in large-scale installations that reconsider the construction of collective memory and identity.
For the core of Allison Smith: Needle Work, the artist created contemporary revisions of European and American gas masks dating from World War I and beyond. Conceiving these early, relatively simply made objects as remnants of an as-yet-unwritten history of needlework, Smith recreates and reenacts the notion of “authentic reproductions” using art supplies found at local fabric and craft retail stores. From there she explored a range of related masklike forms in which the ghoulish and the foolish, the horrific and the playful intertwine, drawing into question essential notions of camouflage and masquerade. The project also includes staged photographic portraits of the remade masks being worn, held, or positioned as props, and a set of silk parachutes printed with a pattern of research images the artist collected of early masks, further referencing the material culture of war.
This color illustrated exhibition catalog includes an essay by Wendy Vogel in which she considers Smith’s project in relation to key notions put forth by Peter Sloterdijk in his Terror from the Air. The volume also features interviews with the artist about her creative practice and with exhibition curator Lauren Adams, assistant professor of art at the Washington University Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts