Mike Peter Smith
Mike Peter Smith
And other stories . . .
Bodybuilder Sportsman Gallery
September 9 through October 22, 2005
Often artists are a bit decadent with their narratives and too forthcoming with information. Exhibits often say too much, leaving little to the imagination or intelligence of the viewer. Mike Peter Smith’s sculptures, however, are not a glut of arching mythologies and grand schemas of existence. I am pleased to say that Smith’s show at Body Builder Sportsman is delightfully ambiguous.
We know a few things about the Smith’s sculptures. For instance, we meet John, a lonely rock hound roaming the universe in Geologist John, 2005. Wearing flannel and equipped with a rock hammer, John has presumably left the earth to live and work in the crevices and craters of the stellar entities he studies. His workshop, bedroom, and bathroom are carved in asteroids. He commutes from home to other planets facing the wrong way on a pterodactyl. His discoveries on these planets are laden with fanciful terrains and unexplained archeological sites: an unearthed skeleton who died while mowing the lawn, a truck crash landed onto some sort of craggy precipice, and a delightful depiction of a motor-home, split through the middle by the growth of a strange tree. These little curios are set in landscapes that are not overly bizarre. The settings look much like some parts of Australia or other remotes places on earth but are definitely meant to be slightly off kilter, slightly unlike our homes on earth.
This off kilter quality establishes many levels of separation between John’s nature as a solitary and the viewers walking around the gallery. While on one hand, John can be seen as a lonely traveler, the other finds viewers strangely indicted in their curiosity about this far away drama. John is not alone, our eyes pour over him. The scale of the sculptures finds us peering into the holes, looking for any information we can find. Thankfully, we provide most of the information ourselves, leading the stories with our own thoughts and desires.
Furthermore, we are characters in a story of our own creation. Even though we assume John is alone, we guarantee that he isn’t. Even in deep space, Smith postulates, there is an aspect of the human psyche that does not allow freedom. We always live like we are watched. The proof of this is John in Hole, 2004, a particularly engaging sculpture of John busy at work in a crater. The height of the pedestal and the small enclosure make us work to find out what John is doing. In the end, we find him masturbating, making the ultimate narcissistic gesture in the loneliness.
There something astonishingly sad about both the futility of John’s actions and about our voyeuristic posturings to see them. For instance, why do we go through such lengths to know John and why does John, alone in the deep space, have to hide in crater? What makes this sculpture such a delight is that these questions are not answered through narrative -- instead the formal elements allow us to feel the interaction between the art and ourselves, to feel our direct relationship with the work.