Vicky Smith

Studio Visit  |  August 2011
Vicky Smith works from her studio at Engage Art Studios in the centre of Galway city.
At the moment she is working on a new body of work, provisionally entitled Fragmentary Sites 2.  It is a continuation of a previous concept. She explained that it is a work based on family history. Her great grandfather left the family without a trace or an explanation as to where he was going. Because of this there has always been a sense of mystery surrounding his character. This has led her to look at the idea of “grassroots, one’s identity and being grounded to a place.” The project began with her looking at found objects and structures in response to her great grandfather and trying to create a fictional narrative about his past and his identity. She used photographs that her grandfather (the son of her great grandfather) had taken combined with her own photographs as a starting point for the project.

Nuance of Memory, 2011

She saw these photographs as a link to the past and felt that they represented a journey – a personal journey as well as a spatial journey. They show the geography of Galway city and the link between the city, her grandfather and her great grandfather. The project is about trying to make a connection between where her great grandfather disappeared from and localising it to where he eventually ended up “using the medium of photography as an initial response.” Vicky says that the lost family figure is very much a reference point for this body of work but on seeing the finished pieces that won’t necessarily be apparent to the viewer. It is not literal and that is very important to her.
In her artist statement Vicky says that her work “focuses on and explores the tangible, mundane readymade, the themes of the domestic, travel, memory, site, loss and identity.” This is apparent in her current body of work. She is very much a mixed media installation artist. One of the pieces in her studio is made up of found wood, a turf bag, an old net shopping bag and a domestic table mat, on to which are projected a series of slides of family photographs taken by her grandfather while on holidays in Connemara.

Work in progress, 2011

With regards to using domestic objects in her work, Vicky spoke about her great grandfather having been a figurehead in the home before he left. She said that when someone leaves the domestic home there remains a sense of abandonment. It affects the family and the home and this has always been an unspoken presence in the artist’s life.
At the moment Vicky is working towards an exhibition in the Niland Gallery in November. The project Fragmentary Sites 2 will be realised through this exhibition. Vicky has collected a lot of fabric pieces that she plans to make into a tower. The tower symbolizes a point that needs to be reached. It is a point where the creation of this project intersects with her research for the missing family member. They represent the lookout tower. She spoke about collecting family garments that have accumulated over the years, vacuum packing them and making them form a tower of plastic and fabric. The domestic element to her work emerges here.

Work in progress, 2011

“The idea with this project”, she said, “without being too literal, is to find out where my great grandfather ended up.”  As a result of this, sculptures began to be created, snapshots of the city were taken, all with the intent of tying everything together to create a sort of identity map. Vicky is often attracted to deserted industrial sites and the lost, disregarded or abandoned elements of the city. They are a routine part of walking through Galway city for Vicky and have an element of what Walter Benjamin refers to as “spatial cultural psychogeography”.
Vicky is always collecting objects as she walks around cities. She started collecting throughout her normal everyday life, as she walks on the beach, to work and to the studio. She takes photographs of the city on a regular basis. She refers to these as ‘snapshots’ because the snapshot is fleeting and catches a moment in time. She plans to develop this notion of the snapshot in her new body of work.
A work she recently exhibited as part of the INFLUX exhibition in Limerick was Fragmentary Site 1 which presents the concept of the ‘snapshot’ of the city and the notion of the deserted or abandoned element to it.

Fragmentary Site 1, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist

Recently Vicky has been reading the philosopher Michel de Certeau’s book The Practice of Everyday Life which she finds relevant to her work as it looks at spatial cultures and taking journeys. Another book that is significant for her at the moment is Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: a history of walking, in which Solnit writes about how walking can shape our thinking and culture. 
After completing her degree, Vicky spent two years teaching art in a secondary school in Botswana in Africa for the British Council teaching scheme. I asked her if she felt this had an influence on her own practice. She said that it definitely did. She described her time in Africa as a sort of ‘collection period’ for her. She was constantly sketching, taking photographs and picking up resources. The idea of travel and journey that runs through her work was experienced on a personal level for her in Africa. The work she saw in exhibitions there was very craft orientated and she loved the tactile quality of it. She said a lot of the work was historic and heritage based, preserving the tribal aspect of the culture. 
Vicky was constantly taking photographs in Africa. In the last year and a half she has painted over these photographs; she said it was almost like an editing process for her. She removes elements in the photograph that do not work by scratching the image out or painting or writing over it. Combined with the original image this process reveals an abstract image. She likes the idea of the artist’s touch being evident in a piece of work.

Archive of a Journey, 2009 – 2011

Words from the Irish language occasionally appear in Vicky’s work. She said that she started using Irish when she was away, living in England. She uses it in a natural and nostalgic way – she doesn’t sit down and write passages in Irish, she just likes to reference some of the words. When she uses Irish in her work she breaks up the words and allows mistakes to remain if they appear. She likes the certain aesthetic quality the words add to her work.

Towel series 1, 2010

Vicky is part of the curatorial team at 126 Artist-run Gallery in Galway and I was curious as to whether her curatorial practice has an impact on her art practice. She said that it has been a really helpful experience with regards to her own practice. She recently curated an exhibition at 126 called ‘Beyond Guilt Trilogy’ by artists Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir. This exhibition consisted of three projected films in separate viewing rooms. Being so closely involved with such a variety of media through her curating practice, Vicky said that she can now better appreciate how much can be achieved through certain media.
Another project Vicky has in mind is to re-photograph certain images in National Geographic magazines from the 80’s and 90’s of east and west Berlin and “go through the process of re-defining them” to make them her own. She will scratch into the surface or paint over certain elements of the photographs. Through this process they have the potential to become new works of art.
Vicky is currently completing her MA in Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD and is chairperson at 126.
More of Vicky’s work can be seen on her website:
http://www.vickysmith.ie/index.html
or at
http://www.engageartstudios.com/

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