“A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break…”

Art Life , Reviews Apr 21, 2004 No Comments

Speaking of Sam Smith, as we were, we have to say that we admire his gumption. He wrote to us an invited us down to Room 35, the hire space gallery at Gitte Weise Gallery, to see his show Set Piece. He told us we could make of it what we wanted and so we did.

But first, a confession – we had never ever been to Gitte Weise Gallery in our lives. Not when it was on Oxford Street, nor when it had moved to Paddington and occupied the old Coventry Gallery space. One time we rang them to ask what their address was and when we said, “so you moved to Paddington?” the incredulous voice on the other end of the phone said “we’ve been here for over a year!”. Our bad.

We don’t know why it was there, but Gitte Weise Gallery was a black hole in our minds – it has a perfectly presentable line up of artists, has nice catalogues, gets written up, has a very polite director who is happy to field all questions (no matter how ridiculous) – but for some reason it represented one too many art galleries. When your life is full of Sherman, Oxley, Crowley, Kaliman, Browne, Knight and Cottier, one more gallery at that level is starting to look dangerously like the straw that’s going to break the camel’s back. Since Cottier is no more, perhaps now we can add Weise to its rightful place in the pantheon? Who knows?

Sam Smith’s show features a set, a DVD, some wall photos taken from the shoot, two other installations of recent DVD works and a pair of headphones presenting 10 hours of piano telescoped down to a listenable length. The show is called Set Piece after the major DVD piece and the set is right there – albeit in pieces. We weren’t sure if this was a pun – and if so, was it necessary? – and we could see that the looped nature of the narrative in the DVD connected to the bits and pieces (another pun?) arranged around the room.

So what’s in Set Piece? There are these people who are seen dancing in a room. Apparently the people are Dr. Who style time travelers who come from inside the Blue Screen, the void in digital transmission, and when they exit their alternative dimension into ours, they meet up with some guy in a nice looking house and have a fight over squatter’s rights. They have a dance/fight until the dero guy clocks one of them over the head with a pot plant. There’s also some stuff going on back at mission control where a guy in a hooded jacket is punching holes in a piece of plywood with a special tool. What does it mean? We don’t know.

The curious thing about Smith’s work was how much it reminded us of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle we saw at the AGNSW some weeks back. Smith’s narratives are pretty hermetic – they have an internal logic that makes a consistent kind of sense, but are difficult to translate into an actual description of what they are about. Like Barney’s works, they seem to be operating on another level perhaps known only to the artist. But what’s great about Smith – and something quite extraordinary for an artist who is 22 – is that his work is so assured. We don’t make the comparison with Barney lightly – it’s easy to lose your critical head and start making all sorts of wild claims (just look what happened to Ricky Swallow) when you’re confronted with work this good. But it’s tempting to say that Smith has the makings of a brilliant artist. There are a lot of echoes of other artists work in here too; the music (also by Smith ), the costumes, the dance/fight sections of the piece, the construction of the set, the carefully arranged installation. We thought of everyone from Prefuse 73 to Paul McCarthy. Luckily for Smith, he makes this work his own.

Andrew Frost

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