Allison Smith's Artpace project continues to examine how political meaning can reside within aesthetic forms and to employ history to comment on current events.
Featured is Hobby Horse, a performance-based sculpture of the traditional child's toy, complete with horsehair, glass eyes, and handmade bridle. Standing more than nine feet tall, the oversized object lays bare the militaristic spirit of this old-fashioned plaything and probes equestrian statuary's commemoration of bloodshed.
The performance staged by Smith at the exhibition's opening further engaged this duality. Donning a replicated Civil War-era uniform and carrying a handcrafted flag, haversack, and rifle-all deposited in the gallery after the event the artist mounted Hobby Horse and sang a lullaby, set to the time-honored battle hymn 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home.' However, Smith replaced the original lyrics, which are celebratory, with her own, which speak of living in divided times of cultural impasse. A limited edition print of the song sheet accompanies the show.
With her handwoven coverlet Security Blanket (Drums of War), Smith has evoked the politics of textiles. Smith altered the 19th-century design Lee's Surrender to include oil drums, an allusion to the position of economics in contemporary conflicts, and used red, blue, and yellow, a trio of recurring hues that represent both the US today as a polarized nation and the primary colors of art.
Also included is a life-sized pioneer doll clad in a smocked dress, bonnet, and boots.
Made using doll parts cast from her own body, this surrogate object affords Smith an opportunity for role play while addressing the socialization of children through toys. Handprinted in blue, red, and yellow on the girl's pinafore is Smith's refrain: What are you fighting for?
ALLISON SMITH: NOTION NANNY AT BERKELEY ART MUSEUM
Along country lanes and urban crossroads, an itinerant apprentice offers ideas and articles of all sorts traditional and revolutionary, abundantly crafted in exchange for skillful demonstrations and sociable company.Allison Smith, the Notion Nanny Cry
At the back of the Matrix Gallery's long narrow space, a life-sized china doll dressed in a quaint bonnet and cape proffers a basket full of hand-crafted goods. Additional objects surround her on a simple platform, suggesting that she brings an abundance of useful things to share or sell. A table nearby displays other crafts, as do watercolors on the walls. Many of the things presented or pictured are beautifully made-- examples of traditional skills like lace-making, blacksmithing, slip-trailed pottery, horn-carving and tin-piercing, to name just a few. But these aren't luxury goods. These plates, jugs, spoons and scarves are meant for everyday use.
Or are they? What, exactly, is our relationship with handmade things,
in an age of astonishingly cheap stuff thatâ€™s produced in factories in
vast quantities and shipped around the globe? What does it mean to buy
(or trade) an object that took time and skill to put together, decorate
or form? And who is the â€śnotion nanny,â€ť anyway?