Visiting the Glyndor Gallery at Wave Hill the other day reminded me of another exhibition there last fall that I really liked: Poe and Twain Projects, curated by Jennifer McGregor. That exhibition featured the work of Simon Leong, Allison Smith and Amy Yoes. Of the three artists, Allison Smith was the most engaging for me with her installation By the by and by. She used the installation to reinterpret the forms of 19th and 20th century military encampment, communication and weaponry, investing them with a symbolism of her own that was at once familiar and disorienting.
From the Exhibition Catalogue:
Poe and Twain are seldom mentioned in the same breath, but toward the end of their lives they both lived in what is known today as the Bronx. Samuel Clemons resided in Wave Hill House from 1901 to 1903. Edgar Allan Poe lived in a small farmhouse, from 1846 to 1849, that is now located in Poe Park on East Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. As part of our series to explore 19th-century American writing through the lens of contemporary art, three artists were invited to develop projects based on contemporary readings of these masters’ work. In each writer’s vast oeuvre, the artists have discovered writings that speak to their own concerns as artists. Collectively, these projects play with ideas of site-specificity and expectations about what might be found in this Georgian Revival house.
From the Exhibition Catalogue:
Allison Smith is interested in Twain’s use of time-travel as a way of holding up the past to the present. Her reading and research drew on novels, stories and sketches such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and “The Tournament in A.D. 1870,” “Prince and the Pauper,” “Joan of Arc,” and “The Private History of a Campaign that Failed.” She has created a group of sculptures based on useful objects and presents them together in the form of a period room. In creating this arrangement she was guided by the care Twain gives to the description of clothing, costumes, props, interiors, and detailed settings. Like Twain, Smith is interested in forms of performance that elucidate deeper concerns, such as walking in the shoes of others in order to understand injustice, or exploring feelings toward war and the role one plays in it. The objects that she has created are drawn from historic forms and employ age-old craft techniques but offer a springboard for time-travel through subtle references. The linen rag rug employs a target pattern, a woven coverlet uses a pattern called “Lee’s Surrender” with a field of proliferating oil barrels, some of the hand sewn hats, hoods and masks are based on gas masks from The Great War; provisional camp furniture and the standing rifles are inspired by those used in the Civil War.
Allison Smith has developed elaborate projects that explore craft traditions, living history and social activism. Her work has been exhibited extensively including recent solo exhibitions at UC Berkeley Art Museum/MATRIX Program; Artpace, San Antonio, TX; Bellwether Gallery, New York, NY; and Studio Voltaire, London, England. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA; and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, NY. Her interactive Muster project posed the question “What are you fighting for?” Participants responded to her call on Governor’s Island in 2005 that is documented by a book produced by the Public Art Fund. She earned an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from Parsons School of Design and a BA from the New School for Social research. She participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.