Finding Truth in the Works of Joshua West Smith
Joshua West Smith’s Every truth blocks another at PCC Sylvania’s Northview Gallery does not provide an answer to a question, nor does it solve a problem. Rather than problem solving, Smith’s work exists in the realm of problem seeking; one where curiosity is preferable. Through a series of sculpture and photography, Smith undulates the line of presence, grappling with the idea of “the thing’s” existence as a whole. Not quite identifiable, and missing part of itself, the work yields to the human desire for completeness, validation, and truth in its existence.
The show starts before setting foot inside the gallery. Confronted by a perforated purple felt curtain that semi-cloaks the entry doors and windows, the weighty fabric stretches across the glass and functions in setting the stage for what’s to come. Though it feels theatrical from the outside, once through, the show begins to reveal itself as a complete idea. Using the curtain as a jumping point, Smith creates a space of pattern, repetition, and balance that continue to come to play throughout.
Particularly intriguing is a trio of walnut wooden sculptures, whose perforations mimic those of the curtain. These Walnut screen sculptures individually maintain a strong presence in the space, despite their distance from one another, and are enigmatic in their illusion of substance. The sculptures are self reliant and rooted in balance, standing upright on their own accord, with a little help.The weight is equally distributed between its leg on one end, and a foundation of brass and stone on the other. While their formal aesthetic airs to a certain gravitas, there is a vulnerability in their perforation that serves a metaphor to the human condition. This is why I found the process fascinating. Smith created these sculptures by cutting holes into fabric, draping it on a previous sculpture entitled dummy, photographed the way it lay, and remade the work as a sculptural object. Smith states, “I like the idea of them going through a series of filters but still communicating the original form.” Same idea, different material, making and remaking. The process is just as metaphorical as the object itself.
This idea carries over to a larger, more complex sculpture entitled Prussian blue and the soft satellite. In order to achieve this form, cut fabric was pinned to Smith’s studio wall, photographed and re-made into a plastic replica. When thinking about fabric, the words softness, weight, and malleability come to mind. It is slightly unnerving to see softness become a calcified version of itself. Like a fossil, Smith’s recreations play with preserving something existing a certain way in a moment of time. This way of record keeping is a strong nod to the possibilities of material. In the sculpture, the plastic screen balances on one side of a steel mobile, while the other balances a mobile of bells and a rock wrapped in wire. Three larger rocks are the weight and foundation in this piece, continuing the idea of resting on the solid and strong. According to Smith, the bells are a nod to the sacred, representing stillness, peace, and silence. The nuanced materials used in this piece dazzles visually while sparking our mental curiosity at the same time. Subtle moments occur in the work that resonate, for instance a moment where a rock is placed as such, that it reflects into the perforated plastic. The rock’s reflection becomes a skewed abstract version of itself, despite being a solid object in reality. This again nods itself back to Smith’s search for truth in making.
In addition to sculpture, a suite of Smith’s landscape photographs entitled my back to my mind's eye line the periphery of the gallery walls. Taken in the Sonoran Desert, each photo captures the landscape and teal cut fabric, a clear foreign object for the setting. Smith drapes the fabric over the landscape, and it morphs into something sculptural and almost human as it takes on the rocky terrain. The pop of color the fabric provides adds a nice contemporary flare to the show, brightening it up in sea of deep hues in the curtain and sculpture.
Joshua West Smith’s use of transformation and repetition of a single object ( a malleable scrap of fabric), is admirable and ambitious in exploring our idea of what things are, and can be. Scholar and theorist E.H. Gombrich states in his collection of essays Meditations on a Hobby Horse, ”The choice is not between knowledge of the past and the concern for the future; if it were that, it would be a hard choice. It is between the search for truth and the acceptance of falsehood.” Smith navigates this search for truth and does it through making. While Every truth blocks another at PCC’s Northview Gallery has recently concluded, Smith’s work is currently on view through May 31st at Elephant Art Space in Los Angeles, CA. More of Smith’s work can be seen online here.
Images courtesy of the artist