April 26, 2010

Five Questions: Allison Smith

Five questions to SFMOMA artists, staff, or guests.  Local visual artist and educator Allison Smith is the creator of the SMITHS project.  Her Arts and Skills Service program continues through the spring with talks, conversations, workshops and activities. Join Allison this Thursday evening for SMITHS: Arts & Skills Service: On Shell-Shock, or Ammunition and Ornament.

Allison Smith. Photo by Winni Wintermeyer

Do you collect anything?

Yes I do. I have a collection of Trench Art which is art made by soldiers during WWI. It’s a collection of decorated artillery shells that were expended bombs that soldiers collected secretly and illegally on the battlefields during WWI and hid them in their trenches and made them into art. I don’t collect a lot of things but that’s one thing that I collect.

If you could steal any artwork in the world to have up in your home, what would it be?

What do I want to live with? I think right now the art object I most covet in the world would be a jacket by a woman named Agnes Richter who was a German woman who was institutionalized. She took her hospital uniform and she tailored it and embroidered her life story onto it, to the point that you can’t even read it anymore. The text is obscured by so many layers of writing because women were not allowed to have pen and paper but they were allowed to sew. She sewed her story on the interior and exterior of this jacket. I’ve never seen it in person, but it’s one of the most beautiful and compelling objects I can think of.

I would have a problem stealing it but I would really want to touch it. I almost want to wear it, but I don’t think I could fit into it, it’s probably really petite. I would really like to be in the presence of it and if I could look at it each day in person it would change my life.

What do you listen to while you work?

Often I just like it to be really quiet. My favorite thing to listen to while working is the MoMA audio archive. There are amazing MP3 files that you can download, to listen to different artists talk about their work. You can actually go to the archive and hear Duchamp talk about ready-mades. A really good idea of radio in the studio would be to listen to an archive like that. That’s probably my favorite listening experience that I’ve discovered in the last few years.

Sometimes I listen to lectures; sometimes I listen to books on tape. I have listened to everything that Mark Twain ever wrote via downloading. Sometimes I listen to This American Life or NPR.

What’s your favorite tool?

Oh! There are so many great tools. I love so many tools. One of my favorite tools is a rotary cutter. It’s one of the best tools ever. That’s the first one that comes to mind, but I love any kind of specialty tool, especially if it relates to textiles. Sometimes I am attracted to the tool thinking I’m going to use it to do something and I never learn how to use it but I just love having the tool. Or, I realize I’m in a place that I can get that tool that you can’t get anywhere else, and that’s very seductive.

What should I ask you?

What’s my favorite dessert? The problem is I could talk for two hours about desserts. My friends call me a dessert queen because I really love desserts. My favorite desserts involve caramel and salty nuts. It could be caramel with sea salt, that’s really good, or PayDay candy bars, but I really like the crunch and the chew together. I really love baklava and I love ice creams with caramel and nuts, like butter brickle or pralines and cream.

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