Wednesday, 3 June 2009

David A Smith

Chelsea graduate David A Smith won last year’s Cecil Lewis Sculpture Scholarship with sculpture and instillation work that belies not only his years (all 25 of them), but also a macabre sense of humour. Smith divulges exactly how he garnered the Cecil Lewis bounty, and a penchant for ebay, resin teeth and dancing on camera.

Many of your works seem to be pieces in an overarching narrative. Is there a conceptual framework that you keep to?

Narrative has always been at play in my work. My slightly dark sense of humour has always been a tie in. I try to manifest some kind of tension in my pieces, the premise that something is going to give, be it physical or otherwise. I sometimes use materials that can deteriorate before the viewer and other times I like the viewer to have some command over the work. I think this leads a piece into becoming part of a larger narrative or held within a moment that the viewer experiences rather than something kept at arms length.

Where do you source materials? And does this have weight in the overall meaning?
I source materials from a variety of places; some components have even come from eBay. At the moment a lot of materials are wood, Aluminium, latex and now I’m using electrical fittings. I find that using raw materials with found or sought objects I can make quite diverse pieces that can also pose an interesting challenge during development. Obviously some objects are heavily loaded with meaning and I tend not to work with them unless I have some kind of personal connection. A piece I made called Cane (2008) was my Grandfathers walking stick that I attached a number of resin teeth to. It looked as though they were growing out of the handle, aggressively defending it. For me it meant defending the last lingering grasp he had on the cane, it was an object that I wanted to preserve but also render useless for another user.

What work did you win the scholarship with?
I submitted sixteen images of work that covered my BA work and pieces that I had made during my Postgraduate Diploma at Chelsea. The latter was work that I had made using resin teeth which are used in dentistry and some ceramic pieces. Earlier work included a weather balloon that I had filled with helium and tied an antique sword to the bottom of it with a length of rope. As people moved around the space their movement caused the balloon to move and follow them around with the sword tip carving a line in the floor.

What work did you produce with the funds from the Cecil Lewis scholarship?
The work I have produced has strayed from my core practice to include two-dimensional work and video. I think the best thing about the scholarship is that I have begun experimenting with my practice and trying to turn my sculpture into work that could lend itself to being site specific, a performance or being for documentary only, so the sculpture as a whole only exists as a moving image. I know that my practice will always involve some form of physical manipulation but I’m far more open to how I can achieve certain ends and this is a result of the freedom that the award has afforded me.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a piece that resembles the shape of a television but is hollow and built from a wooden frame with short dowel legs. There are three light bulbs, one red, green and blue that hang in the centre of the ‘set’ from the ceiling of the space. The cables then trail all the way across the ceiling and towards the plugs on the opposite wall. The screen is a piece of clear Perspex that I’m going to have some text engraved onto so it becomes illuminated from the lights behind. I’m torn between two pieces of writing, one my own and another from a film. The text is what holds the piece together so I have to get it right, after that it’s how I decide to place the piece in a space. I’m aiming to make work that commands a space without staring down the viewer and lambasting them with my own opinions. I enjoy hearing the different ways that my work can affect people as much as they respond to my thoughts.

Are you represented by a gallery?
Cathy Wills, who formed the Cecil Lewis Scholarship, has also been incredibly helpful, introducing me to people and opportunities that I would have otherwise missed. Cathy is passionate about being involved with my development and it’s so nice to know she is there to give advice and, in a sense, represent me.

What's that Dancing Sculptor video all about?!
The dancing sculptor video was my first foray into performance. I had wanted to play a character attempting something graceful and perhaps out of place for the attire he wore. I wanted to look like I was prepared for something mechanised or dangerous and then move into a routine that I personally felt daunting, wearing all the protection I was used to but would not serve me for the task. I decided that I would put on my overalls, heavy foundry boots, gauntlets and welding mask and dance, in a clumsy ballroom style, around my studio. I think that performance may be somewhere to explore further, perhaps with the Dancing Sculptor attempting a live performance with willing volunteers...or not so willing, who knows?!

Check out more of David's work here

by By Millie Ross

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