Speculative Objects: Emily Mae Smith at rodolphe janssen
Painting is often seen as an act of thaumaturgy—an act of working form into wonders. This process is similarly performed through the material manipulation of paint on a canvas. As space akin to a site of piety often reserved for the veneration of the holy, or as a container for associated artifacts of praxis, the artist’s studio is considered a sacred space for studied acts of speculation and imagination. A place for giving form to ideas, equal parts conceptual maneuvering, visual expression and ardent periods of isolation. Similar to the lone sorceress breathing life into a broom as assistant to her bidding, the artist employs equal tactics of imbuing objects with speculative tools for critical, and at times individual, reflection.
In the exhibition Speculative Objects, the paintings of Emily Mae Smith evoke a transfiguration of art historical allusions that harmoniously, while humorously, coexist by maintaining each referent’s specific legibility. Throughout the artist’s body of work the broom becomes a form repeatedly transposed as a variety of subjects. It is a tool for both the cleaning and cleansing of space, a token of renewal. It’s enchanted persona, originally attributed to the poem “Der Zauberlehrling” (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1797, is ultimately an inanimate object brought to life. Smith utilizes the broom’s objectivity to act out roles of art historical femininity, the image and perception of women in art, as well as the role of female artists throughout history. In this new body of work Smith turns her chosen avatar towards the representation of the painter, a role Smith herself equally enacts as a subject. The broom has become an instrument for the artist to imbue codified notions of femininity without explicitly rendering the female form, reconfiguring her subject from objects reserved for the eyes of men into her own critical vocabulary of feminist wit. As critique to the phallocentrism of the classical western art historical canon, Smith’s stylized object is both an agent and gleaner of remnants from art history, as well as similar to the tool for applying paint to canvas—a brush. Smith’s paintings bend genres, creating combinations of canonical styles that provide a striingly contemporary twist on antiquated notions of gender binaries.