Mike Peter Smith’s most recent exhibition Void Thoughts on Remote Time was on view at Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York in November, 2007 and his next solo exhibition will be on view at Tony Wight Gallery in Chicago in fall 2008.
I have been thinking about the plants and animals that have existed over time. Variations occur from generation to generation. Forms of life are subjected to environmental pressures. If a particular variation provides an advantage, it can then be seen as an adaptation. Organisms compete for resources. Some thrive and some become extinct. Environments are not constant; evolution is not directed.
In this recent body of artwork the human skeleton is introduced to explore ideas of evolution and adaptation. This has grown out of an interest in the Northern European Vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries. Often the presence of a human skull suggested emptiness, the meaninglessness of earthly life, and the transient nature of vanity.
In Australopithecus sp. From Hand to Mouth I have reconstructed an Australopithecine partial skeleton based upon "Lucy" the primitive 3.2 million-year-old bipedal hominid. As an homage to Bruce Nauman’s 1967 sculpture of a similar title, this version gives additional urgency to his word game as such creatures must have truly dealt with the basic nature of existence.
In New York Spring, the skull remains to acknowledge past histories and their relationship to a specific instant in recent time. This work concerns itself with the equinox, a moment when days and nights are equal, when things awaken from their winter rest. Two skulls merge to form one large head with three eye sockets. A green frog, a symbol of reincarnation, hugs the nose cavity at the left, and a violet sprig emerges from the right eye. Walking through Central Park at dawn or dusk during this time of year, one is likely to notice numerous ducks on the pond, or promiscuous raccoons looking to mate. This animistic combination of native flora and fauna celebrates a transient moment in urban nature.
References to natural processes are also an aspect of Archipelago. This sculpture incorporates a partial human skull. The fragments are pinned together, connected like a group of volcanic islands. Palm trees erupt from the interior as if to form a tropical lagoon. This model suggests a remote paradise, an island escape. Yet in this sculpture the ideas of escape and mortality are intertwined.
While developing this work osteological elements of the human skeleton have become familiar. The sutures, crests, and various physical features begin to suggest something of the person’s life. The skulls cease to be anonymous or empty. Individual narratives are formed and, in turn, direct the sculptural development. Such direction is most evident in The Future Is Now. The original skull used for this sculpture is large, extremely masculine with sharp crests and rugose protuberances. These features suggest an individual of great stature and physical power. Combining two castings creates a symmetric double-portrait, emphasizing the robust formality of the skull. Hanging the sculpture above the viewer’s head level, the form becomes more ominous as if it were a large thundercloud in the distance bearing a military fortress.
By detailing specific environments and natural processes these sculptures suggest the transient nature of earthly life, the vastness of evolution, and the scale of remote time.