Art Guide Australia | Interview: Kiki Smith about being patient in the uncontrollable

Since the 1980s acclaimed American artist Kiki Smith has been creating multidisciplinary works on mortality, sexuality, nature and embodiment. From sculptures of the body, to drawings based on mythology and fairy tales, to incredible tapestries—which are showing for the Biennale of Sydney—Smith has pushed at the boundaries of form, creating works that are beguiling in their existence. Her work has shown in five Venice Biennales, and in 2006 she was recognised by TIME Magazine as one of the ‘TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World.’ Here, Smith talks about the process of making art and being patient in the face of the uncontrollable.

Tiarney Miekus: For someone whose work looks at cycles of decay and renewal, has making art felt different to you recently, with a pandemic and growing environmental degradation?

Kiki Smith: No, I just think it teaches one patience and being quiet, and really understanding that you can’t go through life ‘willing’ the next thing you do. It’s about acceptance of things—of time and limitations. And maybe about prudence—being more prudent and thinking in a more modest manner, and realising you’re not that in control of things, and seeing that as a great gift.

TM: Is creating a sense of filtering or understanding those larger uncontrollable things?

KS: I think it’s a lot about making a proof. It’s like a proof of yourself, or a reflection—something to reflect back on yourself. It takes a certain amount of energy to manifest things out of nothing, and it’s certainly not out of any necessity other than your own necessity. Artists are extremely driven people, much to the chagrin sometimes of their families and everyone else around them. We’re like a train going through a house. You’re manifesting things that have reference to the whole history of what has existed, and what you’ve learnt from what everyone else has done in the world, and then you have your own slice that makes you preoccupied by something, and very curious and tenacious about manifesting it physically. Part of it is maybe psychological, and then the other part is like a divine gift I’ve been given. But I need to work every day—a lot. It’s not like I can just be blind in the dark, drawing and it comes out perfect. I make endless revisions and mistakes and corrections.

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