Jan Avgikos on Barbara T. Smith


In 1971, when she was once a graduate scholar on the College of California, Irvine, Barbara T. Smith created Holy Squash Rite, a durational efficiency for the campus artwork gallery that prolonged to an adjoining fountain pool. The foundation for the piece was once a cocktail party she had lately hosted, conceived so that you can deliver in combination her new artwork buddies and older acquaintances she had recognized right through her earlier existence as a Fifties housewife. At the menu for her particular night time was once a dish she created from the flesh of a big Hubbard squash, which she served in its hollowed-out husk. She felt that the entire meal was once superb and that the instance was once particularly stunning as it fostered a way of neighborhood. And the extra she thought of it, the extra she started to peer the squash as one thing “sacred.” Again within the studio, with the cucurbit carcass in tow, she had the theory to commemorate the development and the sense of transformation she had skilled.

Smith used the unique gourd husk as a mould to make the cast-resin sculpture Holy Squash, 1971, a 150-pound ovoid (some would possibly name it “womb-like”), fairly crimson and translucent, that she left tough and unpolished. She deemed it a reverential matter worthy of worship and deliberate a consecration efficiency for it. After an excessively informal “baptism” in a fountain pool—snippets of that have been filmed—the paintings was once put in within the gallery. Over the process 8 days, Smith and a gaggle of members celebrated a “mass” via consuming plenty of cooked squash, petting their newly sanctified relic, dancing rhythmically round it, and who is aware of what else. Sporadic video documentation offers us random get admission to to the unstructured, improvised, and ludic qualities of this observance. A lot later, the artist stated that, even supposing it was once all a little bit humorous, the ceremonial facet of the efficiency was once unique and that, in truth, it turned into a type of faith for her.

Holy Squash Rite took place early in Smith’s profession, however a dedication to religious expansion thru artwork was once already paramount. Metaphysical transformation—by the use of meals, nurturing, and the therapeutic facet of formality—endured to be a core idea of her observe whilst her pursuits, grounded in private revel in, expanded to incorporate tantric power, feminine need, and sexuality. Whether or not conjuring the forces of nature or orchestrating an interplay between the frame and the universe, she carried out her durational performances with solemnity and ritual. For her, as she as soon as put it, “the ceremonial second” wasn’t about theater; it was once about “going to the supply of items the place you haven't any thought what’s going to occur.”

In “Holy Squash,” Smith’s 3rd exhibition at Andrew Kreps Gallery, the aforementioned video accompanied an set up that includes the eponymous resin vegetable, its embellished reliquary, and different artifacts, together with dried vegetation, an altar, and a scepter. As well as, luggage of manufacturing fabrics containing wadded-up packing and dusty plastic drop cloths, in addition to a stack of broken sheets of Styrofoam, are presented, in all probability as proof of the processes that introduced the relic into being. None of it's particularly visually fascinating, however that’s obviously inappropriate. Those antique pieces, with all their rawness and imperfections, have the ability to stimulate our interest about their explicit pasts and their roles within the artist’s quest for enlightenment. Just like the contents of a time pill, they ship us hurtling again into the ur-history of an artwork tradition that flowered within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s in Southern California, when experimental poststudio practices, New Age theology, and the need to be one with nature ushered in a bounty of Aquarian awakenings. A brand new generation of creativity and freedom was once unfolding, and Smith was once one among its pioneers.

It will have to had been onerous to conjure up an unique religious revel in in a pristine white-walled gallery. Fifty years later, that procedure is an much more tough proposition. Smith’s paintings is recently being gathered, archived, and historicized, because it merits to be. But mainstream artwork discussion was once by no means her factor. She was once a lot more interested in her personal interior expansion and the seek for a way of wholeness—an increased degree of awareness. That’s the feminism that reputedly few need or know what to do with. However at ninety-one years previous, Smith remains to be tenaciously pondering and making, and her artwork—ordinary, humorous, good, and soulful—is a part of an unusual and hard legacy that refuses to vanish away.