fields of play
P. Roch Smith’s work centres on the creativity of play, equilibrium and disequilibrium, and how memories are constructed and held in place - a geography of memory. In fields of play Smith presents work in which the mass produced (plastic army figures) are merged with the organic (tree branches, sisal twine and yarn). The figures are unified by bronze casting – fixing their hybridity in both a metaphoric and material manner. The relational nature of value is examined as the tiny scale of the bronze figures is the antithesis of monumentality usually associated with bronze as a sculptural material. While bronze casting normally speaks to permanence and the epic, the scale of these works creates a from of intimacy.
Play has been theorized as a liminal space – occupying both the real and the imagined simultaneously. It is within this topography that Smith tries to point to certain aspects of the human condition. Does replacing the guns on toys with branches change the essential meaning of the situation? Is it absurd? Can a small figure evoke a sympathetic response or reaction?
Toys as a sculptural material intrigues Smith. He has spent years amassing a large collection of plastic toy soldiers, model sets, LEGO blocks, Playmobile figures and these toys become raw materials for creation. The alchemy arises from combining these elements in new ways – stretching their scale or altering their properties. In this way a tree branch replaces a gun. A 5-foot tall tower of LEGO serves as a platform for a figure to let down a rope. All of the army figures have some form of intervention – they are cut, melted or altered to undertake the new work and tasks that Smith sets out for them.
Smith employs LEGO blocks to attain elevation – to create vertical elements to the works which at once retains scale rule between the figures and the blocks but also disrupts their rationality once the towers inflate to human scaled proportions. LEGO is an interesting choice for it is such a basic unit of child play and construction. The evolution of the toy, however, has moved it beyond basic building blocks to highly detailed model making. Ironically, LEGO has also become a commodity much like bronze – there is a massive secondary market for pre-owned LEGO priced by weight and which fluctuates according to supply and demand.
We manufacture toys with the intention of enabling children to play and the assumption is that this play is free, unencumbered and not contingent. Pulling back, however, it may be argued that the inherent structure of the toy itself echoes strictly adult concerns. Toys and play easily normalize certain ideas about one’s place in the greater scheme of things. Thankfully, children have also long subverted these rigid narrative structures. The altering of toys – drawing tattoos on a doll or shaving the “life-like” hair off of a GI Joe figure – is an aspirational act and speaks to claiming new narratives.
As a maker, Smith maintains this drive to construct and model objects with a sense of playfulness. Ideally, the works are at turns humorous but also manage to evoke a pathos associated with labour, work and the monumentality of mundane tasks. The figures carry weight in both a literal and figurative manner beyond what should be their actual capacity. The scale of the works are important for their small-scale for they invite both a broad and intimate viewing. Scale also determines the impossibility of the situations – no one could hold a 200-foot cable/rope at the top of a tower but toy scale allows it.
In fields of play one enters a space of inspection – of being a giant in a land that is off-kilter – witness to a precarious balance.
P. Roch Smith and Todd Tremeer in Ottawa
Ottawa School of Art Gallery
35 George Street - Ottawa
War Games runs from January 12th to February 15th 2015.
Opening reception is on Thursday January 22nd from 5 - 8 pm.
"P. Roch Smith and Todd Tremeer are two artists who consider play and its relation to war. Scaled down versions of reality in the form of model kits and toy soldiers are points of departure for both artists. In War Games, play enters the territory of the miniature. Plastic and lead soldiers are arrayed for battle; model kits and dioramas go on review. Miniature worlds are presented as sites of imagination, speculation and memory."
Check it out and pass the word - we'll be taking the nation's capital by storm!
My newest series of work comes to Toronto in 2015!
1273 Dundas Street West
January 3 - January 25, 2015
Opening reception January 3, 2 - 5 pm
"In equilibration, Smith explores scale, restructuring expectations and notions of play. He transforms plastic soldiers, skateboarders, Lego blocks, model bombs, tanks, planes and ships by casting them in bronze – a material traditionally used for monuments or grand sculptures. Smith challenges the medium’s historical prestige, casting at a scale that renders the bronze anti-heroic."
play - replay
I've finally managed to edit and upload images from my play - replay exhibition at the Earl Selkirk Gallery.
Hope you enjoy.
@ Earl Selkirk Gallery February 25 - April 7, 2013
My artist statement about the work in "play - replay"
The Toronto Star March 17, 2012
"Game On!" received a nice spread in the Sports section of the Saturday Star: Many thanks to Michael Wood.
New images from the exhibition are now up on this site. Go to the special projects tab under portfolio and look for HotBox Riverwood.
The HotBox Riverwood mentorship project contributes to the development of professional artists with the creation of temporary outdoor sculpture exhibit that celebrates the Riverwood conservation area and public art in Mississauga. The public will have the opportunity to walk the trail within the natural setting of Riverwood Park and experience the works of art along its path.
Regional artists Amanada-Oppedisano, Don Ian Dickson, Mark Prier, P. Roch Smith, Simon Black, and Tom Dietrich have been selected to create natural site specific, temporary works within Riverwood Park.
HotBox Riverwood is located on the grounds of Riverwood Park, 4100 Riverwood Park Lane, Mississauga, ON.
The exhibition opens October 1st, 2011 from 1 - 4 pm and runs until the end of December.
My work is titled origin of confidence
The site of my sculptures shares two fundamental features: the remnant of a stone foundation wall and a cedar tree which has formed its own “sheltering” space. Using these concepts as a point of departure I am considering space as it refers to shelter.
By obsessively wrapping wood armatures with sisal and beeswax I have provided evidence of a process – a marking of time as the contours of the image evolved. Covering the wooden inner frameworks allows for the volume of sisal to emerge into an image – a form. Occupying the boundaries of the natural and the built environments the works attempt to create a refuge for daydreams, memories and contemplation.
They're all Hybrids
My series fun work - hard play is being shown as part of this exhibition curated by Michelle Jacques. Hope you can come on down to Queen West and take a look.
Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts
June 8 - 19, 2011
Opening reception: June 8 from 7 - 10 pm
984 Queen Street West
Wed / Sat 12 - 6 pm
Sun 12 - 5 pm
Old School: GI Joe teaches us how to play - June 9, 2011
I'm giving an artist talk at The White House in Kensington Market (#277.5 Augusta Ave.). Hope you can come on by and check it out.
"During the 1970s, short comic books were enclosed with the play-sets that detailed the Adventures of GI Joe – examples include: Shark’s Surprise, Search for the Stolen Idol, Secret Mission to Spy Island. Even at the time, the concepts of scripted play were questioned by many parents and educators as lacking in creativity and imagination. Curiously, these comics promoted lightly veiled right wing views of cold war politics.
It seems quaint to look back to a more “wholesome” time and dismiss what was deemed problematic. I would argue that it is precisely by examining the past that we can better see what the present offers and how marketing and consumer inertia has allowed for ever increasing and rigorous levels of scripted play."
This Great Society - Issue 19 - May 2011
A link to my new spread in amazing online magazine This Great Society Issue 19: Work. Please check it out.
Welcome to the Dollhouse
works by Luba Diduch, David Khang, P. Roch Smith & Meichen Waxer
Friday, August 7 - Tuesday, September 29 , 2009
TRUCK Gallery - Calgary, Alberta
The four-artist exhibit “Welcome to the Dollhouse” mixes several media into a widely divergent and imaginative series of expressions on the idea of the miniature. Each artist is afforded a small room in an unadorned plywood dollhouse that is free of furnishings, windows and internal doors. The dollhouse here is a shell, which each artist must inhabit and make his or her own.
David Khang's sculpture and video work “Oral Fixations” initially attracts the viewer's eye with the scale of his art. The work is a series of miniature teeth and Khang’s ability to render such detail in such small form makes “Oral Fixations” impressive.
Below Khang are P. Roch Smith's male nude bronze sculptures. Like Khang’s work, they are impressive in their miniature craftsmanship. Whether personally inspired or simply observational, Smith's commentary on the nature of labour and the burdens of public and private expectations is clear and accessible, symbolized by the oversized tools wielded by the small bronze figures. These two contributions have a maturity and focus that are admirable.
To the left of Smith is the forgettable “Room for Imagination” by Luba Diduch. Ostensibly about the randomness of imagination, it is a 10-second blurred looping of a purplish-blue garden. There is little here to interest the mind or the eye. Simplicity can quite often convey complexity, but in this case it falls short.
Meichen Waxer's “Fake Mourning” comes closer to this idea. Her nicked, well-worn lockets stuffed with fake hair make for an emotional experience. She deliberately uses an object loaded with sentimentality and history to explore the nature of memory.
Access Artist-Run Centre, Vancouver, BC
September 8 to October 13, 2007
P. Roch Smith’s installation phantoms at Access Artist-Run Centre is a simple yet complex reflection on loss and its constituent parts. The gallery space turned mausoleum is a place of quiet in which nostalgia, art-making, collecting, play, and masculinity echo and intersect in a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall grid of two-hundred and fifty white, plaster GI Joe figures.
The infantryman we find in Smith’s installation is a familiar and timely for its reference to contemporary events in Afghanistan. Through shear number and repetition, these plaster figures bear witness to the futility of the search for a hero in an ordinary man or toy. More significantly, this repetition is symbolic. The process of mold making and casting in which the artist’s goal is reproduction has an inherent sincerity to it—to make many of one thing as if to remember it better.
One would assume that this process, not unlike collecting, also has the goal of attaining the perfect GI Joe. As if replicating this doll in its original perfection, before its limbs were broken, somehow enables us to remember a time before we as children were exposed to loss. Instead, far from being true to the well-articulated twelve-inch action hero of the 1970’s Adventure Team, Smith presents us with casts of GI Joe that have been intentionally reproduced in various states of loss of limb and life.
The resoluteness with which each Joe is installed within the wall grid suggests an acceptance of the scars that mar each figure. They are part of what marks their history. Their imperfect surfaces and incomplete forms—lost limbs, chipped noses and ears—speak to the inevitably flawed pursuit of perfection, of an “original self”. These are symbolic marks of loss that inexorably leave us changed as individuals.
Like a prosthesis that serves to replace an amputated part of our body, each plaster figure in Smith’s installation serves as a surrogate for something lost. They give form and materiality to our phantoms and are evidence, as in the case of phantom limbs, that there is a continuing sensation and presence of what is now gone. As the consummate hero and childhood toy, each plaster Joe is immobile and incomplete, forgotten yet remembered.
TRUCK Gallery - Calgary, Alberta
November 4 - December 10, 2005
Other voices, other rooms
How a house becomes the repository of memory
As the title suggests, Siren(s) has a compelling quality, slowly drawing the viewer in. As you walk into the space, you hear a jumble of faint murmurs, like voices from another room.
The gallery is empty, except for a handful of small bronze figures spaced out across the floor. Exposed heating ducts are set in the centre of three of the walls, complete with white air vents a few inches from the floor. This is where the voices are coming from. In order to make out the words, the viewer must crouch down and put an ear to the vent.
A woman recounts events from the past. "It was Christmastime," she says, "it was so strange." It soon becomes clear that she is talking about the death of her husband. Her speech has the calm, measured rhythm of a story which has been told many times. She uses specific names, dates and locations to chronicle the quick progression of an illness.
P. Roch Smith is interested in how houses become repositories for memory. Inspired by Gaston Bauchelard's The Poetics of Space, the artist has taken the circulatory system of a house -- the heating ducts -- and infused them with a particularly potent series of narratives.
Another voice emanates from the second air vent. A man is talking about his father who passed away some time ago. The son, repeating the phrase "I don't really have any memories," does not speak specifically about the events surrounding the death. Instead, he focuses on the affects of his father's personality, the teenage tensions between them, and the influence of his memory on how the grown man raises his children today. In this narrative, what is left unsaid has the most emotional impact.
A younger brother provides a third perspective on these events. His memories are clearer and more specific -- recounting the day his father told him he had been diagnosed with cancer -- the same day the narrator had made the high school honour role. Each anecdote begins with the phrase "It's funny . . ." but retracing these experiences proves difficult, as his voice falters and finally breaks down.
With this work, Smith is investigating how memory functions within a family. The voices are those of his mother and two brothers. The artist interviewed them without warning them about the subject matter --- the death of his father. The goal was to capture memory at its most unmediated. Stories told and retold help to build an almost mythical impression of the man, and Smith did not want to give his interviewees a chance to prepare their thoughts.
While listening to each voice, the viewer is face to face with one of the bronze figures. It is a G.I. Joe toy. Cast in solid metal, it has lost some of its original machismo. Flaws are exposed -- scratched surfaces, a missing finger, seams and serial numbers in the original moulded plastic. Though tiny and vulnerable, gazing into the vent, the doll seems to embody a stoic quality. This object too, is a container for memory. A well-used toy, it must have been witness to much family history.
G.I. Joe is used as a motif throughout the exhibition. A small group of bronze figures is made up of muscular torsos based on the toy, with arms or legs cast from tree branches. The hybrid creatures take on a mythical character, but delicately balanced on their strange limbs, they seem at once both powerful and vulnerable.
Quiet and intimate, Siren(s) performs a balancing act. Dealing with such painful subject matter could have resulted in a heavy, didactic exhibition, but Smith allows the viewer to uncover the narrative step by step. This is not always a comfortable experience -- the viewer is eavesdropping after all. However, the artist manages to make the extremely personal, universal. The work takes place on a familiar scale, integrating domestic elements into the gallery space, along with images from childhood and pop culture.
In the end, by taking three different perspectives on the same events, the open space left at the centre begins to take shape. The artist's own voice is missing from the recordings, but it is ever-present. As an adult exploring childhood memories, P. Roch Smith presents a steady, honest gaze on the subject, much like the scarred bronze face of his G.I. Joe.
- - -
Siren(s), an installation/audio recording by P. Roch Smith, including the voices of Rose Marie Smith, Randy Smith and Christopher Smith, is on view at Truck Gallery through Dec. 10.
© The Calgary Herald 2005
every scratch on plastic skin
March 1 – 26, 2005
Play and Replay
When I was a little girl I played with my mother’s Tootsie Toy Dollhouse Furniture sets. Of course “played with” is too passive a description, for me it was a religious experience. The miniature domestic settings served as a portal to another world. I sat upon those chintz couches, walked upon the tiny oriental rugs and ran the water in the porcelain sinks. Recently my mother told me that she had sold her Tootsie Toy collection to a dealer. Too bad I thought, they will never be understood by anyone over ten. Such is the lot of the adult gaze.
It is the adult gaze that P. Roch Smith brings into question in every scratch on plastic skin at the Coop Gallery. Poignantly and pointedly he calls on his childhood GI Joe action figures to attempt to make contact with the past, with memory. As such Smith offers a myriad of levels to be unpacked; that of childhood, of cultural construction intersecting the world of the child, and of the great divide between child and adult. His is a journey into past and present, of knowing and not knowing, with memory as the holy grail. Interestingly this elusive quest is approached through three-dimensional sculpture and two-dimensional photo-based art.
In the sculpture “endgame”, a bronze GI Joe figure shoulders a wooden form that is ten times his size. This was not the way that GI Joe leapt into the basement play of our childhood, overseeing the battlefields and cleverly avoiding any harm. Here, a small figure is burdened by the archetypal home that he is forced to carry stoically on his back. Somehow his hero status has been diminished. Joe’s lack of uniform shows his bulky pelvis, skinny legs, carved chest muscles and elbow joints protruding, cast for eternity in a bronze shell. A companion piece entitled “tilt” anchors the other end of the gallery, in which GI Joe climbs an endless wooden staircase that disappears into the wall with no destination for his trouble. No longer the master, it is troubling that he is completely lost. Of course we know that Hasbro lost the toy battle, unable to sell a hawk’s war toy when doves, objecting to the Vietnam war, ruled the marketplace. Hasbro was simply carrying on a long tradition of idealization, practiced by David and Delacroix, passed down to our children through Barbie and GI Joe. In these sculptures it is painfully apparent that these resolute figures never did embody the
omnipotence they offered in 1964. What do they offer us in 2005? A glimpse of the distant past when play was life and life was play? Or are we, viewing through the lens of the adult gaze, unable to get beyond the grinding loads to be carried or the endless staircases to be scaled.
The passage of time is a phenomenon fraught with conditions that we cannot change, such that the present moment is constantly and continually becoming the past. Smith’s photo-based works are a telling vehicle to discuss the idea of our attempt to grasp a shred of memory, to understand that the experiences of the past are a function of recollection. As thought processes the events of the past, the photograph processes objects to a collection of shadows. They are not the event or the object but a digestion of a continuum of experience. In the photographs of GI Joe, Smith offers a view through the doubly elusive filter of the recollection of the adult eye and of the photo-based image. No longer a figure that can be held in the hand of a child, GI Joe is life-size. We face him in the gallery, his two-dimensional image heat transferred to canvas, his plastic form mirroring our human form. GI Joe is finally our compatriot, emerged from his tiny, albeit larger than life stature. In “Search for the Stolen Idol” Joe gently reaches a cupped hand to touch his burnished scalp, worn thin by age and hours of play. His fetal pose is punctuated by the rivet in his plastic collar neck and the crevices in his joints. Smooth silly putty coloured skin becomes undulating flesh in the nape of his neck. How human and yet not human. Joe is us and not us. Nothing is as it seems in these cropped depictions of body parts, perhaps cruelly pointed out by the embossed text on the firm symmetrical buttocks of “#7437 Capture of the Pygmy Gorilla”, which reads GI JOE REG T.M. © RD 1964 HASSENFIELD BROS., INC. PATENTED 1966.
Through an engaging use of colour in these photo-based works Smith tells a story of neighbouring worlds, held separate by their very nature. Whether it is the world of the child and the adult, the world of the past and the present or the world of constructed reality we travel in and out, jumping from the continuous grey tone of the photograph to the hot, opaque solids of acrylic paint. An ever so slightly modulated edge, that allows the presence of the hand with brush, offers the great divide. In “Rescue from AT Headquarters” a lush field of orange butts gray-green photographic halos. The undulations of putty coloured flesh jar with the bright horizontal bar of paint. Both are entry points, offering logos of their time by gently prodding our consciousness. Traveling in the orange dimension I am pulled toward a sense of modernism, of an attempt to reduce the world to its essence. The inviting and hot colours of Smith’s works as a group draw me in: lime green, magenta, cobalt blue, mauve, orange, warm yellow and red, pulling sideways and vertically. Never completely enveloped though, a seesaw effect projects me into an altered paradigm, one that draws its roots from consumer culture, of advertising, of proof through the photographically rendered surface. In effect, this work becomes a last call, a yawning gasp, for the Caravaggists. No longer can you reach out and touch it, no longer is it real, but clearly a two-dimensional surface, a simulation.
In effect, it is the awareness of simulation that constitutes the adult gaze, and permeates postmodern thinking. In Smith’s journey to unearth the shrine of memory, awareness is always there, providing a gauzy block to the past. It is this filter of knowing and not knowing that is beguiling and fascinating, prompting me to ponder it in terms of human life experience and evolving human thought. Maybe I should look that dealer up and see what became of the Tootsie Toy Dollhouse Sets. It would be interesting to look at them again through Smith’s telescope.