Lisa Deanne Smith Q + A

January 27, 2020Q + A

In fall 2019 the curator of OCADU Onsite Gallery gave new Partners in Art members a lecture on “How to look at Contemporary Art” as well as a tour of ᐊᕙᑖᓂᑦ ᑕᒪᐃᓐᓂᑦ ᓄᓇᑐᐃᓐᓇᓂᑦ/ Among All These Tundras. Onsite’s latest show is CodeX.

What was your advice about contemporary art ?

I think it is important for people to think of each work of contemporary art as a point in an ongoing conversation. Arguably this conversation started, worldwide, with the Industrial Revolution and has multiple tangents that are quickly increasing with the digital revolution.

Contemporary art is not trying to deceive you or play a joke on you although it may, at times, feel that way. Overall it is extremely earnest. In thinking of an artwork as part of an ongoing conversation, you may need more information to fully understand it. Ask yourself: Who made this work? What is their context? Who is this work for? If the artwork intrigues you, research it further (if possible when you are with the artwork).

Contemporary art is strongly connected to the world and as we all have lived experience in the world, you know something about it. Recognize and validate this. It is possible to know too much about an artwork that can prevent you from seeing it fully (with your intellect only). Trust your intuition, emotion and experience as well as the experts when looking at work.

When did you know you’d have a career in art?

I was always making something or drawing as a kid. In the early 1980s, I was immersed in the hardcore punk scene drawn by its passion and critique of the world. I needed to be part of it and joined a band. My first gig was opening for the Bad Brains at CBGB’s. It didn’t go well. I had a panic attack after singing our first song and realized I should stick to visual art. I did many gig posters and a few album covers for bands in those days.

What was your first successful art project?

When I was about 11 or 12, I loved playing pinball but couldn’t afford it often. I built my own pinball machine from cardboard, popsicle sticks, bits of metal, elastics, tape, springs, paint and marbles. It was scaled to the marbles, so about half life-size. I had elements for sound incorporated. It was beautiful. Professionally, my solo exhibition in the project room of White Columns in NYC was a high moment.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I know this sounds a little cliché but I’m proud of being true to myself. I was a very angry teen (for good reason). I quit school and created a life which was exciting and educational. I returned to school at 25, completed an MFA and learned to value academic knowledge without losing my reliance for experiential and emotional knowledge. I’m good at turning what’s in front of me into something I’m passionate about. For example, in 2013 I was asked to curate an exhibition on advertising for Onsite Gallery. Advertising isn’t a subject I’m deeply interested in, but I found a way to make it mine and created, Ads for People: Selling Ethics in the Digital Age which investigated the democratization of advertising occasioned by the digital revolution.

Is there a common thread in your work?

Care, I’ve always been interested in trying to take care of living things (people, plants, animal, air and water) that that are suffering from an imbalance of power. To that end, I have an agenda to turn up the volume and validation of experiential and emotional knowledge.

You taught at OCAD U, what do you miss most about teaching?

I really miss learning about what students are passionate about, what drives them. I’ve been privileged to have worked with some students in their first year or second year at OCAD U and remain in touch with them after they leave school. It’s inspiring to watch them flourish, they teach me things. Last year Onsite Gallery commissioned Pejvak (Rouzbeh Akhbari + Felix Kalmenson) to create a new video work which was exhibited in my most recent curatorial project, How to Breathe Forever. Their work, Weak Enough to Hear is incredible. Rouzbeh and I have been discussing our practices since he was in second year at OCAD U. Teaching can give you a valuable connection into someone’s interior world.

What do you do if you need inspiration?

Look at the world around me a little more closely, often through the creations of others… art, books, music.

Which artists do you admire most?

There are so many. Working with Shary Boyle, Alanis Obomsawin, Ebony J. Patterson (and all the artists) in The Sunshine Eaters exhibition was a joy. They are so generous, talented and caring. Right now, much of my energy is focused on developing a collaborative, multi-component project with Nick Cave that brings together community art and his exhibition practice.

Is there an artist you like that would surprise people?

Khadijah Morley

Who would you want to create your portrait?

Natalie King

Tell us about the current show CodeX: playable + disruptive futurist eArt and working with a guest curator.

Every guest curator is different. It takes a while to get to know how they work and how best to support them. Both Jason Baerg and Rob Elsworthy created new works for CodeX. Jason’s Asaimîna ᐊᓴᐃᒼ ᐄᓇ All Over Again is a participatory media piece using artificial intelligence that activates embodied knowledge and playfully engages audiences into considering the time and place we share. Rob’s Graviton explores an imaginary world through virtual reality which although extremely beautiful raises questions about utopic environments. I am excited to play both!

How did you hear about PIA?

Onsite Gallery was fortunate to have both Carol Weinbaum and Mimi Joh serve terms on our Advisory Board. Through them I learned about Partners in Art and to keep an eye on PIA’s projects as they are thoughtful and inspiring. Onsite Gallery and OCAD U have worked with PIA. Currently PIA is supporting OCAD U’s inaugural International Curators Residency (ICR) program. Berlin-based curator and biotechnologist Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, PhD, the first curator in residence is coming this February.