American artist Kiki Smith (Nuremberg, 1954) is a vital figure in the feminist art movement that began in the Seventies. Her work is disarming and disconcerting. It probes our preconceptions, and even her style seems rooted in self-deceit: her simple scrawl in pencil and ink, her screen-prints on torn cloth, and her own nonchalance about the metaphoric nature of her work.
Silver haired and radiant, Smith describes this startling show as “unfinished”, as if it were a natural but random development of ideas. It was supposed to represent “a walk in the garden,” she says, but we are mistrustful.
First there is the title: ‘Her Memory’, but who is ‘she’? And why are we invited into her intimate cream-and-grey landscape of lopsided papier-mâché furniture, chunky grinning figures with bunches of flowers (dead or alive), and birds (dead or alive). Images repeat or interact, seemingly making connections, and we leap at those happy revelations. Familiar symbols are biblical or poetic, such as the bird indicating inspiration, or references to secluded poet Emily Dickinson, for whom flowers, gardens and death were recurrent themes. But then Smith’s coffins are disjointed and tumbling, and many of her images are distorted, in warped mirrors, on crumpled cloth or as if seen from behind glass. We happen upon a troupe of creepy life-size puppets strung-up by their skin which Kiki describes as “light relief from the rest of the show”.
There’s an air of unease. We sense that something important is happening but then doubt that too. It Becomes Apparent! is the title of one drawing, emerging in a wonky speech bubble from the mouth of its protagonist. For a moment we believe it, but then we’re spooked again.
Kiki Smith: Her Memory
Fundació Joan Miró
Until May 24th