On the set with Stephen Scott Smith

SEEYOUYOUSEE draws you in and leads you around

Stephen Scott Smith's SEEYOUYOUSEE at Breeze Block

Stephen Scott Smith’s SEEYOUYOUSEE at Breeze Block

I believe it was 1978. I heard about this movie showing in the Student Union theater. I wasn’t a film geek but knew a few and this film came highly recommended. The theater was packed. I found a seat in the back row, sat back and readied myself to enjoy a flick in my altered state of choice. Within the first minute of the film I sat up straight, then leaned fully forward and softly uttered, “Shit.” The film was David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”  I may have blinked twice through the whole movie. I had just witnessed the first of his many films exploring the psychosexual traumas that befall the innocents among us.

There’s a bit of Lynch’s later films in Stephen Scott Smith’s SEEYOUYOUSEE at Breeze Block Gallery, except Smith provides only the set design and sound effects. The acting is left to us, except the set itself influences our reactions and leads us to our marks, just as Smith must have intended all along.

Upon entering through the gallery’s door, one knows instantly that this space has been completely taken over by the artist. On the facing, constructed wall, a brass plaque has been engraved with the name of the artist, the title of the exhibit and the dates for the show. It seems fittingly monumental and historical, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for the gallery is completely transformed by the installation, from the color scheme of the walls to the plush green carpet on the floor. The recorded drone of a gas forced-air heating system (surely the coldest, least efficient heating system there is) waxes and wanes above. I snicker.

Once into the foyer one faces a long hallway, its width about six inches narrower than what would be the standard for a passageway. We are clearly about to enter someone’s house to have a look around and it is evident we’re not going to be comfortable doing so. Yet, there is something else that comes to mind: a child would have plenty of room running down that hall. If young enough, two children could pass side-by-side without issue. In fact, this hallway might seem massive to a child, not unlike how the opposite happens as we grow and the house we grew up in shrinks, just like our parents. We have entered that home, but because we have not lived there for such a long time, the parents have gone, as has most of the furniture, and with them, a clear memory of what it used to look like has left us as well, leaving only ghosts and icons.

This house has several rooms, some spacious and others claustrophobic, yet because there are no doors, none offer privacy. Add to this a couple strategically placed closed circuit cameras and the anxiety is heightened. In the room closest to the front door of the gallery hangs a couple yards of a black-furred cowhide. On the floor beneath is a book with a pink cover and the gold-embossed title, “Looking.” Is this a stand-in for a mother, the fur so prominent, so hugely overwhelming for a young child, looking, but not quite sure at what? And, so we cannot deny we are privy to this transgressive, pivotal moment in our own inner child’s life, an overhead camera captures our presence. Richard Speer, in his review of this exhibit, has it right, this is not a home in which to “jack off or smoke weed,” nor will it free one from years of therapy.

Child's Toys and directed access

Child’s Toys and directed access

Judging from a look at Smith’s website and statements about his earlier work, he is very much interested in childhood memories. There are elements of this exhibition that continue sculptural techniques that he has used in the past, specifically the use of finely sanded wood in conjunction with powder-coated steel to create discrete geometric forms reminiscent of toys for an infant or toddler. The exception might be the shiny black box-like objects that are placed within this space. Though small, they are ominous. Light bounces off of them at sharp angles that call to mind the set design of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” They may very well represent a kind of loss, like black voids into which a large portion of memories (as well as most everything else) have disappeared. Nevertheless, in choosing to make all of his pre-oedipal totems more emblematic than autobiographical — thankfully so — Smith nudges viewers toward dredging up early memories of their own.

I have resisted the temptation to walk the reader through the entire exhibit, so well-executed is this installation; but I feel I would then have to offer a spoiler alert. Instead, I will encourage the reader to have a few things in mind as they traverse the space: while not immediately apparent, the mirrors are strategically placed, as are the lights; the artist may not want you in some rooms and larger persons need not try; and, as you progress through the space, stop and take a look beside and behind you. If you pay attention to these things you’ll leave with more insight to the title, SEEYOUYOUSEE.

Knows your every move

Knows your every move

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In addition to the sound of a non-existent heating system, one can also hear a sound like knocking coming from the rear of the space. Going into that part of the space, beyond the build-out, one is confronted with a room that has been stripped of its original walls. In their place stands a large stack of 4’ x 8’ strand board, the height of which prevents a person from seeing the top surface. To its left on the floor is a video monitor showing that top surface and a large round hole that has been cut into the pile. Tucked into an alcove closer to the entrance of this room is another monitor with a video of the artist chopping the hole.

This part of the installation, with its stack of wood and monitors displayed in a demolished room may act as a kind of counter to the measured construction and ambiance of the front room. It is difficult to separate the two installations because of the audio leak, even though I wish I could. Any metaphorical associations that would connect the psychological aura of the front space to the raw presence of the wood and the physical endurance of the artist in the back room seem either too obvious or require an unnecessary stretch. I am left with the opinion the latter is more a spectacle to disregard in favor of the former.

That said, if I had seen the piece in the back room (Oh, how I wish it had a title distinctly its own!) in another setting, I might feel different. I am prepared to make such an allowance on the strength of the work up front, for as I have mentioned in conversations since visiting Breeze Block, this part of the piece might be ready for a museum tour.

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