Talking to Shawn Smith

Question: Tell me about “Vicious Venue”

My work explores the depiction of nature through digital technology and comments on the effects of technology on our perception of the world. In my recent work, I have been particularly interested in birds of prey as a source of conceptual inspiration and analogy. I am fascinated by vultures and the visceral way most people react to them. From my studio in Austin, I see vultures circling, surveying, and hunting for their next meal. Vultures prey on the dying and are the natural scavengers of the dead. I have created a few sculptures in the past depicting pixilated birds of prey. In my current work, I have been trying to highlight the collision of the digital world and the real world by creating pixilated sculptures interacting with found objects.

Recently I have been doing more research and re-visiting vultures as a source of inspiration. As conceptual fodder I have been asking myself the question: What would a digital vulture eat if it was somehow trapped inside this reality? I was inspired with an answer when I visited the Lawndale Art Center last year. When I went upstairs to the Project Space, I felt like I was stepping into an old converted office. After spending some time in the gallery, I began to envision one possible answer to my question.

For the Project Space at the Lawndale Art Center, I created a sculptural installation consisting of a group of life-size pixilated vultures devouring the “thingness” of a dying analog office full of obsolete technologies. I built the office based loosely on the office from the movie “The Maltese Falcon.” The office consisted of found objects including a desk, a chair, and a lamp, old photos; as well as technologically dead things such as a typewriter, a rolodex, a rotary phone, paper files, and 8mm film. I put some of the vultures on the floor while others were perched high and low on and in the office furniture. The vultures were destroying the obsolete technology with their claws and beaks. Strewn about the floor were bits of plastic, paper, and metal as well as in the vultures mouths and claws. I wanted the viewer to become an intruder into the space, as if they are stumbling into the middle of the ongoing carnage as the vultures pick the carcass clean.

I divided the space in into two sections. As the viewer enters the space, they are confronted with the more ordered receptionist/waiting area complete with a desk, table, chairs, coffee pot, high heeled shoes, sugar cubes (a little nod to a personal favorite artist Tom Friedman) and an old “fire side chat” transistor radio that plays static as if the world has gone off-line. In the waiting area there were two vultures. One was balanced on top of a coat rack in mid flight. The other vulture was coming out of the air conditioner vent above the entrance.

The setting of the second half of the room suggests a 40’s style private investigators office thrown into chaos. In the center of the room were 3 vultures eating a 40’s era typewriter. Two of these vultures have their heads inside of the typewriter pulling out bits of steel and ribbon. The third vulture is on top of the typewriter with it’s wings fully extended as if startled by the observer. Other vultures in the room are eating old 8mm film and printed books. Above the P.I.’s desk was a vulture perched on top of a real mangled deer head. On the walls were pegboards full of open case notes, mug shots, autopsy findings, and clues. In the back corner was a file cabinet with paper work from open and closed cases. On the file tabs I used case names like Keyser Söze, Jame Gumm, and Walter E. Kurtz – a little nod to some favorite movies.

Throughout the piece I hid little “easter eggs” for the inquisitive viewers just to rattle the constructed narrative. For example, I hid a ventriloquist dummy in the private investigator desk that was barley visible unless you peered around the desk. I believe there were 37 “easter eggs” hidden within the piece creating a sub-narrative.


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