General 5-15-2002

Now Voyager

Gerald Smith, Astronaut of the Soul


The artist Gerald Smith is all over the map–both literally and figuratively speaking. He is a curious searcher with eclectic interests who goes to every extreme to seek answers to his questions.

Consider two performance pieces, filmed in grainy super-8 and transferred to video projection–My Sputnik Fails to Launch (1995), and My Splendid Satellite (1997). In the first, Smith is in the middle of the California desert, with a cast-concrete model of the Russian satellite that was launched the same year he was born (1957). Amid the flat landscape of lunar rocks and dried shrubs, the artist is a frantic force, struggling in futility to lift his 180-lb. creation and launch it into orbit as per a hastily drawn schematic shown at the beginning of the nine-minute film.

In the second performance, filmed in the harsh and just as desolate conditions of a Minnesota winter frozen lakebed, Smith is decked out as an kind of weird schizophrenic astronaut, his body wrapped in foil and behelmeted. For the bulk of the performance, Smith spins in place in the midst of this icy desolation, casting a circle of a satellite bowling-ball wrapped in foil at the end of a tether. At film’s end, he gives up, sick and exhausted.

As he struggles with his eccentric tasks in these places, the lonely and deluded figure of Smith the artist comes across much like the great wandering heroes of epic lore: Don Quixote de la Mancha, and Captain Ahab of the Peaquod. He is a spot on the horizon that reminds us how alone and vulnerable is each of us in our daily struggles to achieve and persevere. As Smith himself says, “Yes, I am all over the map. But my work does have a voice, because I am an issue artist. My art is driven by an interest or curiosity.” But this is a serious investigation. And in the end, Smith’s inquiries into issues from philosophy and science, his struggle to understand the vulnerability and poignancy of human endeavor, drive his diverse output–in sculpture, film and video, performance, sound art, theater.