lundi 28 octobre 2013

Urban Geode: Interview with street art gem Paige Smith

A Common Name. That is the name of the art studio founded by LA-based graphic designer Paige Smith. A not-so-common name when you see the amount of amazing things the Texan-raised artist already achieved. One of the best examples of her work is “Urban Geode” a project started in 2011. Geologist of a new kind, Paige Smith brings old buildings back to life by crowning them with colorful handcrafted geodes. A street art project that echoes in such a unique way as much for its concept as its universal reach. Paige Smith welcomed us to her studio in Los Angeles, last September, to talk about her work.

(credit: Lani Trock)

When was your first encounter with street art (post-graffiti)?

Paige Smith: I grew up in Dallas, where there are definitely lots of graffiti but not much street art. Then I moved to San Francisco where there are so many murals and you know, a lot of history based on that and a lot of culture around it. It's a lot different from L.A. I know one that I really loved, it's this big mural, with these birdhouses twisting up on a huge wall and I loved it, it was in San Francisco.

Mural by Andrew Schoultz and Aaron Noble in San Francisco

When did you start the “Urban Geodes” project? How did you decide to make art outdoor?

I started it a year and a half ago (2011), near thanksgiving. First I was so excited about Art in the Streets exhibition, the things I have been seeing and my relationship with this city were motivational. I didn’t really do art before, I just was a graphic designer and I really wanted to start doing something for myself.
I have a really hard time sketching, I take everything so seriously and I wanted to do something to help me let go. That’s part of the sculptural aspect that doesn’t just stay like paint or wheatpaste, it goes away, people take it, it gets trashed etc. It’s really temporary. That was part of it, just making something and let it go. And it worked! I’m so much less attached to things that I do and I’m able to remove myself from it. Being able to do an artwork and throw it away and start over which I never could do before.

One of Paige Smith's geodes in LA (credit: acommonname)

Based on science and geometrics, Paige Smith’s geodes are polyhedric shapes made of paper or resin. Their design is conscientiously created in order to be placed on a specific site.

Did you get any feedbacks concerning your work? People passing by in the street, for example.

I've seen people taking photos of it, that's pretty cool. Near my old studio, it was rather big, in an empty phone booth, I would drive by and I could see people stopping and looking at it. I once tried to take a picture of someone taking a picture of it. I actually had an experience with the first one that I made : My friend was looking at her instagram and one of her friends had a picture of it so she sent me that and I was like "Omg that's so cool!"

credit: acommonname

Can we find geodes in Los Angeles at the moment?

Yes, there is a café downtown (The Daily Dose), it is down this alleyway in this old-bricks-facade building, I have a whole bunch and they are always there. There is one in Venice,  but it doesn't look that great anymore, due to the moisture in the air, because at that time I used paper. Those near the café look still good, two of them are 1 year and a half old.

Paige Smith, installing geodes at "The Daily Dose" café in LA (credit: acommonname)

And outside the United States?

Spain, in Madrid specifically. This summer I went to Bali, I put some there. Also in Mexico, I did one there and that's as far as I've done.

How was it in Bali,  knowing the architecture and scenery are radically different from cities like LA?

It was so different! What I like about here (Los Angeles) are decrepit and cracked buildings and there’s a lot of that type of things in Bali but it was so beautiful that way. I was actually like “I can’ t touch this wall it’s so amazing!". I found it so beautiful yet very challenging. Luckily I found a bunch of places, one of them was on some random cement wall, with a lot of graffiti and wheatpaste on it and I just added mine in this little crack. I felt that was kind of right. I put another one on a hotel frontage, something that did not feel like a personal thing.

Were there witnesses of your installations?

I saw two kids riding super big rusty bikes, they were watching and fascinated. I actually took a picture of them.

credit: acommonname

Now that you’ve traveled in different countries, do you have any architectural preferences?

Yes, I think I prefer the more urban situations, even if I went back to Spain. Going to Madrid versus Barcelona would be so different because there is so much history in Barcelona. Like the old roman walls...I wouldn't touch that but it would really be a challenge I think. Madrid was pretty cool. With that project, it has opened my eyes a lot more because I am starting to really look around and scan all the spaces and places. The majority of buildings I saw in Madrid, it was all so grey!

One of Paige's geodes in Madrid (credit: acommonname)

Further to these trips, Paige Smith had the idea to expand her project by letting people install geodes by themselves.

How did you develop the participatory angle of your project?

I've just started doing it. I am still learning what people are willing to do, what's easier for them. If they want to participate more by making their own. It is interesting figuring out the way to talk to people and have them participate. I found that Invader was a huge help with that because I have been thinking about how he put tiles on walls. So now I build smaller pieces, I just have people tile them on with grout, it is the easiest way, almost like putting a sticker up. It becomes so much quicker and easier and more manageable. Otherwise, I am sending them in a box in one piece, they arrive alright and so far people are doing cool stuff wih them.

So now you have one in Turkey…

In Turkey, she’s been doing very well. Actually, the first one was in Jordan, she actually made all of hers herself. She didn’t get any pre-made ones because she was the first one. She did it right on the wall and it was brilliant. I think it’s even more beautiful when I see what people do with it themselves. It’s like I kinda hand out the concept and they are allowed to be a little creative. Eventually, I’ll figure out how to make it something that I can take on more and make it more participatory and more like a social environment, like a website where people could go hunt for them. I have a map for mine so I need to start adding them for people. I try not to be too specific about the location, this way people could go for a treasure hunt, so they have to actually look around to find them.

First participatory geode in Jordan by Zina Hammad

What’s your take on 3D printer?

They are starting to become more affordable so that’s definitely something I’m thinking of investing in. I haven’t mapped mine on a computer yet. So I also have to work on the 3 dimensional versions on computer. I do so much paper folding, I love that action but when I am trying to make a participatory project, I can’t physically afford someone else to do it or do it myself. So that is a more practical way of turning them out. It definitely gets rid of some of the craft part of it but, it still keeps the concept alive, I think. And I am truly a multimedia artist; I use my computer a lot and I like the idea of building it in a software mode and printing it out, I love that idea.

A glance at Paige Smith's art studio (credit: acommonname)

What are your upcoming projects?

Getting this participatory project off the ground, it’s definitely that, I’ve been very slowly figuring out but I think that would be a really awesome thing to take a social network out of it.

Interview made on 9/21/13 in Los Angeles - [read French version]
Many thanks to Paige Smith for kindly welcoming us!

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