Michael Smith | Dann Gunn, Berlin

Michael Smith
Timeline (1951 – 2016)
17.09.16 – 12.11.16
Solo Exhibition

Since the 1970s, Michael Smith has been a pioneering figure of performance art. Merging the art world with the entertainment world, he has created a body of work that includes video, commercial, and cable television shows, puppet shows, stand-up comedy, gallery installations, drawings, and even comic books. Through his work, Smith has developed two characters and personae, “Mike” and Baby Ikki. “Mike” functions metaphorically as a kind of ever-hopeful Candide, adrift in a world of rapid technological advancement that he seems incapable of fully comprehending. He has continued to age alongside the artist for more than 35 years. Baby Ikki remains forever young in a onesie and pacifier, grasping at objects and people with infantile curiosity.

In the past few years, much of Smith’s work has focused on the theme of aging and personal reflections on the passage of time. His most recent piece, Timeline (1951-2016), is a meditative tableau installation that appears through a transparent scrim as a timeline of projected dates counting up from 1951, the year of his birth, while a lone disco ball spins in the background over pools of colored light and intermittent puffs of fog. For Smith, like many baby boomers, disco not only represents abandonment and fun but also conjures up the deaths of the many people victimized by the AIDS epidemic.

The disco ball, perhaps the most salient element of the installation, has been an important recurring visual motif in many of Smith’s works, from the USA Free-Style Disco Championship performance in 1979, to the elaborately layered installation Mus-Co in 1997. For viewers familiar with Smith’s performance personae, the timeline will inflect pathos and gravitas onto a seemingly bland and unexamined life. For those coming to the work for the first time, the installation is designed to allow the viewer time and space to reflect and project onto a chronology of specific dates in a quiet, personal manner, offering a more open-ended experience.

Timeline (1951-2016) also considers the continually blurring identities of Smith’s performance personae with that of Michael Smith the artist. The autobiographical dates bracket his life, as well as the “lifespan” of an artistic career and the characters of Baby Ikki, and ‘Mike’. This exhibition is the third iteration of Timeline, after its exhibition in Smith’s solo exhibitions at Tramway, Glasgow in 2014 (as part of Glasgow International) and at Greene Naftali, New York in 2015.

Also in the exhibition are a selection of works on paper by the artist from 1975 to the present.