(dis)assembly: Sam Smith at 3+1 Arte Contemporânea

The 3+1 Arte Contemporânea gallery is now taken by Sam Smith’s world with the solo exhibition (dis)assembly until January 8. Sam Smith uses the cinematographic language in his artistic praxis to ponder the relationships between humans, nature and technology. This process is extended to the existential and poetic aspects in (dis)assembly.

As we enter the gallery, we first notice Capture Pigments (2021): a series of ten paintings made with natural pigments, with each page displaying a grid that recalls the realm of film. In each square frame, we see brushstrokes that have generated several pigments (red ochre, yellow ochre, burnt umber, and ultramarine blue). Next to it, Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K [after analysis] (2021) shows a table with the manifold objects that make up a digital film camera. And the following moment, in Results from analysis of Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K (2021), a stack of posters on the floor display the periodic table with the findings of an in-depth study of the chemical elements that constitute each of this camera’s components.

Only in the video Capture (2021) do we understand where all these objects that Sam Smith shows us in the exhibition’s first part come from. This video features the deconstruction of a camera as it is pulled apart by the artist’s hands. Smith starts recording, places the camera in front of a mirror, and initiates the deconstruction process. We witness the blurring of the lens as it is disassembled, we listen to the audible thump of the microphone being turned off, we follow the deconstruction of every sensor and wire that made this camera work, until eventually it shuts down. This whole process was juxtaposed with other images that depict the aforementioned pigments coming to life through the stop motion technique. Smith uses the text overlaid on the moving image to convey short sentences that are a call for reflection, such as “Only an eye can meet another eye without touch” or “Image will be arsenic”.

When thinking about the statement “Image will be arsenic”, we know that arsenic is a naturally found element and mineral in the environment. Its liberation into the atmosphere can be caused by natural or man-made activities (e.g. volcanoes or industrial activity). As a highly toxic component, its exposure, even in the short term, can interfere with our body’s endocrine system.[1] What does it mean to think that images will turn into arsenic, then? Why does Sam Smith proclaim this fate for images? We read “Abandon the camera” further on.

Capture (2021) gives us a range of questions that elevate our relationship with the work to the existential level. This feeling continues to expand to the gallery’s lower level with the audiovisual installation Earth Return (2021). A deep celestial sound pulls our senses toward the installation’s two monitors. We can see a human-looking floating face, but with features of other beings. This figure, somewhere between mythological and extraterrestrial, seems to yearn to communicate with us through sound and words. Between the sound effects apparently from another world and the images of water, seaweed, and currents, we read the question “What does your sound feel?”, which takes us intuitively to the echo within us. Finally, we are offered the challenge of lighting three green candles, picking up an object important to us, planting it “with kisses and intention,” closing our eyes, and counting to seven without breathing. Clearly, the intention of Earth Return (2021) is to remind us of where we come from and what materials we are made of. Perhaps our constitution is not so different from that of a movie camera. We too, after all, are made of sensors, our eyes are our lenses, and our memory is stuffed with images that have been captured by our experience.

In dis(assembly), Sam Smith gathers a set of art objects that, more than stimulating our senses, invite us to slow down and think about the world around us. This is a hypersensitive approach to ecology and the way we relate to the technological devices we use to capture images. But, above all, dis(assembly) makes us feel nostalgic for poetry (which is so sorely lacking in contemporary art).


[1] Info according to World Health Organization. Available here.

Laurinda Marques (Portimão, 1996) has a degree in Multimedia Art - Audiovisuals from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa. She did an internship in the Lisbon Municipal Archive Video Library, where she collaborated with the project TRAÇA in the digitization of family videos in film format. She recently finished her postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition “Na margem da paisagem vem o mundo” and began collaborating with the Umbigo magazine.

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