TIME & AGAIN: An Interview with Mickey Smith
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Obscura DAO
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Danielle Ezzo
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March 20th, 2022

By Danielle Ezzo

TIME & AGAIN #1 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #1 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

Obscura Journal Contributor Danielle Ezzo recently interviewed artist Mickey Smith in preparation for the first ever Foundry Commission drop, where five artists were awarded the opportunity to envision and work on a new project of their choosing. The first generation of artists received mentorship and curatorial assistance throughout the process. Smith discusses TIME & AGAIN, a series of twenty five images created for the commission and her experience with archives, libraries, and the unique relationship they share with grief.

DE: Before we get into your Obscura Commission, can you tell us about your practice at large?

MS: My practice over the last two decades has been primarily focused on libraries, books and archives – in particular the social significance of their physical existence or disappearance.

TIME & AGAIN #8 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #8 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

DE: Knowing that, talk more about how you came to develop the newest project, TIME & AGAIN?

MS: When I first heard of the blockchain, I wasn’t particularly interested in NFTs, but more intrigued about how books and archives might be conceptually represented “on-chain.” The Obscura Foundry Commission has given me the opportunity to consider and explore that evolution, creating a new representation of the library.

DE: You know, maybe more than many of us, the arduous process of keeping archives up to date. In the case of this project, you set out to look at the digitization process of physical objects, can you talk more about your process?

MS: The foundational images were created in two University libraries, including a large map library, the holdings of which were being significantly scaled back. I’ve focused on the symbols and language used in the process of digitization of physical objects including books, maps and newspapers. Putting my hand to the work for the first time by manipulating layers of imagery together (Suddenly, I understood the plight of the painter, never knowing when to stop and declare the work finished!).

TIME & AGAIN #14 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #14 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

DE: The images that I’ve seen so far look like two processes, I’m only guessing here, but scanning and projection. Is that correct and how were the images selected for each part of the project?

MS: The first layer is a photograph made of a physical object. The additional layers were sourced from Web 2.0’s largest online library, The Internet Archive. The holdings of the library are vast, but my focus was on collections that had been scanned from microfilm or microfiche, which over the years have proven to be unstable. Ironically, trolling through the online collections felt quite similar to my research practice in a physical library. No one search criteria can lead me to what I am after. It is all about the hunt, to look and look and look until I stumble upon something which forces contemplation of its meaning beyond the library.

TIME & AGAIN #16 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #16 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

DE: Text factors into the work as well with images such as, “ Reel No. 110” (Time & Again, #16) and “END” (Time & Again, #25). What significance does text play for you?

MS: Bound volumes of newspapers were discarded once they were scanned onto microfilm. Microfilm was thrown out because of its instability. This information, these cultural resources are now gone and have entered their third generation. The visual clues and symbols tell us where we must START or END to engage with an object that no longer exists. The stains of deterioration scar the pages, which are no longer pages. The edges of books that have been scanned frame the information, sometimes man made, sometimes machine made.

TIME & AGAIN #13 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #13 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

DE: When I think about the archive, I think about the book ‘The Future of Nostalgia’ by Svetlana Boym and the etymology and history of nostalgia was considered a malady. They’re many reasons why that was, of course, but we think about the word and notion of being nostalgic as more of a psychological state today. What strikes me in speaking to you about your story is how grief played a role in the evolution of this project. Can you speak more to how grief plays a role in this body of work?

MS: The title TIME & AGAIN was taken from a piece artist Lawrence Weiner wrote for Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara in 2002. In referencing his work, which dealt primarily with the passage of time, he wrote:

TIME & AGAIN TO STEP OUT OF HISTORY AS WE KNOW IT 
& AFFIRM THAT THEY ARE STILL ALIVE AT LEAST FOR TODAY 
& AS A HOSTAGE OF HISTORY TO HOLD UP A NEWSPAPER TO ATTEST TO
THE REALITY OF HAVING GOTTEN TO THE PRESENT 
DOES DO GIVE ONE HOPE

Lawrence Weiner, ON READING ON KAWARA, NYC 2002
Lawrence Weiner, ON READING ON KAWARA, NYC 2002
On Kawara, Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970. From I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000. Telegram. 5 3/4 x 8 in. (14.6 x 20.3 cm). LeWitt Collection. Chester, Connecticut.
On Kawara, Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970. From I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000. Telegram. 5 3/4 x 8 in. (14.6 x 20.3 cm). LeWitt Collection. Chester, Connecticut.

Less than a week after titling this commission work TIME & AGAIN Lawrence Weiner died.

In the process of this commission, all five of us were all encouraged to share our progress with MFAH Photography Curator, Lisa Volpe. Lisa related the layers of deteriorating film as skin; to the library as a metaphor for grief.

Ironically in the many years I have worked in libraries, although I have recognized the feeling of nostalgia, grief was a new and welcome metaphor. Four years ago I lost my husband, creative partner, and father of our son to brain cancer. Aaron’s final years were fraught with intense beauty and excruciating emotional and physical pain.

At the start of the pandemic I lost my father. His ashes are on a friend’s mantel back in Minnesota, waiting for my return home.

Although we take nothing with us, I’m weighed down by the concept of what we leave behind. I was the one left responsible for what both my husband and father left behind and have spent years sifting through boxes of shoes, letters, clothing, music, memorabilia. Grief has been so omnipresent for so damn long, perhaps I’ve become numb to its pervasiveness. It is no surprise it has made its way into my work.

TIME & AGAIN #10 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #10 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

DE: Have you discovered anything about the contemporary moment by looking into the past?

MS: As with life, it seems to me that we keep recreating the same patterns, but with different people. Different technologies. Time and again. As time passes, each layer becomes thinner, more temporal, and even more difficult to recall.

DE: I keep thinking about the ever-increasing amount of images and data out in the world. Institutions and organizations already experience a lag in processing this information—a lack of time and funding—to keep their archives up to date, digitized, and stored safely. With digital technology being a primary medium of information, and now, with the blockchain, it seems like an unprecedented amount of information. And the possibility to preserve it all. I wonder if you’ve thought of the future of all the information we’re collecting and making right now and what the archivist of the future might think? What will they have to do to keep digital material safe from the forward thrust of time?

TIME & AGAIN #9 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #9 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

MS: Meeting with the National Library of New Zealand a few months ago, the chief conservationist told me it was their duty to preserve holdings for 1000 years plus one day. Archives are still trying to figure out how to archive Web 2.0. They won’t be able to keep digital material safe unless the mindset of the conservationist shifts radically from the past and into the future. What the August Sander family has done is revolutionary. Handing the archive over to the people, because it cannot be tracked or held precious by one family, one archive, one institution.

None of us are safe from the thrust of time.

DE: You are part of the first cohort of the Foundry Commission artists. Can you tell us more about what this represents to you and what the experience was like?

MS: The Foundry Commission has been like no other award.

Since leaving New York for New Zealand at what was arguably the “height” of my career, I’ve felt isolated. Starting over again in a parochial arts community, raising a son and losing a husband meant only just keeping my head above water creatively. (Looking back, it is actually shocking how much I created despite the circumstances!) To say the last decade has been challenging personally and professionally is an understatement.

Despite this, the Obscura team could still see what I could contribute as an artist and mentor in the NFT space. That faith has fueled my desire to make a strong body of work. Also keenly aware that if we succeed, there will be a second generation of artists who will benefit from this incredible opportunity.

Finally, being one of the first NFT native commissions ever created, it was important to me that this work acknowledge this new frontier formally and conceptually.

A very tall order, but I’ve hopefully accomplished what I set out to do.

TIME & AGAIN #19 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #19 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #25 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission
TIME & AGAIN #25 by Mickey Smith, Obscura Foundry Commission

To view the full collection of Mickey Smith’s Obscura Foundry Commission TIME & AGAIN:

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