Inspiriting body/Embodying spirit: The Art of Kiki Smith

Diane Fremont

My ongoing inquiry into the nature of creative process has led me to focus, in this paper, on the metaphor of the body as clothing, vessel and ground for the manifestation of spirit and, conversely, on the body’s agency in longing for and seeking to bring to life its own hidden, inner spirit. The work of Kiki Smith, one of the most intuitive and influential artists of her generation, draws the spirit deeply into a bodily feminine narrative on a number of levels, through media, method, style and content. Her intensive process transfigures this convergence of embodied spirit and inspirited body into an extraordinary array of symbolic forms, exemplifying a singularly feminine mode of creation.

Kiki Smith’s work is delicate, open and ephemeral but also humble, earthy, and broad ranging in its sources as well as in its influence. At times her work can also be dangerously bold and transgressive, as the dandelion’s weedy stealth, ubiquity, indomitability and even the name “dandelion”, meaning “lion’s teeth”, suggest. The childlike sense of wonder and trust we see in this photograph conveys Smith’s light, playful, trusting approach to her work, which, on the other hand, is by no means innocent, but deeply self-aware, with sophisticated psychological, political and historical insights as well as far-ranging art-historical references and sources. The spirited playfulness exemplified by Smith’s approach to her work evokes Winnicott’s well-known theory that play is the foundation of creative living and cultural life (102).

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