Adam¡¯s interview
Adam Parker Smith   Adam¡¯s interview
Location: New York  Workshop
Interviewer: Shen Ruijun
Recording: Zhang Jieqian,Fan Qin
Chinese Proofreading£ºZhang Jieqian,Fan Qin
English Proofreading£ºZhang Jieqian,Fan Qin
Shen Ruijun£ºFirst of all, will you please introduce your work a little bit?
Adam£ºMy work consists of sculpture, installation, photography and video. Basically the concept normally dictates the material that¡¯s used. So the media represents the idea that I am dealing with, which also varies greatly from project to project.
Shen Ruijun£ºWhen you went to school, you went to the painting department and you did paintings. Then before graduation, you suddenly changed your idea. So can you tell us what happened to bring about this change? What made you decide to involve other people in the project and your concept£¿ Can you talk about that?
Adam£ºMy first year back at school, I painted. I went through a lot of difficulties in painting. A friend of mine came to the studio and he said that he had had this dream where I was making puppets and I really liked the idea. He said, ¡°In my dream  it was always your idea. You should really try it.¡±Initially, my idea was to make these figures, these objects and I would use them to paint from. And gradually, they evolved into these dolls.  I made fifteen to twenty of these dolls and they were nude. I always anticipated to putting clothes on them but that never happened because of my lack of sewing skills. So what I had was fifteen to twenty naked dolls and they were very detailed and probably crafted according to the people I knew or want to know. So I started painting from these and at a certain point I realized that the dolls that I had made were more interesting than the paintings that I was making. My final show that year consisted of these twenty dolls. They were sort of walking around the gallery or standing in the gallery with about seventy paintings of the dolls done by other people. So what I did was I took the dolls and gave them to other artists and asked them to do paintings of them. I guess that was the dividing line for me between being a painter and the sculptor. After that I continued to make sculpture and initially it was a lot of textile and then that sort of faded away.
Shen Ruijun: So I guess you have about seventy people making paintings out of your dolls they must have different style, so you don¡¯t care?
Adam:No, that was important. Initially, I was trying to do different paintings and I realized that what I was trying to achieve was different perspectives, different viewpoints of certain subjects. It just seemed silly that I was trying emulate these different perspectives. From there I just thought that I could have different people who have different perspectives do it. So what¡¯s still important to me in my work is the idea  that my work can be accessible to a wide variety of people and make everybody have their individual experiences. My work serves as a platform for experiences to grow on as close to my interpretation of what should be growing on them. 
Shen Ruijun: So do you show the dolls together with the paintings or you just show the paintings?
Adam:For that I actually show the dolls together with the paintings, so the dolls have their space in the gallery. I have shown the dolls without the paintings. But I think the  most successful show that I did with the dolls was probably that first show with the paintings.
Shen Ruijun: Can you talk about the other cooperative projects, like the one in the Blue Sky program.
Adam:Sure, that¡¯s one of my favorites. There was a program called Blue Sky. What happened was for ten weeks I was paired with eight to ten high school students. They worked four days a week, six hours a day. They were collaborative assistants. Every year there are four to five artists chosen for this program.  So you come in the project with the framework, but you have the significant voice in the project. The young collaborators have enough room to be creative within this framework. And therefore, the project ultimately became partly theirs. So I evolved this project from a piece that had not worked for me.  I have worked on a piece in my studio that was a textile statue basically. A friend of mine came in and said, ¡°That is a mediocre piece. ¡±I said, ¡°Right. That¡¯s too mediocre.¡±But I ended up reworking a part that I liked which was the head. So I cut off the head and put it on a pike. I found for the kids it may be too difficult to do the project. So the project ended up being about 80 separate felt heads. We started with our self-portraits actually, the kids and I.  It¡¯s a little creepy to have your own heads on a pike. At that time, we all tried to dig into our imagination, so it was a matter of picking people out of our minds.
Shen Ruijun: So you decide whose portrait is to be made?
Adam:No, the kids actually did. There was a little debates. I did  have the deciding power, and I would encourage them to make certain portraits, but they made their own decision initially. Maybe one kid would say, ¡°I want to make my grandmother¡¯s head¡± or ¡°the guy I have a crush on¡± or ¡°the one I saw on TV¡±. It was pretty random, the kids came up with their own ideas about the heads.
Shen Ruijun: So what instructions you gave them? What¡¯s the bottom line. When can they do what they want to do.
Adam:You can make whoever you want, from the imagination, from the media. I didn¡¯t give them all that framework. I just explained to them that it would be portraits, heads and felt. The project shifted from what I had initially depicted. My original idea is like a bizarre celebration that was terrifying and horrible. It can also be about freedom and happiness. It could be a bizarre mixture of emotion that Hemingway described like an awkwardness in a wedding, birthday or funeral. This is my initial idea. I guess it just sort of changed along with all the different minds.
Shen Ruijun: So I wonder if your methods of doing this project is a little bit like teaching?
Adam:I think great things happen when you cooperate because that means more minds, more imagination, more hands. All of these contribute to the project. As far as the teaching is concerned, it does make sense because I spent a lot of time in the classroom working with the kids, watching them make work and trying to figure out ways to push them to be more creative.
Shen Ruijun: Do you have this experience because you usually when you do cooperating project , you usually do not work and you just give an idea£¿ So does it happen that the outcome is not like what you expect. Or you actually are satisfied when something comes out?
Adam:I just told them from the very beginning, ¡° You have to be perfect or up to some certain standards. If it¡¯s not good we can make again. ¡±  But in  the classroom I will say ¡°That¡¯s nice¡± or ¡°Good job¡±. It doesn¡¯t have to be the way I wanted then, but when it is my own work, it¡¯s much different. It¡¯s funny because I have taught a lot of kids, I found that normally the work they produce or create would be great if you treat them as a professional.
Shen Ruijun: So actually you make more than what you show. You make a lot, and then you decide to show some of them.
Adam:I would say 95% of the heads made the show. Sometimes there would be a couple that didn¡¯t make the cut or there were some that I didn¡¯t really like. There were originally two planned shows, of course there are quite a number of shows with heads, but initially I had planned a show in New-York , there was also a show in Chicago. All the kids attended the one in Chicago and I just put everything in. But it was not case for the one in New York. I think that¡¯s the process, you create some pieces and then you decide which ones will make it to the show. But in the end, most heads are shown anyway.
Shen Ruijun: I think the process is also related to some of your interests, like control, out of control or like decay and build it. Can you tell us why you are interested in mixing two extreme elements together£¿ I remember you have a piano piece. It fell down and you stayed there to control the fire. It is crushed but not totally. It is in-between.
Adam:I confess that the quintessential process of making art is like struggle and resolution. I don¡¯t know if it is the case for everybody, but it definitely is for me. When you struggle, you become overwhelmed and stressed. It can be depressing. There is a struggle and there is a resolution. Struggling means there are challenges that will cause problems so there needs to be a resolution. I find that this process makes my work more interesting. The struggle in the process, I think is what drives the viewer. If you go to the cinema or read a book, there has to be a development with the characters. And the process is just alike, there is a problem, and somebody tries to overcome the obstacle. My idea in my work is that when people look at my work, they also see a struggle and a resolution. I think that¡¯s part of my personality too. I like to do new things. And this process is always new. I mean, there is never an end. Once there is a resolution, it will be followed by another struggle. Just like, you wake up in the morning feeling great and then there a problem, or obstacle comes around.
Shen Ruijun: I have to ask maybe for the Chinese audience. In terms of American dreams, my opinion is that you always push to do the best because this character is rooted in the American culture. But when we get into your work, we can see that you always have the bad side, good side and these two size together. So what I understand is a little different from my understanding of American culture, like to be strong and always be tough. What is your thought about this?
Adam:I think everybody is trying to achieve this ultimate sort of success or completion. While individually you may be trying to achieve this great thing, I think on the other side, looking in, that¡¯s not very exciting. I mean you never go to watch a movie about some guy who is very successful, doing very well, in a great relationship. You go to see someone whose life is falling apart. The art world is not like the business world, although one of the objectives is the same, that is to make money. But in doing that I would want my motive to be pure. By making money, I want to make my work as good as possible. If you look at a lot of work out there, I think the objective is to portray the elements of humanity which are really imperfect. I think the best artists are those who represent humanity the best. In doing so, you are presenting everything, the ugly, the good, the bad, the well-made. I think the objective is to make the best work possible. And to make the best work possible is to show also the bad side. I think that¡¯s the difference between the art and the business. The objective is the same, but the method and the product is not.
Shen Ruijun: I wonder why you like to use the pop icons like the superman in your work.
Adam:I guess I have used pop icons before, like several political figures. I guess that¡¯s because when people look at a work, they relate it to a human figure, more specifically, they relate it to an individual they know. Pop icons are accessible to the world. Whether you are Chinese or American, you know the superman and what it represents. So basically anyone can look at the work and say ¡° I get it¡±. No one is excluded. I think that¡¯s one of the appeals of the pop icons.
Shen Ruijun: So actually it¡¯s nothing about the pop culture, you just borrow the image. Do you have some opinion on the pop culture?
Adam:Well, I like pop culture, I think I am a subject of the pop culture just like everybody else. It¡¯s not a thing that I think too much about. But I don¡¯t think I have made too much of a statement about popular iconography or the media. I don¡¯t think that I let the popular icons be that conscious for me when I create. I am aware of them, and they are natural.
Shen Ruijun: I wonder how you started a project? What inspires you usually?
Adam:I think one of the big struggles for me is to decide what¡¯s the next project and where  it comes from. I have no idea. I think it is pretty intuitive. I have talked to a lot of artists about where the ideas come from and I have heard a lot of stuff. Some answers are pretty crazy. I know a person who mediates and sent me a crystal and let me to put it in my studio. I think that actually worked too. I spend a lot of time reading, talking to people, looking on the Internet. I like ideas to come from as far as I can get them. I just try to find whatever I can find to get my hands on. I find a lot of times they have to be buried in my mind and they come out in strange ways days, weeks or even years later. All of the sudden, it all makes sense. I find myself collecting materials, stories and visual elements. Sometimes I dream about work. I wake up and think to myself that it¡¯s a great piece. A couple of my pieces come that way. Sometimes they just appear.
Shen Ruijun: Does the Internet influence you a lot?
Adam:I think inevitable it has to because I spend so much time on internet. After I wake up in the morning, I look at the newspaper on line , and I check my e-mail. I don¡¯t push myself to use the  Internet more, I just think that inevitably it¡¯s part of daily life for someone like me. I think if the Internet didn¡¯t exist, I would be spending more time in book stores, talking on the phone or even watching TV or movies.
Shen Ruijun: Last time you said when you think about a new project, you always go out the studio. You don¡¯t get an idea in your studio. I have a friend who is a painter. He always says that he got the idea just from the process of painting. When he finishes a painting, that¡¯s a new investigation of another project. Your method is different .
Adam:Yes, I think some people do get ideas from materials. Once in a while, I do too. Sometimes I go to hardware stores getting piping or electrical wires.  Materials sometimes do generate material-based ideas. Not only materials, but actual painting. But for me, I get more ideas from tangible solutions like how to put things together.
Shen Ruijun: You make a lot of dolls, these dolls look a little bit scary, but actually, dolls are supposed to be adorable, why?
Adam:I was always trying to learn the different interpretations of people when they see the dolls. They may say the dolls are scary, funny or gross. People will have different reactions when they see the dolls. That¡¯s just like when you relate to people , you may find that people are attracted to different types of people. I always see it as a matter of perspective.
Shen Ruijun: Can you tell us more details about the techniques? A doll or a superman, they already have a definition, but you try to shift it, give more to its original definition. So any technique you apply to achieve this idea?
Adam:I guess a lot of times, I was just thinking out of context. Like superman makes a lot of sense in a superman comic book when you are in a comic book store. In my two collages with comic books, the Superman and the Mask, I go get the superman first. When looking at the Superman I also looked at other comic books. This project The Mask , I haven¡¯t thought of it thoroughly yet. But looking at the comic books, viewers will find it all makes sense, superhero with mask on. I wasn¡¯t thinking it would be different. For me, the moment is only to make sense in the context. I think it is a matter of taking something out of the context. It is also the same in the galleries or museums which are popular. It is about taking out of context. They are just white rooms and you put the elements from the real world into it. Then there are paintings on the wall which you will focus on. I think that is the process to generate ideas. I try to find what I really like or how to make it more interesting, to remove something or to put something in.
Shen Ruijun: Now go back to your life experience. You grew up in the North California, then you moved to New York.
Adam:I moved a lot. I counted all the places where I have spent more than two months. And there are 83 places. In New York I have been 7 places. I moved from Northern California down to Santa Cruz. I went to school there. I went to England and then Lancaster and then moved back. I went to postgraduate school in Philadelphia and went to Roman for a year. And then I moved up to New York. There are still a lot of other residences. 
Shen Ruijun: How do these experiences influence you? Both the move and the places where you have lived.
Adam:I think it is great to collect those ideas and materials by meeting different people and seeing different places. I found myself taken out of context quite often. Not now of course. When I was first at a small town in South California. I guess I always thought a little differently. Of course everybody is unique in their own individual way. But I made sense in that community. I was from there and I knew people there. But then I was taken out of the context, me in England, me in Rome. I spoke their languages and I met those people. I think that helped a lot.
Shen Ruijun: Last time, we talked about being an outsider. You want to talk about it a little bit? Do you consider yourself as an outsider?
Adam:I never really considered myself as an outsider. I think one of my objectives as a young man was to subject myself to as many things as possible. I don¡¯t like the sensation of being an outsider. No one wants to be ostracized. But of course it¡¯s inevitable if you want to experience different things. The more you experience, the less alien those things become and the more comfortable you are. For instance, I have never water-skied before. So there are two options. A is I can water ski, even though I will look stupid because I¡¯ve never tried before. B is I can  do it. I¡¯d rather choose to try things, no matter if it is speaking publicly or water skiing. More is better. The next time will be better.
Adam£ºI want to talk about Disco Ball because it is a more formal space. It is basically a Plexiglas covered in squares cut from magazines of gray, white, black and blue. It is about focusing on specific things. First, you suspect what it is, but closer you see all the things begin to happen and become more interesting. It is the reflection of people. In general, you see someone walking on the street and they are just how they look. But if you look closer or talk to them or even watch them for a while, you will probably be surprised.
Shen Ruijun: What impresses me about your work is that at the first sight, we would think: ¡°Oh, that¡¯s nothing special¡°. But we get a lot of surprises when we look closer.
Adam:A teacher that I had in graduate school presented it in this way: You look at a painting from three different distances, the first being from across the room, the second being from six to ten feet away, the last being right close to the painting. Basically, the painting should be successful at each one of these levels. You should be able to achieve something at each of these distances. I think about that all the time in relation to sculpture or ideas in general. Initially, an idea should generate a certain sensation. Half way through, when we get closer to it, you will have a second sensation. The initial sensation is backed up and fortified. I think Disco Ball operates like that. At first, you see it, there comes a draw to it. People are attracted to certain things. Those things¡­ I like to deal with are objects such as pianos, grandfather clocks, clouds and disco ball. Think about the Disco Ball, people are drawn to disco ball as it shines, reflects and moves. You don¡¯t actually ask why it¡¯s there, what¡¯s it made of,  but you already know you are attracted to it and you walk towards it, you find that the reflection doesn¡¯t move and you find there is something strange about it. And finally you know instead of being made of mere glass as you initially thought, it is made of magazine. For me the process is just like the same.
Shen Ruijun: I remember you made a piece that¡¯s like a sunset. Also you have a piece with a sun underneath and you put a photo of the water. When people enter the room, they see the water and also the sun. Can you talk about this?  Is this about true experience? Why you switch to this type of work?
Adam£ºBoth of these pieces are illusion. They are also involve direct participation from the viewers.
The first element about those pieces is the nature which is difficult to manipulate. The second element is the feeling that is created. The piece is successful with the viewers¡¯ emotion between humor and fear. It¡¯s this idea that shocks underneath. Instead of me telling people that you should be scared because you are standing in a water with a shark coming, I want them to have that sensation. I just want the viewer to think to feel something instead of me telling them. A lot of my piece before deal with fears, suspense and isolation. I think I am a little tired of telling people.
As far as the sunset piece goes, it deals with the idea of man¡¯s manipulation of nature. Once I was watching the sunset, I was getting tired because it took a while, and I thought that I could create a piece so that I can adjust the speed of the sunset.
The Thriller, and Sunset now are important pieces of mine, because since then I began to know that instead of telling others I should showing them.
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