Introductions: Stephanie Smith and Bryan Allen
Meet Stephanie Smith and Bryan Allen, the collaborative duo behind Smith|Allen. Here is what they had to say about their process and coming to Project 387:
1. Tell us briefly about the focus of your work.
As a collaborative duo, Smith|Allen brings together an architect and designer with a sculpture and installation artist. Our work responds to site, form, structure, and interaction. We are focused on creating site-responsive, large scale works. We are interested in investigating the relationship between nature and technology. We explore this dialectic through different lenses of man, machine, and environment. We seek grafts, transmutations, and transfigurations within the space of the forest: transforming a ubiquitous landscape in Northern California into a hybridized, supernatural experience. A comment on the true nature of the forest, not as a natural system but a palimpsest and juxtaposition of temporal experience.
2. What themes are you currently exploring?
Our practice is conceptually based in ideas of translation and recontextualization, specifically exploring a relationship between nature and technology. Our work successively abstracts natural forms through analog and digital means: from hand drawings, digital representations, and computer analysis to a re-physicalized 3D form.
3. What are you looking at, reading, or listening to right now that is influencing your work or process?
Being on the site and drawing inspiration from the natural growths and unnatural interactions that we see there. Our work is inherently site-specific and we are interested to be making work at a site. We took a weekend trip up to the Project 387 in early June, so that we could map out potential locations for our project. We were able to explore the geography, from the lower grounds to upper, to find a site that fit the goals of the project. Amid a synonymous landscape of redwoods, we mapped the site and filled our cameras with photographs of textures and landscape. We have created a scale model of the chosen site, and used the images as source material for the structure of the piece.
We are influenced by the remote installation work of Sixteen-Makers, the grandeur and comprehensiveness of Jean-Claude and Christo, the visions and theory of Liam Young, the ephemerality of Robert Irwin, and the architectural grafts and corruptions of Lebbeus Woods. We are inspired by those who recognize conflicts and interactions of the natural and technological world, and instead of glossing over them, choose to dig in, to investigate, and to use these outliers as critiques, as foils, and as fuel.
4. What does a typical day in the studio/office look like for you?
We work together and live together, which allows for constant creative interchange between us. We both have day jobs so the majority of our work happens in off hours.
Our works begin with dialogue, where we bounce back ideas to each other: playing proposing, and imagining. We do small models and drawings, sketches and other ways to simply explore ideas. Then our process becomes more of an exchange, we break up and work independently, and then reconvene and reconfigure based on critique and feedback.
Our loft is now full of drawings, models, site photographs, and 3D printers, which constantly run the large scale installation we are making for Project 387. The hum and buzz of the eight printers provides a constant backdrop for creativity, a grounding and an imperative for the progress of the project.
5. Is there anything unusual that helps you stay focused while working?
Stephanie: It keeps me focused to have my studio in our loft, to have the materials at hand all the time, it is a constant reminder to keep working. But, what keeps me focused above all, is the fact that I live and work with my collaborator!
Bryan: Staying focused and staying creative is always a challenge, it takes work and rigor to stay sharp. Luckily, Steph and I are always thinking about ideas in the backs of our minds, and at random moments, our conversation might be interrupted by ‘hey what if we did...” with the solution from a problem hours before. This open ongoing dialogue keeps us going. It also helps to have the printers constantly running in the background producing parts for the project.
6. What's the best advice someone has giving you about your work? The worst?
Bryan: That all work has to tell a story, to involve the audience and get them into it. It has to mean something to someone, to be perfomative and useful. It Doesn’t matter what it says, but your work has to say something.
Stephanie: The best advice someone gave me came a few months out of art school, during a crucial time where I no longer had resources to create on the scale or with materials I was used to, with no more consistent exhibition opportunities on the horizon. The advice was to keep producing, to keep making, and that anything can be an exhibition opportunity, whether in a coffee shop or your living room.
Stephanie: The worst advice I received was that I should be a painter.
Bryan: I don’t usually listen to advice of any sort. But the worst would have to be to ‘get a job’ coming from a professional architect.
7. Are you involved in any upcoming shows/events/happenings?
We are just wrapping up a show at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, where a sculpture has been on view for the past month. We recently had one of our sculptures featured in the 7x7 magazine’s best of tech section. Our work is being displayed online by Type A Machines, the company that makes the 3D printers we use. We are working to continue building a body of work, get a website up, and start applying for other exhibitions and residencies.
8. Is there one particular thing you are most looking forward to at Project 387?
We are looking forward to this as a creative retreat, an intensive ascetic adventure into the forest. An immersion into a creative microcosm with a multiplicity of artists and visions, united by a single drive to create great work for the site. We are excited by the chance to escape our jobs, the city, and the outside world, and just focus on craft, making, and creating.