Barbara T. Smith, Performance Audio 1969 – 1988 record launch & screening

September 12, 2013
  • Cover art for Barbara T. Smith, Performance Audio 1969-1988

    Opening remarks from
    Barbara T. Smith: Performance Audio 1969-1988
    Record Launch at Ooga Booga #2/356 S. Mission Rd.

    LeRoy Stevens: Thanks to 356 Mission and Ooga Booga for hosting tonight’s event. We’re really happy to launch this new record by Barbara T. Smith. I assume that a lot of people here know Barbara’s work, but for those that might not be familiar, she’s an artist and she’s been making art in virtually every medium since the late 50s through now. She’s most known for her work in performance.

    Barbara T. Smith: So this great thing happened. LeRoy works with sound, and he came to me and asked if he could make a record of selected sound from some of my performances. And it was such a great idea.

    LS: I was aware that sound played a significant role in “Mass Meal” and “Feed Me,” two well known pieces of Barbara’s.  Upon working on this project, it became clear that sound recordings were used in virtually all of Barbara’s performances – also, that the sound was only really heard during the performance and that people haven’t really been able to listen to it because it was never released.  

    BTS: Right, unless you were there you never ever got to hear it. And some of it’s very interesting. This set of pieces actually follows the trajectory of my work right up until 1988. The earliest piece is relatively dark and hypnotic, an intense dark piece. And then we go through smaller recordings on the second side. It includes samples from this movie that we’re about to see, that was made in 1971 by Mallory Slate (Starbiker). He was commissioned to do the film by KQED in San Francisco as a part of a series, three films about competition and I can’t remember if he actually did another one but he did this one. I happened to be involved with a motorcycle racer and he was really a very wild guy. He was also very important in my early performance work because I had just come out of a divorce and I was starting to explore my  own wild ideas and he was very instrumental in keeping me from falling into fear while I was doing the work. Also he made car bodies and other things for motorcycles like fenders and gas tanks so he knew a whole lot about fiberglass. And I ended up building a very large fiberglass sculpture which I knew nothing about beyond what I wanted it to look like. He was really instrumental in all the research that went into making that and for me to learn to work with that material.

    LS: That piece is actually in the film (Field Piece, 1971). I wanted to say also that most of the audio included on the record was prerecorded to play during the performance, but it also includes some poetry that came from this film, which is another reason why we’re showing it tonight. 

    BTS: Oh, I should tell the story of this drawing from the cover. This is a mystic cat. In 1972, Tom Marioni, who ran the very important performance space in San Francisco the Museum of Conceptual Art, he was a friend. He also made sound pieces, and so he invited a bunch of his friends, artists, for each of us to make a two minute sound piece and for that he would exhibit whatever drawings or diagrams in the show, on the wall while the audio was playing on loops. I all of a sudden got this idea, this urge to make a picture of this cat. It’s a very innocent cat, it’s got halos on it and it’s on a man’s chest, doing this kind of kneading thing. So I collected bits of sound, part being a cat purring. We took this up to San Francisco where we built two minutes of sound. Then we went to the opening, and one of the artists who was supposed to be there, Terry Fox, wasn’t at the show. So we asked Tom, “where’s Terry?” and he said, “Terry’s in the hospital right now, having his sternum removed.” And I realized, holy shit, this is what this drawing is about, this cat kneading a man’s chest. So I told Tom to give the drawing to Terry. Then years go by and I went to visit Tom and I asked, “did you ever give that drawing to Terry?” and he said, “oh, no I forgot.” He went and got it and gave it back to me. The wild thing was, there’s some kind of mystical connection with Terry because at the same time, right after that, Terry started doing sound pieces using cat purrs, and he had never done that before. So Terry never saw the drawing and he has since passed away. I think of that as one of those weird things that happens in art.

    Tags: Barbara T. Smith, LeRoy Stevens