Matt Smith is interested in how history is a constantly selected and refined narrative that edits out marginalised histories and presents itself as a fixed and accurate account of the past. His practice often consists of site-specific interventions in museums (Queering the Museum, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 2010), historic houses (Unravelling the National Trust 2012-2014) and public collections (Other Stories, Leeds University Art Collection, 2012) using craft materials and techniques: infiltrating establishment organisations and shifting their – and their visitors’ – points of reference. Using techniques of institutional critique, artist intervention and re-appropriation, the familiar is made unfamiliar and power structures are brought to light. Smith’s use of craft, with its connotations of the amateur, accessibility and gender, and his exploitation of its place in the art world, mean that his pieces utilise mainstream culture and unsettle it, taking objects from their intended role and repurposing them in new situations – creating a visual polari.
Smith is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Brighton, titled Making Things Perfectly Queer: Art’s use of Craft to signify LGBT identities, following a Dip HE in Ceramics from City Lit, a BA(hons) from the University of Westminster in Ceramics, and MA Museum Studies from University of Leicester. His exhibitions include: Unravelling Uppark, The National Trust, 2014, Subversive Design, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, 2013-14, Unravelling Nymans, Nymans House, The National Trust, 2012, Other Stories (solo show), Leeds University Art Collection, 2012, Queering the Museum (solo show), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 2010 and Milk (solo show), ASPEX, Portsmouth, 2010.
What is it about the Young Masters project that you are most interested in?
The context – both the spaces where the work is being shown and also the other works, both contemporary and historic that are being shown alongside the Young Masters selected pieces. I was also interested in – and delighted by – the negation of the arbritary divide between ‘fine art’ and ceramics in the call for applications.
Can you explain to us what your work is about?
I keep coming back to an unpicking and reexamination of history, particularly through objects. This leads onto questioning and intervening in how museums selectively distill and edit the past.
Which artist/s are you most inspired by?
Fred Wilson and Glenn Ligon are both up there for their practices. If money was no object, I could very much live with a Kiki Smith or a Laura Ford.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I worked in museums for many years, and gradually moved from curating to making. My current practice straddles the two areas.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I was interested in the idea of permanence and how transient life is. Watching the conservation teams at the V&A, I realised that clay was one of the most durable materials in the collection, and this chose the medium I trained in.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
A force for evil.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
Queering the Museum in 2010/2011 saw me reinterpret the collections at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery through a queer lens. It is a collection that I know well since I had been an undergraduate in Birmingham. The chance to work with such great objects, and to take risks with their interpretation is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been working on a PhD for the last few years at the University of Brighton, looking to how artists use craft materials when addressing identity politics. I would like to see how this knowledge could be translated into an exhibition in the future.