• Sable Elyse Smith
  • Sable Elyse Smith
  • Sable Elyse Smith

Sable Elyse Smith

Ordinary Violence

August 17, 2018 –January 27, 2019

Using video, sculpture, photography and text Sable Elyse Smith (b. 1986, Los Angeles, California) draws attention to the structures and systems that shape our lives. Smith points to the carceral, the personal, the political, and the quotidian to speak about a violence that is largely unseen, and potentially imperceptible.

Smith’s poetic, conceptualist approach seeks to make visible and visceral the effects of systemic exertions of trauma. Whether focusing our attention on specific systems of surveillance and structures of constraint, or on the silent brutality that permeates everyday black life, many of Smith’s works connect us to her personal experience. Some works on view speak directly to the prison and criminal justice systems as sites, at once familiar and foreign to many. A poetic text-object describes the protocols for prison visitation; a photographic object exposes the microeconomy built around inmate-visitor portraits; a found object—coloring book pages designed for children entering courtrooms—is scribbled on and scaled up; another found object—the kind of aluminum table common in prisons—is transformed into a monumental arch. Other works point obliquely to the experience of subjected individuals and communities. A neon text referencing the internet phenomenon of “planking” asks us to consider the viral circulation of images of other bodies, face down; a video of fragmented, non-narrative imagery weaves together generic “urban” street scenes, footage of two white men undergoing tactical firearm training, excerpts from Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 documentary Powers of 10, and scenes of Smith’s father.

Whatever form it takes, Smith’s work attempts to materialize and aestheticize the words, sounds, gestures and embodied experiences that characterize far-reaching cycles of violence and systems of control. As Sampada Aranke notes in her catalogue essay, Smith—in making these conditions noticeable and felt—encourages us to “reshape our perceptual, affective, and embodied modes of attention.” The artist provides a portal and invites us to pass through these emotional landscapes; she asks us to see with the hope that what we encounter cannot be unseen.

Support for this exhibition and accompanying programs is provided by the Beatrice Haggerty Endowment Fund, the Eleanor H. Boheim Endowment Fund, the Frederick A. and Mary Ellen Muth Program Endowment, the Haggerty Museum Sommerich Fund, the Joan Pick Endowment Fund, the Lillian Rojtman Berkman Endowment Fund, the Marquette University Women’s Council Endowment Fund, the Martha and Ray Smith, Jr. Endowment Fund, the Mary Martha Doerr Endowment Fund, the Nelson Goodman Endowment Fund, the Richard P. Herzfeld Endowment Fund, the Spicuzza/Hambling Quasi-Endowed Fund, the Stackner Family Endowment Fund, and Greater Milwaukee Foundation.



Most exhibitions feature a guide, offering illustrations, essays by national and international scholars and museum staff, artist biographies, exhibition histories, bibliographies and a list of works. Guides are available for purchase at the museum or by emailing us.


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