Oliver Smart is a London-based artist who explores mechanical, biological and social systems sculpturally through playfully subverting precision and active geometry. He is a regular puppetry tutor at Rose Bruford College on the BA (Hons) Design for Theatre and Performance.
Theatre and art are both equal aspects of my creative journey. In both contexts I mix the poetic and the analytical. I aim to acknowledge the audience and empower them to bring their own associations to the art work. – Oliver Smart
In 2022 he was awarded the Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture for his piece 5 6 7 – blue, which is on exhibition at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition until 21 August 2022. His collaboration with Ingrid Pollard, Bow Down and Very Low – 123, for her retrospective exhibition Ingrid Pollard – Carbon Slowly Turning, can be seen at the Turner Contemporary, Margate, until 25 September 2022, and at the Tate Liverpool from October 2022 until March 2023.
Oliver’s kinetic sculptures are inspired by the living movement of nature, drawing on the wildness of his childhood in Aotearoa/NZ. He has described his work as “poetic in the exploration of the scientific, and scientific in the creation of the poetic.”
5 – 6 – 7 – blue
The art work 5 6 7 – blue in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is suggestive of a natural form without being representative of a specific natural subject. It may be architectural, it may be an insect and/or it maybe a plant. 5 6 7 – blue has the freedom to be all of these aspects in the same moment.
Bow Down and Very Low – 123
The three large kinetic sculptures which constitute Bow Down and Very Low – 123, created collaboratively with the artist Ingrid Pollard, aim to suggest the articulation of a human without being specifically representative of a person. The viewer will experience an empathy for the nature of the movement but not feel clear as to who this person is in front of them bowing or striking.
The initial impetus which Ingrid approached Oliver with in 2020 was a piece of archival UK Government film footage from the 1950s of a young black girl curtseying as May Queen in a British village where everyone else is white. The subtlety of this movement is very interesting and decoding and then interpreting this through the mechanical sculptures was achieved through exploring a vast range of movements and mechanisms.
Oliver’s solo exhibition Suspending Motion this year at Walthamstow Wetlands offered an opportunity to present art works spanning eight years: from representative sculptural studies of dragonflies and butterflies to more recent work exploring physical response and suggested abstract form.
The exhibition was held within a converted Victorian Era engine house surrounded by the nature which inspired the art works and was the ideal mix of a natural, historic and cultural place for Oliver’s works to be experienced.
Oliver uses drawing consistently throughout both his theatre and sculptural practices, using drawing as a method to actively observe the world around him, playing with shape and combinations. In his studio he also has space to dance and explore movement himself, using his own movements to devise mechanisms and articulation: “I discover and play with movement in my own body and with objects and join these together and combine them.”
Teaching at Rose Bruford College
Oliver has worked with the Design for Theatre and Performance students at Rose Bruford College since 2013, bringing the element of performance and active exploration to design studies, and passing on his fascination with puppetry. He has found that using objects, materials and puppets to present characters and elements in a performative context unleashes “an infinite tide of potential” both in the devising process and in performance, through its scope for fluidity and transformation.
In my teaching at Rose Bruford I wish to inspire a playful and experimental exploration of shifting context and character through objects and materials. I am fascinated by how an object can seem impossibly alive through the techniques of puppetry. – Oliver Smart
You can find Oliver online at https://www.oliversmartstudio.com/ and at his London studio.