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Body and Soul

The CAMH surveys 25 years of Kiki Smith

In the past decade, Smith made a transition from her primarily body-oriented works, shifting her focus to nature, animals in particular. Daughter (1999) is a synthesis of the two. A small papier-mâché figure of a girl wears a hooded cape of red felt like Little Red Riding Hood. Around four feet tall, she stares up with glass eyes, ringed with fine little lashes, set in her white-paper face. But it's obvious who fathered her; long wolfish strands of hair grow from her face. The work was a collaboration with Margaret De Wys, who created a haunting audio track on a motion sensor. It's pretty great, but the audio made me want more staging and theatrics from Smith's usually spare presentations.

When Smith turns her hand to animals, as in her Black Animal Drawing (1996-1998), a 36-foot etching of a collection of animals -- a deer, a wolf, a peacock, etc. -- the images and ideas are just as good, but somehow the pull they have on the viewer isn't as strong. They don't have anywhere near the impact of her body-focused works. The thing is, people are absolutely amazed by themselves. However much we might adore animals, they don't rivet us the way seeing our own kind does. A "BodyWorlds" filled with bear, dog and bird carcasses might be interesting, but it would never have anywhere near the same attendance records. Smith's survey shows us the work of an interesting and talented artist who has moved on from her most intriguing subject.

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