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Michael Smith

School Work: Summer Session, 2009



For 30 years, Smith has intertwined the worlds of art and entertainment, through performances, video and installations, which tell the tales of his eponymous persona, Mike. Mike is the contemporary Everyman whose character dispels any illusion of transcendence. He is persistently ambitious, guided by the pitches of mass media, but never quite comprehending or realizing their reward. Through his comic persona, Smith articulates the mundanity of popular culture and technologic progress, and the isolation of those whose lives are shaped by it. At Homie, Smith presents two works, Portal Excursions (2005-07) and Sears Class Portraits (1999-2009) which intertwine the artist and his alter ego’s pursuit of belonging and achievement.

In Portal Excursions, Mike's lonely lifelong project of knowledge acquisition is renewed when, at middle age, he discovers OpenCourseWare, MIT's 'free and open educational resource for self-learners around the world.' In a dreamlike, deadpan meditation on isolation in the Global Village, Mike expounds on the potential to increase learning efficiency via digital platforms. Shot and edited at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, the video is accompanied by a soundtrack by Red Krayola co-founder, Mayo Thompson. (text adapted by Larissa Harris, EAI)

Over the past 10 years, Smith has taught at several institutions including Yale, Cranbrook, UCLA, and currently the University of Texas in Austin. Since 1999 he has taken many of his classes to the local Sears where they pose for a group portrait. In the series, Sears Class Portraits, the distinction between the artist and his persona is obfuscated. Although Smith employs the same comic expressions as Mike, the portraits present a contrast with the fictional Portal Excursions, and offer a sincere glimpse of the artist’s real life. The photos embody the complexity, self-effacement, benevolence, and success of both Smith and his alter ego, Mike.