Emma Smith

24 April 2019 By

Emma Smith (b. 1981, London, UK) has a socially engaged art practice, creating public platforms for experimentation, research and action through site‐specific events, installations and performance. Developed through historical research and collaboration with a range of individuals, her work investigates human relationships, specifically exploring hidden forms of connection: the intimate, the transient, the subconscious and the invisible.

In 2017 Smith produced Televox, the first commission by Art on the Underground’s artist‐led engagement programme, which focuses on communities working and living along the Northern Line Extension (due for completion in 2020). Smith walked the length of the Extension in three days, collecting messages from residents and businesses about what being a neighbour meant to them. The messages were translated into Morse code, then into a musical score for a pianola (self‐performing piano). The placement of the notes and timings were determined according to the geographic location from which the message was given. Televox, publicly performed at Battersea Power Station’s Village Hall and available to all online, connected these communities through the unique piece of music collectively produced.

Wunderblock, Smith’s current exhibition at Freud Museum London, encourages us to consider and question our own beliefs in relation to the current status of children in our society. Working collaboratively with the Hidden Persuaders Project (HPP) at Birkbeck, University of London, Smith’s work draws on ground‐breaking research into the fascination with the infant mind after 1945 and how child psychoanalysis and psychiatry sought to influence, understand and encourage the healthy development of children’s minds post‐war.

Smith’s artworks and interventions, ranging from intimate exchanges to large‐scale installation, are dotted around the unique domestic setting of Freud’s former home. Works such as World Play – an immersive installation inspired by children’s ‘inner worlds’ – interrogate some of this complex narrative and aim to highlight the hidden history of the child’s influence over the adult world. Milk Tongue, a sound piece, plays through a set of headphones hooked over a rocking chair in the corner of Anna Freud’s room, mostly preserved as it was during her lifetime. This work highlights the dramatic impact that babies have on adult speech and tacit communication, exploring how language is shaped by children. Working with parents and infants (all aged under one), Smith recorded their interactions and composed a lullaby from ‘parentese’: the non‐verbal, melodic sounds that children evoke in adults (‘baby talk’).

5Hz and Euphonia, currently at HOME, Manchester – also explore the sounds we make to connect with one another. 5Hz, centred around the invention of a new singing language, transcends language barriers and is designed to strengthen social connections. Developed through a year‐long research process examining psychological and neurological responses to the human voice, Smith’s new human language is made up of three components: an alphabet, syllabary and glides. Euphonia, an interactive eight‐speaker sound installation, is based on the music we make subconsciously when chatting socially, extracted from conversations of chit‐chat and harmonious debate. This interactive work retains the two directional nature of social interaction by enabling you to influence and alter the score through speaking into the microphone.

Smith places engagement at the heart of her practice, successfully converting the museum from a space of contemplation to one of active research where experimentation and collective action can take place. Her work is timely and relevant, testing the boundaries of human connectivity and exploring how our interactions are constantly changing. At a time when concern over the mental health and rights of children and young people regularly makes headlines, Smith’s exhibition at Freud Museum London provokes debate and reflection, connecting psychoanalysis to the contemporary social world.


Current exhibitions

  • 5Hz & Euphonia at HOME, Manchester until 19 May 2019
  • Wunderblock at Freud Museum London until 26 May 2019

Upcoming events & performances

  • The Hidden Persuader (artist discussion), Freud Museum London, Wednesday 22 May 2019 – tickets here
  • Art Night Open, London, Saturday 22 June 2019
  • Nocturnal Creatures, Whitechapel Gallery, London, Saturday 20 July 2019
  • Wysing Polyphonic, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, Saturday 7 September 2019
  • American Export, Grand Union, Birmingham, Autumn 2019
  • A.W. (Women at Work), Cambridge City Centre, Autumn/Winter 2019