Chiara Valci Mazzara

Innermost room

Essay for the monograph of Erik Smith – with texts by David Komary, Christian Teckert, Bettina Klein and Jeremiah Day, 2024


Innermost room

The innermost room is the room at the very center of a house, of a place. It is encompassed, contained, and enclosed within. It is between walls, somehow or sometimes hidden, always central, often behind the first or more accessible room.

Innermost, too, is also something that defines one’s most personal and deeply held memories and beliefs, dreams and ideas.

Innermost thus describes a room and a feeling: an interior, inner space, something private, a profound sense and/or perception.

It is the perception of something present or that used to be at one time, or even just before.

Innermost is thus a space and a profound sense of place itself. It is a space and its history, its memory, what it evokes when entering or in its vicinity.

Innermost is thus a distinct and immediate perception or feeling, and at the same time a central, protected room, furthest inside.

If an innermost room is a physical space, a space within, as well as something deeply sensed, a space and a sense of place then occur and exist at the same time.

In a fire-safety context, the inner(-most) room is a room in which the only escape route is through another room (called the “access room”).

The use of an inner room is regulated by building and fire codes in order to avoid non-compliance with certain safety rules. But if perceptions, impressions, and memories are also private, internal, hidden, what code could one turn to in order to access such recollections, such histories of a room or space that used to exist but is now abandoned, fragmented, or destroyed?

How do you bring to light what used to be or what is present but remains unseen? How—starting from the impression a place emanates, or from a vague sensation that cannot yet be fully grasped, that is not known (yet)—can the former identity(ies) of a place be pieced together?

How does the mind, human perception, form a conscious thought—the one normally formed in response to a surrounding environment—without an idea or speculating about what exists beyond mere physical appearances?

How does the impression of a place make its way into our mind and awaken an interest to know about a history, a story, or an event that happened in the very same location?

How do unconscious thoughts turn into inquiry and prompt us to ask questions about what used to be?

How do you find a point of entry, the beginning of a history or a story about a place or what happened there, a space, an excavation, a cast, an object?

Innermost is a strong and deep intuition that forms the foundation of Erik Smith’s inquiry and constitutes the starting point of his process. It is an inquiry, an exploration into human subconscious perception employed to trace and mine what came before and why, what determined what existed previously and is still perceived, what is present but has yet to be revealed. Or what is destined to remain unknown.

It is an attempt to “touch” the substance and “grasp” the substrata and features of surrounding buildings, the excavated remnants of architecture, and the sounds that earth and matter produce relative, in resistance to human-made structures still present or no longer extant.

How, from the process, from an action, from an excavation, from the salvaging of shelves, can a more complete picture be drawn, or a deeper sense of truth be conveyed, through working on the “imprints” of places?

How can casts and remnants, an excavation, breaking open and reckoning with square meters of earth, evoke and re-stage the past in the present, drawing attention to those things on the margins of perception? How can one speculate on a scenario emanating from things that cannot be fully grasped?

Smith creates his own code. He constructs plans and maps of space, creates a blueprint of sounds, reconfigures floors, translates objects into their doubles, models them, or re-excavates sites. But where does he begin? From the tension generated between objects and history,

between given appearances and reality, from the perception of space and things, from circumstances that cannot be known but which still elicit—in some way—a sense of place.


Having defined innermost, one can better understand how a history—or multiple ones—can be recounted from ruins and walls, from floor patterns, from found objects, or even from a flickering street lamp, from a metal gate, from an abandoned house; one can begin to understand how to discover a history or develop a broader understanding of place starting from an interest to know, from a reverberation of the past or what still remains hidden or unknown, from a “reflection” of something intuited in a room.


If innermost is in some way something centrally located, concealed, deeper, then inner is a space and a feeling at the same time. It is a sensation in the moment and a memory of what is present, used to be, or will be: and these varying scenarios are all equally possible narratives.

Innermost is a space that exists for a reason, a reason that will be addressed later on. What is relevant at this juncture is the distinction between the world we have created versus how we envision it or what might be possible: of importance here is that both are—forms of—reality*.

Lefebvre conjectured that society had become completely urbanized, setting forth his theories in the Critique of Everyday Life. In it one finds an almost direct correspondence between the human, the urban fabric, the social environment, and in particular the urban environment, in which Lefebvre separates “moments of life and activities,”**  thus drawing a clear distinction between (the space of) life and the space of function/functional space. This is the starting point for the discourse on space: space defined and determined by walls and use—or determined by former, speculative use—and human life and perception, reflection and understanding. This thinking begins with an inquiry, an attempt to comprehend what is around, what used to be around, could or would have been around and/or no longer exists.

A city, like an area, a building, a house, an apartment, an excavation, a space can evolve inwards, downwards, and upwards. These can extend to the sides, branch out, and in some instances remain buried.

Defining social space not only as “an object but rather the outcome of a sequence and set of operations which subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity—their relative order or disorder,”***and drawing on the concept of spatial architectonics to analyze the role of the human, Lefebvre argues that “social space, at first biomorphic and anthropological, tends to go beyond this immediacy, but nothing disappears completely nor can what subsists be defined solely in terms of traces, memories, or relics.”****Hence, in the space that we build, demarcate, define, live in, and in which we act and move, what came before continues to construct—to determine, in a certain sense—what comes after.*****

The persistence of what used to exist and the very manner in which it determines what follows is likely what is encountered in the layers and stratifications, in the traces and imprints of the past, and forms by itself a terrain of inquiry reflected in human geography and myriad other disciplines.

All the places and spaces Erik Smith has walked through, seen or imagined, researched, casted, acted upon, demarcated, recreated, have something in common: it is the very reason that awakens the artist’s interest right from the beginning: a sense of place. This clearly perceived sense(-ation) that instigates Smith’s curiosity is one of the most personal and emotional responses one can have in a particular location or setting******.

And the experience of this sense of place is what sets in motion the artist’s research, an inquiry informed by the above-outlined premise that nothing disappears completely, and everything resonates back from the past towards the present, emanating from what has subsisted.

There is something very special and comforting about the sound of the slide projector, the rhythm in which the slides are shown, one after the other and after each click: each image the immediate evolution of the one prior, small details change and something seems to emerge. Erik Smith unearthed a spiral staircase in a vacant lot in Berlin, digging it out by himself with a shovel. The slides in sequence show the staircase being gradually revealed in the images. The steps, their movements, the bricks, the upper floors that should have been there but are now missing. The rooms and interiors no longer exist, but a sense of place seems to be taking hold, a growing curiosity, an idea of what was once there. The sound of the slides progressing in sequence before the eyes of the viewer almost masks and obscures the questions one might ask about what existed there or what was present at one time. How was it accessed from above and where did it lead to below? The peculiar sound of the slides being advanced by the projector every seven seconds is almost hypnotic. It is as if the staircase—embedded in the Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum in-between and before the facades of the new buildings—was the last bite of something from an earlier time that has not yet been consumed, digested, and overwritten by the city changing, self-constructing, auto-cannibalizing. Rooms, empty spaces, and abandoned objects can evoke—or rather provoke—a sense of space and place as dysphoric, a sense of unease or estrangement, a sense of placelessness*******.

An art gallery building has various rooms, many of which have been visited, utilized and thought about, walked through, painted, arranged, dismantled, and changed. Objects populated these spaces. They created a place, they formed a landscape. They were produced there. The materials and objects themselves are now black in Smith’s installation AABBCCDV. Painted black, they appear frozen as if suspended in a time in-between, in a limbo staged and populated by non-colored objects, as if they could disintegrate at any moment. The installation is an exhibition or the act of displaying what was, has been—is being—left behind. A deformed metal gate lies on the floor of the innermost room. It attests to what existed earlier, to what has happened, evidence brought back from before, from the demolition site, now a transformed and mangled object. The same demolition site that was razed to the ground while contact microphones recorded its demolition. We are familiar with the sounds of a building being demolished; in a big city it has become a sort of ungainly white noise, but one no longer consciously perceived. But the sounds of a building being destroyed from within—as captured by contact mics—are alien to most: they are the sounds of walls collapsing, of holes dug into the sides of the building as if the jaw of the demolition crane were gripping and tearing apart the ribs of an animal. These noises scream in alternation with songs from old records found inside the building, which had likely been played during previous exhibition openings. There is something extremely captivating about these sounds—the ones originating “from within”—and which would otherwise be inaudible without contact mics: it’s like listening to something you’re not supposed to hear, like noises coming from the twisting innards of some dying animal in the past.

According to Gaston Bachelard, a space, every space in every place, emanates its own poetics********. It can evoke memories and its objects can ignite sensations, recollections, feelings.

A space—ultimately an object or what it amounts to, in a certain sense—can evoke an emotional response or bring to mind meanings and moments that resonate with one’s own history. A space therefore has a poetics, just like an object. Places and objects re-evoke, generate a feeling, allow the observer to travel back in time, or to an unknown place, but one known to be in the past or before. A bunker in Berlin contained objects, likely stored on shelves: very large ones, buried along with it. The bunker, whose poetics Erik Smith worked into, has three identities: once a nineteenth-century theater renowned for its performances of Orpheus in the Underworld, then a World War II bunker, and today the four-star Titanic hotel.

It is startling how the salvaged wooden shelves, black “acoustic” panels, and dramatically slowed-down collages of Orpheus and techno tracks work in perfect combination together when seeing, listening, and “perceiving” the installation—seven years in the making. The literal dissonance and contrasting identities of the site produce sounds neither harsh nor cacophonous, creating as a whole an unreal, almost languid atmosphere. All the while, this large wooden shelf is still standing and what it contained, what it collected, or what it was witnessed to remain forever beyond reach.

Nothing really disappears and time passing, decay, life happening, often somehow create the impression as if the past is “lingering” in the present—spilling or expanding into it—making palpable the tension between how things were intended to be, how they are today, and the ghosts and skeletons of a former time. The Counterpath site and the buildings of Denver’s East Colfax neighborhood, the evidentiary traces, spaces and places, the buried oil tank and discarded furniture—also stripped down and painted black as if they had entered a non-space, a limbo between past and present, between their past function and the void—create a continuum, an eerie but ephemeral atmosphere revolving around a street lamp and its fluorescent, flickering light, and whose acoustic equivalent echoes from speakers embedded in the black forms. This flickering light seems like a completely normal occurrence, but is in reality the conscious choice and gesture of the artist and part of the (re)collection of elements of the place he pieces together from things barely sensed but still present. Created is the image of a world set within a scene, a stage on which the ghosts of former buildings, an area, lives intertwine with those of contemporary space. It is a re-collaged scenography of past vestiges, a requiem to the prior life of a place being slowly subsumed and erased by the present.

A visual archive in the form of a video slideshow is presented in the innermost room in the back. Set to an audio track created by Smith, it also links to a series of partially sewn together black vinyl flags, which stand as mementos of abandoned buildings, the ghosts among us, but also the death of ideals around community today. Like the other works, they are markers of a search for meaning and to make sense of how to engage with the facts of existence and the entanglements of time(s).

Walking through abandoned or demolished buildings, descending downward in excavations, recreating objects by casting them in latex and then dis-placing them elsewhere are the process, gesture, and focus of Erik Smith’s investigations and research. They are the approaches he employs in bringing to light what existed earlier, prior, in unearthing, revealing things otherwise concealed from view. They are the actions the artist undertakes in his efforts to speculate on and discover, understand, and examine reality, its scenarios, the space that surrounds us. A conception of space and place that looks beyond given appearances toward aspects in the world existing on the margins of perception. 

Sound evokes memories or captures traces of the passage of time, of the intangible, unseen, more powerfully than most anything else.

Sound is a conductor, a driver into the past, into terrains unknown and back. And Smith the researcher who follows its tracks.


– Chiara Valci Mazzara –





*Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. by Robert Bononno (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 139–40.

**Ibid. 139.

***Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. by Donal Nicholson-Smith (Oxford UK and Cambridge US: Blackwell, 1991), 73.

****Ibid., 229.


******Ken Foote, Maoz Azaryahu, “Sense of Place,” International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2009).


********Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Penguin Books, 2014), 8.