kiley smith

Latex and Sandpaper

kiley smith
Artist Kiley Smith creates photographic sculptures to represent anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds nearly 75 percent of adults will have an episode of anxiety before they leave college.

College is a time of stress — students face new environments, new people and new classes, all of which can lead to an anxiety disorder.

Kiley Smith, a senior studying art and psychology at NDSU, sought to bring attention to this common mental health disorder through her artwork. I sat down with Kiley to discuss her experience with anxiety, and why she chose it to be the center of her senior art project.

The following interview has been abridged and edited for clarity.

Paige Johnson: What was your inspiration for the art pieces that you made?

Kiley Smith: It originally started from my own experiences, and

latex and sandpaper

the experiences of some of my family members, and how we suffered with anxiety. We weren’t necessarily able to talk about it. I wanted to create work that was able to describe anxiety without using words.

I created images and installations so people are able to see and experience what anxiety feels like.

PJ: Do you think it’s easier to put your thoughts into your artwork rather than talk about it?

KS: Yeah, I’m not really good with words. To be able to create my own sculpture based off someone else’s anxiety and being able to photograph it was a better way for me to explain anxiety, especially since art is something I’m passionate about.

PJ: Can you describe the installations and pictures?

KS: Each photograph is based off an interview I did with someone

breathing control
Smiths’ “Breathing Control” features herself and her own environment of anxiety.

who suffers with anxiety. I asked them questions about what textures and colors remind them of their personal anxiety, and how anxiety impacts their lives. A lot of the common colors were greens, oranges and yellows. I incorporated these colors into the work.

PJ: Why did you choose “Latex and Sandpaper” as the title of your pieces?

KS: That was my description of my own anxiety. I filled out the survey myself. One of the portraits is actually me as well. I used latex balloons and sandpaper in it. I put my own description as the title for the pieces.

PJ: What is the message you hope to send to people who may have anxiety?

KS: I want people with anxiety to find new ways to talk about their own anxiety. Mental illness isn’t something we, as a society, like to talk about. It’s difficult and there’s a stigma about having a mental illness. I wanted to encourage people to find a way to talk about it in a way that they feel comfortable with. I hope they’re able to seek help or at least have a person they can go to when they’re feeling anxious.

PJ: Was there a similar message for people without anxiety?

KS: I want people to look at the work and see how the person in the portrait is affected by the sculpture that is embodying their anxiety. With the installation, I wanted people to go into it, feel isolated and listen to the audio, which is a little distressing, to start an understanding of what anxiety is.

PJ: What was the overall response to your artwork?

KS: I didn’t expect people to come up to me. After people went into the booths, they came up to me, and they said, you know, “The alarm clock was the most powerful to me.” One guy, he said it reminded him of becoming a new father. He was always afraid he’d fall asleep and when his child needed him. He wouldn’t be there.

I liked that people were able to identify with one or two of the sounds. I also liked watching a man go through with this daughter and explain what mental illness was. It’s something she obviously doesn’t know much about, but it was able to spark that conversation.

PJ: Has this experience been therapeutic for you?

KS: Yes. The hardest part was having my parents and grandma see the work. I don’t really talk about my own mental illness with them. Having them see what I’ve always been trying to explain was therapeutic because there’s more understanding on why I care about it so much.

PJ: Where do you see these pieces going, as far as your future artwork?

KS: I wanted to create work that had to do with my two interests: art and psychology. I’m a psychology major as well as an art major. I wanted to take that psychology knowledge I have and put it into my artwork. I intend to go to grad school for art therapy. I wanted this to be a bridge between my two interests.

While you can no longer view Kiley’s work at the Memorial Union Gallery, you can view her artwork on her website,

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