Xerox enabled Smith to make art out of her everyday life during the trauma of her divorce in 1968, and the ensuing loss of custody over her children. She produced prolific numbers of images which she bound into books, photocopying everyday objects, plants, and ephemera—as well as her own body, and those of her children. Some were printed on white paper, others on pastel pink, baby blue, and light orange sheets, creating delicate, haunting, fragmented images—faded memories of moments in time. One could argue that with the Xerox machine, Smith created some of the earliest performances staged using a photocopier, documenting her own body as an erotic object in works like Do Not Touch (1966), a grainy image of her exposed clitoris.
Post-divorce, Smith enrolled in the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine. There, she met an important group of peers who were experimenting with performance, media, and site-specific work, including Nancy Buchanan and
—with whom she founded the artist run gallery F-Space, where Burden’s infamous performance Shoot
was staged in 1971.
Smith’s interest in performance and interdisciplinary work was cemented when she attended an experimental theater workshop led by Judson Church dancer Alex Hay. Hay’s workshop pushed Smith to realize that the curious actions forming in her mind were valid. Emboldened, Smith created the environmental sculpture Field Piece (1968–72), part of which was presented at F-Space in 1971, before the full installation was shown at Cirrus Gallery. The work comprised 180 semi-flexible, fiberglass, nine-and-a-half-foot tall columns in translucent colors—clear, orange, pink, yellow, and violet—that glowed via an internal light source, forming a dense, delicately industrial forest. Each column also contained a speaker, activated by sensors underneath a foam floor by the audience (also linked to the light) to emit a vibrating drone sound, making the viewer an integral part of its network.