Meet the artists: Lara Smithson

Meet the artists: Lara Smithson

Lara in the studio. Photo credit: Luana Rigolli.
Lara in the studio. Photo credit: Luana Rigolli.

An interview with Lara Smithson, the Bridget Riley Fellow, in which she speaks about the work she has produced during her residency at the BSR from September 2021–March 2022, ahead of the March Mostra.

You have undertaken filming in the church of San Clemente and in the Museum of Palazzo Barberini. Can you tell us why you chose these sites and how the films sit within your drawing practice?

My drawings are composed of layers and holes, often resembling x-rays. I was drawn to San Clemente because of it’s time structure. As a visitor entering from the 21st century you experience a descent from 12th to the 4th and then the 1st. I wanted to capture the eeriness and how the sound of water carries you through the rooms down to the Mithraic level. In my footage a gloved hand acting as a disembodied voice, beckons and gestures exploring the passages through San Clemente. The glove appears in a drawing I made on first arriving in Rome, titled ‘It is just a means of touching distance’. The hand has left the drawing and ‘touched distance’ connecting the layers of time in the Basilica. When I visited the Palazzo Barberini and walked into the empty Salone Pietro da Cortona, instead of looking at the painted ceiling, I imagined it being the set to enact my costume/drawing the ‘Unnamed Saint’. The film and the drawings inform each other, enter each other. The text I have written for the film is drawn into a new piece ‘Detritus’ as scraps of paper with sections of the text scattered across the drawing.

Below is the text that accompanies the film.

Unnamed Saint

What is this speechless horror?

To return to earth to find your body –










Spread so thin


It is lucky that all horror is preverbal because my lips are elsewhere

As for my mouth

My pharynx


Who knows

I am a brain, without its substance

A chemical imbalance








“Your stomach is in a knot”

“Your tongue is tied”

“Or has the cat got it?”

But really

My tooth is set in gold in gilded glass

The corpus drained of fluid

I am dry


Scraped bones


Fingers pinch them into pockets

Carried away


My body travels in all directions

Will it be like the big bang?

Will I eventually contract?


Till I swallow myself back in through a mouth that is


The voice is still somewhere nearby

A ribbon unfurling holds my words

Written, recorded, devoured in minds that live on as whole

In the end we are detritus

We wear away

To live beyond time, restless

in passages filled with dirt turning to dust until they dig down and tear us apart from ourselves to make room for the new

We are everywhere but are reduced to no one

And then I find out I am pickled

A finger in a jar

Labelled in curling scroll

Spiralling DNA coded in computers

I am walking from bone to bone

Organ to organ

But the organs made for me don’t fit

Their terracotta grinds against my flesh till finally the hands that push them in abate

I can’t believe how many legs I had as I hold ten relics attributed to me. Four in Italy, three in France, two in Spain and one in England.

Others whisper there are more elsewhere

Or at least some replicas

Though I am certain I only had two legs

Illumination – illumination –  illumination

If I say it enough, will it be true

Will I be named


Film still
Film still

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