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.
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
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?”
My tooth is set in gold in gilded glass
The corpus drained of fluid
I am dry
Fingers pinch them into pockets
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