Meet the artists: Lara Smithson

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.

The artist in her studio, photo credit: Antonio Palmieri

Your research at the BSR includes looking at saints’ relics and ancient anatomical votives. How do you intend to develop it in Rome?

Over the last three months I have been visiting museums in Rome to see Etruscan and Roman anatomical votives, while beginning to create my own organs. In the new year, I plan to visit and film at some of the sites and sanctuaries where the votives’ were discovered, including Nemi and Lavinium. I have been increasingly interested in the geographical and historical dismemberment of bodies created by the relic trade and the production of votive offerings. Having visited catacombs where bodies were removed to trade and then churches where saints’ bones are housed in gilded altars, I want to think more about this fragmented devotion. The multitude of clay organs and limbs feels like an early attempt at cloning the body, in the same way that the future modern medicine looks at growing replacement organs. The body as sacred yet something that can be torn apart or simulated as divine healing is a contradiction I want to develop within my work.

Research Image: Votives at the Etruscan Museum

Can you talk about the use of fabric and costumes in your work?

My current drawings are made on a reflective fabric, which allows them to change in appearance depending on the light they are viewed in. Under direct artificial light the drawings become monochrome, losing their colour and depth. These properties, inherent to the fabric, have become ways of staging the works in installations and videos. I have made a costume sewn from a 1970s Alberto Fabiani ‘renaissance style’ dress pattern; covered in a drawing of golden hair, reminiscent of Mary Magdalen’s depictions. I often use fur and hair textures to suggest skins or bodily layers. The drawings and their installation in the Mostra are a starting point; acting like a set for future outcomes, where they will be incorporated into a video work. The nature of the fabric and the way that I work means nothing is fixed in form: a drawing can live in a film, it can become a costume, a character, a prop, or a landscape. The drawings can be uninhabited or worn and changed by the body underneath.

Research Image: Papal Vestments at the Vatican
Research image: Cappella di S. Caterina – S. Caterina e i filosofi at San Clemente
Work in progress

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).