Serena Smith

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Serena Smith's scripto-visual practice explores the perpetual interplay between lived experience, and reflective observation. Shaped by systematic constraints and serendipity, written, drawn, and printed outcomes from her work knowingly play with a lyrical ambiguity that spills out from the structures of communication. An interest in language, acts of inscription, and technology, is the focus for ongoing research that considers the generative intersection between stone lithography and language.


Attending to the Sound of Sonorous Stones
A digital tuning device, had one be available in the 1950s, would have been very useful for electronic engineer and mathematician Leland Sprinkle. Devoting close attention and many hours to fine-tuning stalactites with a grinding disc in underground caverns, the result of his ingenious labour is the Luray Stalacpipe Organ. Sprinkle can be heard playing the organ online in an early recording (...) Listening closely, before the haunting resonance of limestone speleothems can be heard, is the whisper of static noise, mingling in unrehearsed symphony with spatters of rain, and a continuous high-pitched fluttering that presumably is the sound of scrolling tape as it moves through rotating wheels. Anticipating from the play list folk tunes and hymns, a listener might strain to hear the fragile melody in the background: its faltering pace and unscripted pauses suggesting that Sprinkle's fingers hovered tentatively over the keyboard, and that this electronic engineer of significant accomplishment, was not a trained organist. Momentarily captured however, amongst the quivering cadences, erratic amplification, spectral echo of underground humidity and signal interference, is the distant voice of a soul who spent hours sanding dust from limestone to make music.
Attending to the Sound of Sonorous Stones, academic paper at IMPACT 12, International Printmaking Conference, 2022. 
 

Listen: a litho-phonic encounter
As a lithographer, our listener is intimately familiar with the events in the video: preparing and drawing a lithography stone.  And yet she struggles to find words for the sounds and so stares at the screen for some moments, catching a glimpse of tide washed sand before a pair of hands come into view. Travelling across the frame in time to the fricative soundtrack, cupped fingers clasp a small block as they rotate rhythmically, covering their tracks in a circular dance akin to the whiskered shuffle of wire brushes on the skin of a drum.  Mesmerised by the moving hands, it becomes evident that our scribing listener is also an attentive observer.  Senses trained on auditory and visual phenomena, whilst speculatively casting out lines, summoning up memories, calling for analogies, listening, thinking, wondering, and waiting. 
Figure/Ground, research presentation at the Material Encounters Summer Colloquium: Uncertain Knowledges. link>> 
A Litho-Phonic Encounter, research presentation at IAS Festival of Ideas: Transitions, Loughborough University, 2022. link >> 

On Stone
Under a clear blue sky the dragonfly takes its last migration through breezeless air. Touching down momentarily on still water, too late to know that this salty pool won’t quench a thirst, its fragile wings are pulled down into the sedimenting basin of an isolated lagoon.  Just out of reach from the coast nothing leaves the stagnating pool and warmed by the sun the water slowly evaporates.
Under the same sky 150 million years later, in a territory now under the jurisdiction of a place called Bavaria, the once calm reef is now land with a settled population. Business thrives in a town becoming renowned for its rich deposit of finely sedimented limestone and quarry beds are excavated to feed a growing demand for this now valuable natural resource being traded in the printing industry. And once again, by chance, the small creature’s last journey comes to light, each detail of its flesh depicted in the smooth surface of the soft limestone matrix.
'On Stone' full text published in Inscription: the Journal of Material Text - Theory, Practice, Historylink >>
 

Ekphrasis: inscriptions on wood and stone
As the drawing progresses I wonder if the hands of Celtic scribes also tired, whilst scoring the lines of Ogham text into fragments of wood. Cutting short repeated grooves against the grain an effort would have been felt, different to that which allowed the tool to willingly travel along pathways of growth.  Perhaps they too made use of a device to control the errant gesture, and aid production of measured lines of written language (...) Traversing the topography of this substrate, the tracks of these movements cluster and intersect.  Lines of travel collide and converge.  And as the tracing and re-tracing repeats and returns, left within the membrane is a manuscript that documents journeys taken and territories charted. Laid down in the process is the fragmented text of notation - a choreographic inscription in which might be glimpsed, an arabesque performed in the nexus between generative systems, time, and the intentions of life on the move.
Full text published in IMPACT Printmaking Journal. link>>
 

Ecdysis
At first glance, not to disturb the ground I trod carefully, thinking the creature might still be there. But on closer inspection the snake had gone, eased itself out, neatly shed the skin, and moved on; leaving behind this translucent doppelganger, a ghostlike facsimile of every scale. For millennia, this elegant undressing must have been repeated. Remembered in the tracery of this discarded husk; imprinted in the geometric design of interlocking filigree; duplicated in each cell of the intricate patina; returned to and replayed, each time the same but different; the force of nature’s habit.
from the Reside residency. link>>