Serena Smith


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Drawing on a transdisciplinary field, lived experience in the printmaking studio, and genealogies of knowledge that inform the artisan practices of lithography, Serena Smith’s ongoing research considers the language of stone lithography. Shaped by the coupling of technology and a thinking body, the written and printed outcomes of this engagement develop a lyrical ambiguity that spills out from the structures of communication, and use language as material and medium, to explore a serendipitous dialogue between the embodied practice of stone lithography, and the poetic realms of voice and text.

The fine dexterous hands and observational skills of Carswell and Maclise, would have been well suited to the art of lithography. When drawing their anatomical illustrations on stone, they may have also felt some affinity between the lifeless skin of their deceased subjects and the limestone. Laboriously prepared to resemble a sheet of paper, pressed against their own flesh would have been a smooth, cold, dense matrix, occasionally veined with iron oxide deposits and freckled with the fossilized patina of micro-organisms. A fragile substance, vulnerable to abrasion, scratches, and the burn of acids; and sensitive to warmth, humidity, and the grease from a fingerprint. In corporeal kinship with the human body, a sedimentary rock in part composed of the skeletal detritus and petrified remains of distant microbial relations. ISSUU >> 

Listen: a litho-phonic encounter
It is not only lithographers who have noticed the sonorous properties of limestone. Archaeologists and musicians have also heard the audible vibrations of a sonic landscape left by the traces of evolution. Familiar to stonemasons checking for cracks and flaws, and to geologists using the knock of a hammer to detect subtle changes in lithology, the acoustic properties of stone have been known since Neolithic culture. Nature: Humanities and Social Sciences Communications (Generative Approaches to Noise collection. Eds. C. Malaspina and L. Possati)>>

A litho-phonic encounter. VIDEO 

Attending to the Sound of Sonorous Stones
Whilst she is not depicted in the studio, from the photograph it is possible to imagine Skiold, immersed in the labour of graining lithography stone, at home in the gritty sluice, her body tipping and leaning over the graining sink, hands moving around the stone rhythmically with the ease of a practised partnership. The abrasive scouring noise, not unlike the spade of gravel thrown into a tumbling cement mixer at the end of the day, is something she would have easily recognised. IMPACT 12 Printmaking Journal (conference proceedings)  >>

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. Inscription: the Journal of Material Text - Theory, Practice, History  >>
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. IMPACT Printmaking Journal >>