Marie Smith

Marie Smith is a visual artist and writer who was born, lives and works in London. Her practice incorporates text and photography as a form of visual language and her experience with anxiety and depression has informed how she addresses identity, nature, environmentalism, mental health and wellbeing. Having graduated with an MA in History in Art with Photography from Birkbeck, Marie is an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and Portsmouth University.

Describe the nature around you at this moment…

It’s a bright and warm day and my flat is full of houseplants that are looking a bit more alive now that spring is approaching and they are getting more light. The plants vary from succulents, cacti and dripping plants that are descending down my two bookshelves.

If I look to my left, I can look outside of my window and see a varied skyline - I live on 4th floor so there is a lot to see. The main thing I can see is the trees, that have been dormant since winter, are starting to produce new leaves and flowers. You can see they are in the early stages as the branches are still prominent but I know in a month or so they will be full of green leaves that create a blanket from the main road which is very busy. I can see a windmill and that always startles me as I kinda forget it’s there - but it’s a nice reminder of the history of the area.

How would you describe your nature connection?

An ongoing process, I still think I have a lot to learn about what nature is and its relationship to me. I think that I’m questioning what nature is in terms of how it’s been defined through history and the cultural significance it has on my identity. I feel that my kinship to nature is stronger now than it was when I was younger and I think that I am trying to explore this relationship more in my artistic practice. I am finding that I am provoking more questions than answers at the moment so my connection to nature is very much a dialogue and one that is proving to be both beneficial and challenging for me.

Where do you feel most at ease?

Probably going for a walk with my camera, I always try to find a balance between being present and capturing what’s around me. However, having my camera forces me to look a bit harder and not see nature as an objective space. I am particularly fascinated with trees and the way that they take up so much space and make me think about the history of the space.

Your work focuses on identity, nature, environmentalism and climate change. How can photography help us think and act more collectively?

This is a question that I am asking myself constantly. I think beyond representing the nature visually I am now thinking about the process of making the images - for example the darkroom process and I have made changes to my way of working to be more considerate towards nature. I am not using chemicals anymore to develop my work which means that I am no longer working with colour analogue film.

This methodology has made me more conscious of what I am doing and my impact and kinship with nature and the environment. I am trying to start a dialogue with my photography, I don’t tend to seek clear answers as the subject matter is complex and constantly evolving and photography can be used to further that discourse.

I have also been thinking about how I can collaborate with people more, providing them with space to create their own artwork or using their words to have agency over how they are represented. I would prefer to use my practice to provide discourse rather than force my opinion but I think many communities, in particular communities of colour, are alienated from this subject matter so I do feel that it’s important to consider their thoughts and concerns.

Is there anything you’re curious about right now?

I am currently researching and will be creating a new body of work that documents people of colour’s lived experiences of living in rural areas. The focus will be on the New Forest and Hampshire. Within the project I will be asking people to make artworks so I am curious about the process of collaborations and also my role as this is an artist led project. I will have to change and amend my ways of working and this provokes curiosity in my process as an artist.

What’s your top tip?

Have good footwear, bring water and ensure that your phone is fully charged. These are the main things that I would suggest if you’re going to be spending a long time in nature. I would try and be present, so perhaps this will mean that you are limiting interaction with devices for example, and embrace slowness.

What kind of ancestor do you want to be?

I would want to be considered as someone who resonates with people. I would like to be the ancestor that could be seen as someone with an altruistic outlook.

What inspires you every day?

The potential in my artwork. This keeps me motivated and I know that I have a lot of answers to seek. I am motivated by research and meeting people who will provide me with new insights and ways of thinking.

What are you reading, watching or listening to?

I am currently listening to a really good podcast at the moment, by Human Resources, which looks at the impact and legacy of the UK’s involvement in transatlantic slavery and colonialism. The podcast does not only focus on England’s role but also investigates Wales and Scotland’s role in transatlantic slavery. I would highly recommend it as the narration and research are excellent.

Book-wise I am reading a lot of short stories, poetry and prose-led writing at the moment - in particular books published by Prototype Publishers. I Just finished a book by Jen Calleja, I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For and I will be reading The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven next. I listen to a lot of music, especially when I am at home writing and researching, and I always listen to NTS Radio - more so than anything else these days.

Could you suggest someone else or an organisation you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind?

Aster Reem David or Joanne Coates - both excellent artists who have an intrinsic connection to nature whilst providing provocative insights into the communities that exist there (whether that be people or microcosms that exist in the landscape).

You can follow Marie Smith's work on her website.

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