n De Arte - Tracing and erasure in Kathryn Smith's : research

Volume 2008, Issue 78
  • ISSN : 0004-3389
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Kathryn Smith's is a series of twelve prints comprising photographs and handwritten text, wherein she records her 'pilgrimage' to the former homes of British serial killer Dennis Nilsen. As such, it utilises photographic and autographic traces to 'track' the elusive traces left by Nilsen. Given the lapse of two decades between Nilsen's arrest and Smith's visit, the traces of Nilsen's 'wrongs' seem all but erased by the banal façade of suburban living which has continued on, regardless. In taking this as a starting point, the following article considers the motif of absence that characterises Smith's work as intrinsic to traces . This is not just because traces gravitate towards erasure though time and forgetting, but also because traces mark both the former presence and the current absence of whatever caused them. With recourse to a variety of theories, including Peirce's semiotics, Barthes's meditations on photography, and Derrida's writings on the trace as being 'under erasure' or 'sous rature', this discussion seeks to critique the forensic certitude implicit in assertions that traces 'bear witness' to the 'truth' of past events. Rather, the suggestion is made that the trace, being paradoxically located in both presence and absence, is not without its own nefarious trickery.

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