Richard Sawdon Smith, Infinite Surface, part 1

Infinite Surface is the umbrella title for the collaborative projects between Jonathan Armour and Richard Sawdon Smith which focus on the subject matter of Richard’s (auto)biography, in particular his tattooed HIV+ body.

Diagnosed in 1994, Richard has visually documented repeated trips to the clinic for blood tests to screen for levels of ill-health. Playing with layers of the real and the imagined, the tattoos – using needles to puncture the skin like the blood tests – of the circulatory system reveal the medical procedures of illness, referencing not only pain and the rupturing of the body’s surface but the repetition and banalities of life under the clinical gaze. Being HIV+ makes him reconsider his being in the world, re-assess his identity and suggests forms of subjectivity that inform his artistic practice. The outputs of photography, the ritualistic blood tests and being tattooed, permanent and visible on the surface of the skin – suggest a working “through [of] the non-existent borders between the self and the other, the body and the world, absence and presence, life and death”. (Jones, A. “Corporeal Malediction”: Franko B’s Body/Art and the Trace of Whiteness. 2006).

This collaborative project brings the idea of the internal and external together on the surface of the body, and fractures old subjectivities but does not return one to a fantasy of wholeness, even with renewed health but does offer potential for new ways of being in the world. Indeed drawing one’s autobiography on the surface of the skin to make those histories and memories visible gives the viewer the chance to read the story and witness it from the inside.

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