I am an artist and anthropologist living and working on the the unceded territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples where I have lived since 2002. Of Scottish and mixed European descent, I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Miꞌkmaꞌki territory. I received an MA in Environmental Studies and a PhD in Visual Art and Anthropology from the University of Victoria and am currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Environmental Studies at University of Victoria.
I work with cultural practices of media and archives.
In my current research I am interested in anarchival materiality, or the generative force of entropy within archives. In our recent article, Fugitives: Anarchival Materiality in Archives, anthropologist Kate Hennessy and I write about our oral history research with archivists, conservators, and curators and our parallel video and photography work in the British Columbia Provincial Archives, Canada. We describe how non-human archives and their human stewards both constrain and enable preservation. Classification systems, spatial organization and human responsibilities are all fundamentally reshaped and determined by the uncooperative residents of archives, who constantly remind their caretakers of the transformative and organic passage of time.
I focus on recognizing and re-establishing connections between photography and practices of camera obscuras (and other anti-capitalist camera forms) and to non-toxic, simple, plant-based emulsions.
I rework formal aspects of photography––a relationship between durable images and electromagnetic radiation–– to emphasize the materiality of the unfixed image in everyday life. For example, in Drift Camera (A continuous slow movement) (exhibited at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria AGGV in 2018) I work against a technofetishist impulse in photography to bring photography back into relationship with experiences of fleeting, impermanent images, and into everyday practices with images in more-than-human worlds.
I was trained as an artist at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in the late 1990s, in Vancouver. In my work, I was always interested in photography and challenging its relationship to truth, and to visibility. When I turned 30, just after starting grad school, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and became very sick. And this changed my perception of the world and my practices of photography, art, and anthropology.
My visual research into contested territories of parks and protected areas in North America explores the affective force and materiality of photography and archives. In my theorization of photography, I ask, how are photographs not only fixed as images or objects, but lively, entangled and emergent events? I pose this question within communities that engage parks, for example, through the art projects Finding Aid and Portable Camera Obscura in Waterton Lakes National Park. Together, using simple camera forms and archival photographs, we attempt to repeat archival photographs. We follow fleeting moments and shifting visualities to account for the fundamental impermanence of life.
My work argues that photography both constructs and deconstructs truth claims; that institutional spaces like archives exert the entropic force of ‘vibrant matter’ despite striving for stability; and that contested territories like national parks are simultaneously ground zero for crises like climate change effects and overflowing with resilient life. My work rests on the assumption that learning to hold and even celebrate these lively contradictions is crucial to imagining more just worlds.
In recent writing I explore the ethical and political implications of focusing on the event over the fixed image in colonial photography. In The Anthropology of Historical Photography in a Protected Area: Life and death in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta (2014 Anthropologica (56) 117-153) I break down colonial photographs through attempts at re-enactment to reveal their connection to life and death, injustices and inequality. In connected artworks I create new composited forms.
Some of my research and site-specific interventions are archived on trudilynnsmith.blogspot.ca
I am interested in bringing together the methods of art practice and social research in my writing, presentations and artworks, for example I explore the connections between the two in my current research project about Anarchival Materiality, and in publications such as Repeat Photography as Method in Visual Anthropology published in the journal Visual Anthropology.
I am a member of the curatorial collective Ethnographic Terminalia, an experimental project that since 2009, has curated exhibitions in North American cities, working with over 150 artists and anthropologists to demonstrate how contemporary artists, anthropologists, and institutions are engaging with anthropology, ethnographic methods, and art.
While much of my work is situated in events and site-specific temporary installations outside of galleries, my work is also exhibited nationally and internationally at The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), The Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Crane Arts, 500x, Fifth Street, Open Space Arts Society. My place specific works have been installed in (selected): Waterton Lakes National Park (CAN), City of Rocks Natural Preserve (USA); Yellowstone NP (USA); Capitol Reef National Park (field station) (USA); Santa Cruz Island (USA).