Interview with Sarah Smith, Longlisted Artist, Aesthetica Art Prize 2015

Sarah Smith’s As the Crow Flies was longlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize in 2015. Her photography concerns itself with the continuous search for something that is elusive and unattainable. Smith’s ongoing practice addresses a deeply-held fascination with birds, but looks deeper into the complex symbolisms and metaphors that surrounds them and their connection to life’s transitions and challenges. Her selected piece also portrays a sense of liminality, and seeks to expand a split second in time as hurtle towards the inevitable. We speak to Smith about her work and preoccupation with the subject of birds.

A: Your longlisted piece is titled As the Crow Flies. What inspired you to create this work?
SS: The idea for As the Crow Flies was conceived for my BA Major Project. It’s obviously inspired by my obsession with the bird, but also came out of a desire to articulate a certain atmosphere. At the outset I had quite a clear idea of the aesthetic I wanted to achieve.

A: You often experiment with the mediums of photography, film and video. Does your practice follow a similar structure and do you return to any particular themes?
SS: After graduating, I realised I wanted to take things further. While studying for my Masters in Fine Art, I found that the themes I’d begun to explore started to take on much more rooted resonance. My practice now continues to make further enquiry into the theme I’d only touched on with this particular project. Essentially the crows, for me, have become an allegorical symbolism of our own mortality. So, yes, I do return to that particular theme and crows continue to be a vehicle for expressing that, whether they’re present in an image or not.

A: In the past, which artists have informed your work the most?
SS: Every day I see inspirational work created in all mediums by a broad spectrum of both new and established artists. As a photographer, I‘m particularly intrigued by Ori Gersht’s work and what informs it. Surrendering to a repetitive theme that is deeply and personally compelling is just fine all the time it remains unresolved. The themes that Gersht addresses are inexhaustible, they can never be concluded. Inñaritu’s 2014 film Birdman or (the unexpected virtue of ignorance) addresses the complexity of the desire to suspend, versus the absolute futility, of our existence. Evgenia Arbugaeva’s work offers both a simplicity and depth that I continue to strive for. The exquisite beauty of Sarah Moon’s work, both film and stills, also comes to mind.

A: Birds are a strong motif throughout your practice. When did you begin to have a deep fascination of birds, and what is so intriguing about this creature?
SS: Crows (in fact all corvids) have always intrigued me. They are fascinating and intelligent creatures. I find their habits, rituals and flying displays utterly compelling and I really am in continual pursuit, forever attempting to capture their very essence. For me, they’re about communicating our fleeting presence upon this planet. For this series I also photographed a tame Raven. The sheer awesomeness of being in the same room, up close and personal, with such a magnificent creature only deepened my intrigue.

A: How has the Aesthetica Art Prize supported the development of your career?
SS: I can’t honestly say that being longlisted by Aesthetica has changed my life! But, it certainly helped to endorse my self-belief. The art world is bursting with talent and having recognition bestowed from such an acclaimed and widely-respected body as Aesthetica was an absolute privilege. I think this gave me permission to take myself seriously as an artist.

See more of Sarah Smith’s work:

The Aesthetica Art Prize is now open for entries. Prizes include £5,000 for the Main Prize Winner and £1,000 for the Student Prize Winner courtesy of Hiscox. To enter, visit

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1. Sarah Smith, As the Crow Flies (III), 2013, 80cm x 55cm. Courtesy of the artist.