Juliana Irene Smith’s exhibition Lactose Intolerant at Hippolyte gallery presents an installation of works that confront trauma—intergenerational and actual—and the processes of recovery. The artist is the product of her mother’s violent trauma; there was abuse within her family and violence that occurred to the artist outside the home. Smith’s unequivocal desire is that those traumas do not become her child’s.

The exhibition title Lactose Intolerant was chosen as a way to reference the problems that may arise in the mother-child relationship—regardless of whether a child is breastfed or not. Currently, there is no equivalent expression like womb intolerant, even though it would be more accurate in her case, considering how trauma is inherited through DNA and behaviours. Smith believes that such an articulation wouldn’t have the same humorous undertone that resonates with her works, and acts as a small shield of protection for both her and the viewer. In Smith’s effort for full transparency, she admits that her favourite food happens to be cheese fondue.

Smith believes that trauma is a clean word that says something without having to say anything. It summarises all the bad things: abuse, violence, assault, neglect, and all the subcategories within that, sexual abuse, rape, emotional and physical neglect, and loss, to name a few. Trauma puts those in an easy-to-understand package without having to tell about the unspeakable details. Nevertheless, Smith expresses her willingness to answer questions or provide further information if desired—as to engage in a conversation about the weight of trauma and how the act of creating could potentially be a form of healing.

The exhibition consists of three parts. Good Feelings Everyday (2020 – ongoing) features analogue snapshot photographs hanging in strips on the wall. They represent the artist’s current reality living in Finland and help ground her when invasive thoughts take over. Rainbow Catharsis (2020 – ongoing) showcases textile collages that incorporate used household fabrics and personal photographs to evoke a material, textual, and visual memory as a means towards reclamation. The works are direct and unafraid of confrontation. There is no messing about except in the paint strokes. The aesthetic qualities of colour, imperfection, flaws, and a sense of urgency reflect the artist’s desperation to expel, in her words, the “bad things” from her body and recover from the past. The ten-minute sound work, I Stopped Wearing Skirts (2023), is a combination of chronologically arranged clips taken from recordings of exposure therapy, which the artist underwent for eight weeks in 2022 under proper guidance. The clips are mixed with a nostalgic 80s-sounding cinematic soundtrack that references the artist’s youth.

The exhibition was supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike) and Svenska Kulturfonden.

(Images by Juliana Irene Smith or Milla Talassalo)

Juliana Irene Smith · I Stopped Wearing Skirts