John Smith was born in Walthamstow, East London in 1952 and studied film at the Royal College of Art. Inspired by conceptual art and the structural materialist ideas that dominated British artists’ filmmaking during his formative years, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, he has developed a body of work which deftly subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction. Drawing upon the raw material of everyday life, Smith's meticulously crafted films rework and transform reality, playfully exploring and exposing the language of cinema.
On Air:The ikono On Air Festival is showing two films by John Smith: Lost Sound (1998-2001) Collaboration with Graeme Miller Lost Sound documents fragments of discarded audiotape found on the streets of a small area of East London, combining the sound retrieved from each piece of tape with images of the place where it was found. The work explores the potential of chance, creating portraits of particular places by building formal, narrative and musical connections between images and sounds linked by the random discovery of the tape samples. Excerpt here! "A lyrical and poignant response to the urban environment, Lost Sound depicts the city as a disparate and fragmented series of personal histories. A sense of migration, loss and displacement seeps through upbeat soundtracks from sunnier climes." - Helen Legg, Ikon Gallery Birmingham "The theme of fragmentation and decay is taken up by my favorite work here, the video Lost Sound (2001), made in collaboration with sound artist Graeme Miller. Divided into short sections titled by location, Lost Sound shows discarded audiotapes around London -- strands clinging to a fence, trapped in the crevices of a tree trunk, intertwined with weeds. The sound track combines the voices and songs on the found audiotapes with ambient sounds recorded on location. Visually the audiotapes tell us almost nothing; they must be "decoded" by the equipment that put them on the sound track. But we come to see that the signs, cars, and pedestrians in the videotape pose similar "decoding" problems: what do they mean, where do they come from, who are they? A city that at first seems comprehensible is revealed as a layering of mysteries; we know no more about the passing humans from their images than we do about what's on the crumpled tapes. Each section charts a different relationship between tape and urban scene, taking the viewer on a little unpredictable journey. Finally, as happens so often in Smith's work, the representational structure itself seems to break down. Titles and images are flipped left to right, undermining the readability of words, and men loading boxes onto a truck are seen in a repeated loop, foregrounding the arbitrariness of cinematic time as well as commenting on the repetitiousness of manual labor. Lost in an indecipherable maze whose rules change constantly, we see the city as a network of unpredictably shifting relationships and come to doubt even the sounds encoded in the tape fragments." - Fred Camper ’Chicago Reader’ 2001 Worst Case Scenario (2001 - 2003) An exploration of the ambiguities of documentary photographs which develops ideas triggered by a German pun. Worst Case Scenario starts out as a series of still photographs depicting daily life on a Viennese street corner. The film re-orders and manipulates a selection of these images, and as it progresses the static world slowly and subtly comes to life. As Sigmund Freud casts his long shadow across the city, an increasingly improbable chain of events and relationships starts to emerge. Excerpt here! 'This new work by John Smith looks down onto a busy Viennese intersection and a corner bakery. Constructed from hundreds of still images, it presents situations in a stilted motion, often with sinister undertones. Through this technique we’re made aware of our intrinsic capacity for creating continuity, and fragments of narrative, from potentially (no doubt actually) unconnected events." - Mark Webber. London Film Festival 2003 "Smith’s 30 years of eccentric, good-humoured and enlightening radical filmmaking opened up endless possibilities for visual creativity. His Worst Case Scenario, comprising a stream of movie-like images from rapidly shot camera stills taken on a Vienna street corner, is an exquisite documentation of everyday waiting, eating and road-crossing, with just a whiff of Freud." - Keith Gallasch, Realtime magazine, 2003
BioSince 1972 John Smith has made over fifty film, video and installation works that have been shown in cinemas, art galleries and on television around the world and awarded major prizes at many international film festivals. His solo exhibitions include Figge von Rosen Gallery, Hanover (2013), Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin (2013), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2012), Turner Contemporary, Margate (2012), Weserburg Museum for Modern Art, Bremen (2012), Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden (2011), PEER Gallery, London (2011), Pallas Projects, Dublin (2011), Royal College of Art Galleries, London (2010), Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin (2010), Sala Diaz Gallery, Texas (2010), Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2006), Kunstmuseum Magdeburg (2005), Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (2003) and Pearl Gallery, London (2003). Major group shows include 'Image Counter Image', Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012), 'Has The Film Already Started?', Tate Britain (2011-12), Berlin Biennial (2010), ‘The Talent Show’, Walker Art Cen-ter, Minneapolis and MoMA PS1, New York (2010), Venice Biennale (2007), ‘A Century of Artists’ Film in Britain’, Tate Britain (2004), ‘Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-75’, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2000) and ‘The British Art Show’, UK touring exhibition (1984). John Smith regularly presents his work in person and in recent years it has been profiled through retrospectives at film festivals in Oberhausen, Tampere, St. Petersburg, La Rochelle, Mexico City, Uppsala, Cork, Regensburg, Karlstad, Winterthur, Bristol, Hull and Glasgow. John Smith lives and works in London. He teaches part-time at the University of East London where he is Pro-fessor of Fine Art. He is represented by Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin.
Links- Homepage of John Smith - www.johnsmithfilms.com
Curators' SpecialPart of the curatorial selection of Manuela Benetton