John Smith is an artist filmmaker. He began making films when he was 18, at a time when ‘people were wanting to make work which was in opposition to mainstream cinema and particularly undermine the illusionism of cinema, and were reminded in whatever way that you were watching a film.’
The Girl Chewing Gum (1976)
He simply recorded what was going on in the street and then wrote a script which added voice-over directions to the film. I appears as if the actions you see in the film are being directed by an unseen film director.
- ‘A film like The Girl Chewing Gum is in one way fitting into the ideas of that time. But it’s also playing with the power of language to condition how we actually see images, and that has a kind of humorous outcome…although it is a very, very serious film.’
- ‘When I am editing, in my head I’ve got two parallel things going on, one is the image and one is the sound.’
- ‘The dynamics of the film come from that relationship between image and sound, how one can be dominant at one point and one can be dominant at another…It’s completely intuitive. It’s just to do with how it feels, those balances between different things.’
Hotel Diaries (2001-07)
He was eager to take on the possibilities of the spontaneity of using handheld video cameras. Something that had not been possible when working with film.
The six year series of videos came about by accident while in Ireland for the Cork Film Festival. Britain and the US had just started bombing Afghanistan. He switched on the TV in his hotel room to find the image had frozen
- ‘something which was possibly just a technical glitch was actually…I was finding traumatic…in my head I was thinking just how different my reality was from the innocent people in Afghanistan who were having bombs dropped on their heads.’
- ‘having these contradictory things going in my head, I just got my camera out and just filmed the TV screen and had this stream of consciousness.’
- ‘I really wanted to make work that looks like anybody can do it. I thought if I can make something which looks like a home video and I just forced myself to actually not edit it at all, so I’m going to say stupid things that I’m going to regret, I’m going to mess things up, and stuff like that, this should undermine any kind of potential didacticism.’
- ‘and the work kind of intended to be conversational on an equal level with the audience, so like a lot of my work really, those videos were saying I’m bothered about this, what do you think?’
Dad’s Stick (2012)
His father showed him a cross-section of a stick he used to paint the house with, so you could all the different layers of paint.
- ‘I found it really poignant. In a sense I felt like there was a whole history, an important part of someone’s life, that were encapsulated in this tiny little object.’
- ‘When I put the stick in front of a magnifying lens, it become even more poignant for me, because I realised I was looking at colour that I remembered from fifty years ago.’
In recent years, his work has become shorter.
‘I like to think that I’m sort of distilling things down, that I’m making haikus now. But it might just be that I haven’t got the energy…’
List of references
TateShots (2018) ‘John Smith – Playing With the Power of Language’ At:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CciUtECXXNk (Accessed on 15 October 2018)