Presented as part of the Visual Artists Ireland International Speakers Series.
This special event comprises a screening programme followed by a discussion with John Smith about his practice in relation to themes and concerns around language, speech and the nature of communication that arise in ‘The L Shape’, the exhibition running at The Dock from September 15th to November 3rd featuring work by artists Jenny Brady and Sarah Browne curated by Alice Butler.
John Smith’s films and videos, known for their formal ingenuity, anarchic wit and oblique narratives, create mysterious and sometimes fantastical scenarios from the raw material of everyday life. Over five decades he has developed an extensive and varied body of work that defies easy classification, blurring the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction.
At the centre of the screening programme is Slow Glass (1988-91), Smith’s extraordinary exploration of the history and science of the manufacture of glass that, like the moving image works by Brady and Browne that feature in ‘The L Shape’, plays with and imaginatively considers the reflective properties of the mirror, an object frequently used as a metaphor for cinema. Slow Glass is bookended by Associations (1975), a film that sets language against itself to both destroy and create meaning and Steve Hates Fish (2015), a film in which Smith deliberately confuses a translation app in order to offer a new interpretation of the signage on a busy London shopping street. Discussion with John Smith will be led by artist Jenny Brady and curator Alice Butler.
John Smith was born in Walthamstow, east London in 1952 and studied film at the Royal College of Art. Since 1972 he has made over fifty film, video and installation works that have been widely shown internationally in gallery, cinema and television contexts and awarded major prizes at many international film festivals. He received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2011, and in 2013 he was the winner of Film London’s Jarman Award. Recent solo exhibitions include Alma Zevi, Venice (2017); Kate MacGarry, London (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Leipzig (2015); Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin (2015); Centre d'Art Contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, Paris (2014); The Gallery, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne (2014); Figge von Rosen Gallery, Cologne (2013); Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2012); Turner Contemporary, Margate (2012) and Weserburg Museum for Modern Art, Bremen (2012). His work is held in the public collections of Tate Gallery; Arts Council England; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Kunstmuseum Magdeburg; FRAC Île de France; Ferens Art Gallery, Hull and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
"The films of John Smith create a world from the ‘simple’ experiences of living, breathing and being a filmmaker or artist in a particular place and time. In film after film, Smith explores the cracks within and the tribulations of the world he confronts everyday, taking a closer look at and often transforming (verbally, associatively, just by observing from a different angle) things like a pane of glass, the discolorations of a mouldy ceiling, a hospital water-tower, the archaeology of an ancient toilet, an old shepherd's proverb, or a work he was unhappy with some 20 odd years before. In the process, he makes us look more closely, not just at his films and the cinema generally, but our own surroundings, the everyday world that engulfs us but that we probably routinely dismiss as a suitable subject for contemplation, art and imagination." ‘On the Street where You Live: The Films of John Smith’, Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema, 2003.
John Smith - Screening Programme
Associations, (1975) 16mm, 7 mins, colour, sound
Slow Glass, (1988-91) 16mm, 40 mins, colour, sound
Steve Hates Fish, (2015) HD video, 5 mins, colour, sound