Featuring paintings, photographs, videos and sculptures by a selection of artists from the gallery’s programme, Between the Pages invokes the idea of the bookmark. This group of works points to the act of creating ‘aide-mémoires’ as a deeply human need to render the ephemeral concrete – a site to which the subject can always return. The selected works re-call quotidian moments or vast epochs that contemplate life’s transitory and fragile nature. Whether embodied by newsprint articles, archival photographs, mementos or meticulous charts, these works serve as invitations to newly orient ourselves in time. Between the Pages thus meditates on the potentials of an “active relationship to time, one where it becomes a boundless field of possibility”.
(...) To look at the films and videos that John Smith has created over nearly fifty years is to find both methods at play: he renders the familiar strange and the strange, familiar. His medium and style may change over time, but this engagement with the politics of perception and the concreteness of the everyday is consistently there.
–Erika Balsom In ‘John Smith: Waldeinsamkeit – Films from the 21st Century’, Kunstmuseum Magdeburg and Verlag für moderne Kunst, Austria, 2022
A particularly beautiful lily seems to grow before our eyes, gradually changing shape; what sounds like breathing on the soundtrack gives it an almost human presence. Suddenly the sound and movement stop as a glass plate, invisible until now, cracks—and it seems we've been watching, in Smith's words, “the forced development of a hothouse flower”
The effect is not only iconoclastic in the word's original sense -- image breaking -- but causes the viewer to question the degree of artifice in all “nature” today. The glass shattering converts what had appeared to be a transparent window into a barrier, reminding us of the camera lens, projection apparatus, and video screen. And because the flower and its transformation were so engaging, the shattering shatters our involvement and evokes the way in which every image we see is filtered through an individual's consciousness, a consciousness foregrounded by the video's end.
–Fred Camper, Chicago Reader, September 2001
I like to make work which gently disorientates the viewer. Whenever I start work on a new film I imagine that I’m inventing a new language. Over the course of watching the film, viewers learn its language, but at the point where they start to feel as though they understand what’s going on, I often change the rules of the language and introduce a new element to take the work in an unexpected direction. My films frequently mislead the viewer but I hope that this trickery creates a playful situation where the viewer feels like an engaged participant in the game. I want my films to guide the viewer on a journey through different ways of looking. If that can be done by simple means, within the confines of a single shot as in ‘The Kiss’, so much the better.
The art of pressing flowers can be traced back to 16th century Japan but became popular in the west in the 19th century, when gifts of flowers pressed between the pages of books became fashionable as love tokens. I’m interested in the contradiction that flowers are universally cut and killed to be displayed as a celebration of life, especially in the paradox that pressed flowers have their lives cut short and are brutally crushed in order to represent the romantic idea of eternal love. In ‘The Kiss’, what appears at first to be natural growth is gradually revealed to be a more sinister, mechanical process. To reinforce the notion of an industrial production line, the work is screened as a looped installation where the transition between seemingly natural and artificial procedures and between the representation of life and death is repeated ad infinitum.
John Smith became involved with the London Filmmaker's Co-op in the late 1970s. Initially inspired by structural film and conceptual art, his work grew to examine the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word. In his over sixty films, videos and installations, Smith has developed a body of work that deftly subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction. His work has been widely included in group exhibitions and screenings internationally.
Recent solo exhibitions include Kunstmuseum Magdeburg, Germany in 2022; Wolverhampton Art Gallery in 2016; Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig in 2015; Centre d'Art Contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, Paris in 2014; Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover in 2012; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 2011; Royal College of Art, London in 2010, along with presentations at the 2010 Berlin Biennale and the 2007 Venice Biennale. Smith's work is held in the public collections of Arts Council England; Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; FRAC Île de France, Paris; Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz; Kunstmuseum Magdeburg, among others.
‘Introspective (1972-2022)’, a ten-week survey of film and video works by John Smith, is currently screening fifty films he has made over the past fifty years at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London and East London’s Close-Up Film Centre until 1 December. Each screening is followed by a conversation between Smith and an invited guest. Guests include Erika Balsom, Ian Bourn, Jarvis Cocker, Gareth Evans, Juliet Jacques, Carol Morley, Jocelyn Pook, Stanley Schtinter, Iain Sinclair and Alia Syed.
An extensive catalogue on Smith's work titled ‘Waldeinsamkeit: Films from the 21st Century’, was published by Kunstmuseum Magdeburg and Verlag für Moderne Kunst in 2022.