Close Up

19 January 2023: John Smith: Introspective Programme 9 (2012-21)


Programme 9 (2012-21)

Following the recent sold-out “John Smith: Introspective (1972-2022)” season at Close-Up and the ICA, this is one of two chronological programmes initially shown at the ICA that will be presented again by Close-Up.

John Smith will be present at the screening to talk about the films.

Dad's Stick
John Smith, 2012, 5 min  

Dad’s Stick features three well-used objects that were shown to the artist by his father shortly before he died. Two of these were so steeped in history that their original forms and functions were almost completely obscured. The third object seemed to be instantly recognizable, but it turned out to be something else entirely.  Focusing on these ambiguous artifacts and events relating to their history, Dad's Stick creates a dialogue between abstraction and literal meaning.  Looking back over half a century, the work explores the contradictions of memory to create an oblique portrait of “a perfectionist with a steady hand”.  

White Hole
John Smith, 2014, 7 min  

The only time Smith visited a communist country was when he went to Poland in 1980, not long after Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was first elected in Britain. He first visited the former East Germany in 1997, eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a few months after Tony Blair's 'New Labour' government was elected. Recalling these experiences many years later, White Hole questions the idealisation of life in other places and political systems, while remembering a time when we could at least imagine that the grass might be greener on the other side.  

Steve Hates Fish
John Smith, 2015, 5 min

Filmed directly from the screen of a smartphone using a language translator app that has been told to translate from French into English, Steve Hates Fish deliberately confuses the software by instructing it to interpret the English signage in a busy London shopping street. In an environment overloaded with information the signs run riot as the restless software does its best to fulfil its task, looking for French words to translate in places where there are none.

"Thrashing around hopelessly in its dictionary, the app’s stabs in the dark replace words on shopfronts and displays with some very wayward guesswork, before it faints completely and enters They Live territory, planting spurious nouns and verbs on blank concrete walls and pavements. The empire of signs is overthrown, its language of control scrambled beyond repair..." – Tim Hayes  

Who Are We?
John Smith, 2016, 4 min  

On the 23rd of June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union. Who Are We? is a re-working of material from a BBC television debate transmitted a few weeks earlier.  

Song for Europe
John Smith, 2017, 4 min  

Inspired by a message for motorists on Eurotunnel trains, Song for Europe is an underwater celebration of Britain’s connection to the mainland.  

John Smith, 2020, 16 min  

Filmed from the artist’s window during the first English lockdown, Citadel combines short fragments from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speeches relating to coronavirus with views of the London skyline. Recognising the government’s decision to place business interests before public health, it relocates the centre of power from Parliament to the financial district of the City of London. Presenting the city as a site of both horror and aesthetic beauty, the film documents the dramatic effects of changing light conditions upon its architecture. Shifting its focus from the city’s gleaming skyscrapers to the inhabitants of the dense urban housing that lies in their shadow, Citadel contrasts faceless corporate power with the particularities of individual lives.  

“Typically incisive and playful, Citadel is an urgent film of the Covid era: a subversive city symphony made in confinement, critical of the status quo, responding with wit and humanity to the reigning chaos.” – MUBI  

Jour de Fête
John Smith, 2017, 1 min  

During the last week of July the village of Serviès-en-Val in the South of France celebrates its annual fête. A stage is erected in the main square and fairground attractions are installed, sometimes in surprising locations.  

A State of Grace
John Smith, 2019, 3 min  

Enigmatic diagrams and the artist’s poor hearing on a flight to Ireland trigger a radical interpretation of the airline’s safety instructions.  

Time and Motion (for A L Rees)
John Smith, 2021, 2 min  

The filmmaker blames a pioneer photographer for his speeding fine.  

Covid Messages
John Smith, 2020, 22 min  

Covid Messages is a video in six parts, based around broadcasts of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s COVID-19 press conferences. The work focusses on the British government’s attempts to eliminate the virus through the use of magic spells and rituals. While the pandemic spreads and the death toll rises, the Prime Minister makes repeated errors of judgement. Exasperated by his many mistakes, the spirits of the dead rise up and intervene.  

"Under the UK’s 2020 lockdown that political conscience has welled up in his new works Citadel and Covid Messages, surely destined to be remembered as signature artworks of this challenging moment in British history." – Ian Christie  

John Smith, 2021, 1 min  

A larger than life portrait of Prince Philip, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, recorded in 2002 and completed on the day of his death, April 9th 2021.

Screening as part of John Smith: Introspective (1972-2022)