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Smith, John

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.

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"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. Smith's often humorous films produced over the last 30 years have inventively documented and probed his immediate surroundings, often not even moving much beyond the front door of his various abodes in a small area of East London. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to describe Smith's films as overly delicate, preciously insular or purely personal – assignations that the previous description might suggest – as his work sees within the minutiae of familiar surroundings a range of philosophical, aesthetic, technical and quotidian challenges and revelations that extend far beyond the realm of much other comparable cinema. 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." From ‘On the Street where You Live: The Films of John Smith’ by Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema, 2003 “The films of John Smith are among the most widely seen and appreciated of the UK avant-garde. Rigorous in structure and highly crafted in making, they extend the logic of language to question the authority of the image and the word. Among the complex features of these films is perhaps an attempt to sidestep, in a knight’s move, Brecht’s critique of cinema, his “fundamental reproach” that a film is “the result of a production that took place in the absence of an audience”. In John Smith’s films, the spectator is a producer as well as a consumer of meaning, bound in to the process but but simultaneously distanced from the ‘naturalness’ of the film dream.” From 'Associations: John Smith and the artists' film in the UK', by A L Rees, 2002 "One of the most talented filmmakers of the postwar generation, he has attracted admirers from way beyond the narrow confines of the Avant Garde. His reputation rests on a quite unique sensibility which has successfully married three traits - humour, documentary and formal ingenuity - into an indissoluble whole." Michael O'Pray, Art Monthly, 2002

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