John Smith Solo Show

19 MARCH — 13 APRIL 2010

TEL: +44 (0) 20 7590 4494

Pub 1

John Smith

ISBN 978-1-907342-05-9
13,5 x 21 cm.
88 pp., 16 color pp.

1000 Copies

Designed by SA|M|AEL

Publication produced to accompany the exhibition John Smith | Solo Show.  Includes two essays by Gemma Lloyd & Gareth Bell-Jones and Thomas Cuckle, an extended interview with John Smith and a visual essay of his work in the exhibition.



John Smith’s films and videos have been criminally under-shown in his home city. Seven years after his last London solo at the long-gone Pearl Gallery, it took the unanimous enthusiasm of graduating students on the Royal College of Art’s MA in curating (…) to occasion this 17-film display, his biggest exhibition to date.
(Martin Herbert)

'John Smith: Solo Show' exhibition review by JJ Charlesworth, originally published in Art Review, Issue No. 43, Summer 2010, p. 132.

'John Smith', exhibition review by Martin Herbert, originally published in frieze, Issue No. 132, June-August 2010.

'John Smith: Solo Show', exhibition review by Sally O’Reilly, originally published in Art Monthly, Issue No. 335, April 2010, pp. 30-31.

'John Smith: Solo Show', exhibition review by Josephine Breese, this is tomorrow, April 2010.

'In the studio', interview with John Smith, Time Out, April 2010.

John Smith, Emma Astner and Gareth Bell-Jones in conversation with William English on Resonance104.4fm, March 2010.

Pub 2

Solo Show

ISBN 978-1-907342-20-2
13,5 x 21 cm.
160 pp., black & white
750 Copies

Designed by SA|M|AEL

Publication compiled and edited by graduate students. Includes contributions from a variety of practitioners alongside the students’ individual and collective research, both questioning and discussing the role and place of solo shows within contemporary exhibition-making.

Contributors: Doug Ashford, Domo Baal, Mark Beasley, Guy Brett, Dispatch, Elisabetta Fabrizi, Robert Garnett, Teresa Gleadowe, RoseLee Goldberg, Anthea Hamilton, Stewart Home, Mustafa Hulusi, Andrew Hunt, Elisa Kay, Francesco Manacorda, Rebecca May Marston, Kyla McDonald, David Medalla, Jo Melvin, Jessica Morgan, Elizabeth Neilson, Kathy Noble, Hana Noorali, Ahmet Öğüt, Philomene Pirecki, Laure Prouvost, Caterina Riva, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Katerina Šedá, Ingrid Swenson, Milly Thompson, Wolfgang Tillmans, Triple Candie, Dmitry Vilensky, Barbara Visser


Gardner (1977)

6 mins, video from 16mm, colour, sound

John Smith directed Gardner (1977) while still studying at the Royal College of Art. EMI approached the RCA searching for artists to produce work to promote their new invention: a patented non-recordable video disc that was expected to cost around £50. The music company commissioned about six students to create films based on the Guinness Book of Records, intending to generate a visual encyclopaedia that the viewer would want to watch many times.

Smith decided to make a film that included so much simultaneous information and wordplay that it would lend itself naturally to repeat viewing. He based his film on the Guinness entry for the world’s fastest novelist: Erle Stanley Gardner, an American writer best known for his crime stories featuring the fictional lawyer Perry Mason. Gardner dictated up to ten thousand words per day and worked together with his staff on as many as seven novels concurrently. Smith calculated that on this basis Gardner would have dictated a new word every 3.6 seconds over an eight-hour working day and used this idea as the conceptual framework of his film. Every 3.6 seconds a new word pops up on the screen, introducing and connecting various Guinness records.

As an extension of the exhibition this rarely screened work offers an insight into a different facet of Smith’s practice which includes productions for TV and other commissioned work. It was Smith’s first experience of working within the film industry, which was difficult to access for artists due to the ‘closed shop’ trade union system that operated at the time. For Smith the experience of high production values, professional shooting facilities and a more formalised way of working was repeated when making Hackney Marshes (TV version) in 1978 and Shine So Hard in 1981.

Lost Sound

Lost Sound

Thursday 4 March — 7pm > 9pm

at Cafe OTO

22 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL

Screening of Lost Sound (collaboration with Graeme Miller, 1998-2001) 28 mins, followed by a conversation with Conor Kelly, John Levack Drever and Will Prentice. Chaired by Gareth Bell-Jones.

Lost Sound documents fragments of discarded audio tape found on the streets of a small area of East London, combining the sound retrieved from each piece of tape with images of the place where it was found. The work explores the potential of chance, creating portraits of particular places by building formal, narrative and musical connections between images and sounds linked by the random discovery of the tape samples.

The conversation will reflect on sound ethnography, incidental sound and the notion of the soundscape in relation to Lost Sound. It will also address the implications of changing technology, examining how new mediums alter our experience and perception of sound.

Listen to audio recording!

Will Prentice, John Levack Drever and Conor Kelly

Conor Kelly is an artist and composer based in London. He exhibits his work internationally and has recently had solo shows at Green On Red Gallery in Dublin, Mercer Union Gallery in Toronto, Fordham Gallery in London, Peer in London and On Gallery in Poznan. The character of his gallery based film and video work is informed by his experience as a musician and composer.  Kelly is represented by Green On Red Gallery, Dublin.

John Levack Drever’s unfolding practice represents a cathexis into experimental music and sonic art, devised theatre, movement and dance, everyday environmental sound, the genealogy of SFX, human utterance, natural history, the built environment, background noise, notions of silence and the perception of sound. He is a senior lecturer in Composition in the Music Department at Goldsmiths, University of London and Head of the Unit for Sound Practice Research.

Will Prentice is an audio engineer and training officer based at the British Library Sound Archive. He has a Masters degree in ethnomusicology and has carried out research into the early recording industry in Pre-Soviet Central Asia. He began work at the British Library in 1999, digitising over 2,500 ethnographic wax cylinders before moving on to other media, and is now responsible for audio preservation.

Artist Doug Fishbone

Artist Doug Fishbone

Sunday 21 March — 2pm

at Royal College of Art Galleries

Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2EU

Artist Doug Fishbone responds to Associations (1975)

7 mins, and Om (1986) 4 mins.

Listen to audio recording!

Doug Fishbone is an American artist living and working in London. He is perhaps best known for his project 30,000 Bananas, a huge mountain of ripe bananas installed in the middle of Trafalgar Square and later given away free to the audience. Fishbone’s video work has been exhibited widely, including the British Art Show 6 (2005-06), and he has performed at the Hayward Gallery (2007), ICA London (2007) and the Southbank Centre (2008) amongst others. His most recent video, which premiered at Rokeby Gallery, London in 2009, involved hypnotizing an entire audience and manipulating their behaviour with post-hypnotic suggestions. He is currently working on a feature film in Ghana which will be premiered at Tate Britain in October 2010.

The Black Tower

The Black Tower

Wednesday 24 March — 7pm > 9pm

at Royal College of Art Galleries
Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2EU

Screening of The Black Tower (1985-87) 24 mins, and responses from writer and poet Deborah Levy, and specialist in English landscape Surrealism and documentary photography Ian Walker. Followed by a discussion chaired by writer Sally O’Reilly.

‘We enter the world of a man haunted by a tower which, he believes, is following him around London.  While the character of the central protagonist is indicated only by a narrative voice-over which takes us from unease to breakdown to mysterious death, the images, meticulously controlled and articulated, deliver a series of colour coded puzzles, jokes and puns which pull the viewer into a mind-teasing engagement.’ - Nik Houghton, Independent Media, 1988

Ian Walker will comment on presence and absence in the film and Deborah Levy will discuss The Black Tower in relation to ‘The Uncanny’.

Listen to audio recording!

Deborah Levy is a writer who works across a number of media; fiction, performance, visual culture. Her novels include Beautiful Mutants (1987), Swallowing Geography (1992), The Unloved (1994), Billy and Girl (1996) and Pillow Talk in Europe (2004). She has written for Granta, Vertigo, Grand Street and Bookworks. From 2006-09 Deborah was AHRC Fellow in Creative and Performing Arts at the RCA. She is currently curating a film festival for Arteleku in San Sebastian on the theme of ‘The Lost Objects of Childhood’. Her essay for Radio 3 on the theme of enchantment, ‘Tormented Objects’, will be broadcast in April 2010.

Dr. Ian Walker is Reader in the History of Photography and Programme Leader for the MA/MFA Documentary Photography, at the University of Wales, Newport. He has written and lectured widely on photography and his own work has been exhibited in Britain and Europe. Recently his research has mainly focused on the relationship between Documentary Photography and Surrealism. He has published two books: City Gorged with Dreams: Surrealism and Documentary Photography in interwar Paris (2002) and So Exotic, So Homemade: Surrealism, Englishness and Documentary Photography (2007). He is currently working on a third book on Czech Surrealist photography, to be published in 2011.

Sally O’Reilly is a writer, contributing regularly to many art and culture publications, including Art Monthly, Cabinet, Frieze, Art Review and Time Out, and has written essays for international museums and galleries. Her book The Body in Contemporary Art was published by Thames & Hudson in 2009 and she was co-editor of the thematic, interdisciplinary broadsheet Implicasphere (2003-08). She is also a dean of Brown Mountain College of the Performing Arts, an itinerant platform for the production of performative events; co-curator of the Hayward Touring Exhibition Magic Show, and will be the 2010–11 writer in residence at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Musician Jarvis Cocker

Musician Jarvis Cocker

Saturday 27 March — 2pm

at Royal College of Art Galleries

Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2EU

Jarvis Cocker will respond to Slow Glass (1988-91) in collaboration with Thomas Truax.

Listen to audio recording!

Jarvis Cocker and Thomas Truax performed an improvised soundtrack to Slow Glass, and the audience participated by intermittently making sounds with pencils, wine glasses and empty beer bottles.

Jarvis Cocker studied sculpture at St Martins College, well filmmaking actually, whilst John Smith taught there. Concerned that Jarvis seemed to be taking a lot of time off, John suggested he make up his mind and concentrate on film or music.


We invite you to join us as a rich selection of contributors reflect on Smith’s practice. Each event within the Royal College of Art Galleries takes a single work as its point of departure, and proceeds to excavate its connections between Smith’s practice and wider discourses in literature, ethnography, psychoanalysis, spatial and social politics, and the aesthetics of the moving image.