CAST’s black box screening space re-opened on Tuesday 4 August with a programme of short films by British artist John Smith. The programme has been extended to run until Saturday 3 October and John Smith will give a talk on Friday 2 October. The hour-long programme is screened on a loop, so you can drop by to see part or all of the programme.
Born in 1952 in Walthamstow, Smith has won international renown for his quietly humorous work, which often plays with the viewer’s narrative expectations, and involves subtle political critique. This short programme of films, selected from an extensive production, spans 40 years of his career.
The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), 12 minutes
Made when Smith was in his mid-twenties, The Girl Chewing Gum features a commanding voice-over, which seems to direct the action of a busy East London street. As the instructions become more absurd it gradually becomes evident that the supposed director is simply describing the events that take place before him.
Om (1986), 4 minutes
Framed simply on a black background, and composed almost entirely as a single portrait shot of a young man whose head is being shaved, Om explores aural, visual and ideological responses to stereotypes – deftly manipulating our expectations.
The Black Tower (1985-87), 24 minutes
The melancholy story of a man haunted by a tower which, he believes, is following him around London.
Gargantuan (1992), 1 minute
Direction and misdirection of the viewer is a device central to Smith’s approach. It is humorously deployed in this short ode to a tiny newt.
The Waste Land (1999), 5 minutes
Smith’s personal interpretation of T.S.Eliot’s poetry and letters is paired with the grimy details of a pub toilet, exploring the ambiguities of language and space in a scenario built around an anagram.
Dad’s Stick (2012) 5 minutes
A meditation on three objects shown to the artist by his father shortly before he died, including the paint stick used by Smith’s father when decorating – each layer of paint recalling a particular phase in his domestic life. 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’.
Steve Hates Fish (2015), 5 minutes
Filmed directly from the screen of Smith’s smartphone as he navigates a busy London street using a language app that has been instructed to translate the English signage from French into English, with amusingly confused results (Steve Hatt is a popular Islington fishmonger).
Twice (2020), 3 minutes
Filmed and released during lockdown, this three minute film combines footage of Smith washing his hands in front of a mirror, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in a minor key, twice, with Boris Johnson’s advice to the public to contain the spread of coronavirus by doing exactly this.