24 July – 3 August

John Smith

1996, 16mm film transferred to video, 4:3, colour, stereo sound; 14 mins

Blight was made in collaboration with composer Jocelyn Pook. It revolves around the building of the M11 Link Road in East London, which provoked a long and bitter campaign by local residents to protect their homes from demolition. Until 1994, when our houses were destroyed, both the composer and I lived on the route of this road. The images in the film are a selective record of some of the changes which occurred in the area over a two-year period, from the demolition of houses through to the start of motorway building work. The soundtrack incorporates natural sounds associated with these events together with speech fragments taken from recorded conversations with local people. Although the film is entirely constructed from records of real events, Blight is not a straightforward documentary. The film constructs stories from unconnected fragments of sound and image, bringing disparate reminiscences and contemporary events together. Like much of my earlier work, Blight exploits the ambiguities of its material to produce new meanings and metaphors, fictionalizing reality through framing and editing strategies. The emotive power of music is used in the film to overtly aid this invention, investing mundane images with artificial importance. A specific ‘real’ context for the depicted events only becomes apparent at the end of the film. What is presented is simultaneously fact and fiction.”  John Smith

”In the first few minutes of his film Blight, derelict houses appear to be dismembering themselves. Bricks rattle, mortar falls, and wooden beams are dislodged, seemingly by poltergeist activity (a feeling reinforced by a poster for the film The Exorcist, on a bedroom wall that has become newly exposed to daylight). The claw of a bulldozer is filmed, ominously caressing a chimney stack it is about to tear down. But the shot stops short, and the inevitable destruction happens in our heads, not on the screen. The restraint of John’s editing beautifully undercuts the emotive quality of the music (composed by his collaborator Jocelyn Pook), and the music in turn replaces the drama that hits the cutting room floor.” Cornelia Parker ‘John Smith’s Body’ in John Smith: Film and Video Works 1972-2002.


14th Hamburg International Short Film Festival, Germany, 1998 Best International Short Film
42nd Cork International Film Festival, Ireland, 1997 Best European Short Film
40th Leipzig International Documentary and Animation Festival, Germany. 1997 Golden Dove (best short documentary)
33rd Chicago International Film Festival, USA, 1997 Gold Plaque (best experimental film)
16th Uppsala International Short Film Festival, Sweden. Film Jackdaw (best experimental film)
43rd Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Germany, 1997 Prix Regional and Youth Film Prize
3rd International Biennale of Film and Architecture, Graz, Austria, 1997 Special Critics Award
2nd Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, Thailand, 1999 Audience Prize


John Smith was born in London in 1952 and studied film at the Royal College of Art.   After graduating in 1977 he became involved in the activities of the London Filmmakers’ Co-op. Strongly influenced by the Structural Materialist ideas, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, since 1972, he has made over 40 film, video and installations works. His films have been shown in cinemas, art galleries and on television throughout the world and awarded major prizes at film festivals in Leipzig, Oberhausen, Hamburg, Cork, Geneva, Palermo, Graz, Uppsala, Bangkok, Ann Arbor and Chicago. One-person presentations of his work include exhibitions at Ikon Gallery (Birmingham), Pearl Gallery (London), Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool), Kunstmuseum Magdeburg (Germany) and retrospectives at the Venice Biennale and Oberhausen, Cork, Tampere, Uppsala, Regensburg and Winterthur international film festivals. John Smith is Professor of Fine Art at the University of East London.”The films of John Smith conduct a serious investigation into the combination of sound and image, but with a sense of humour that reaches out beyond the traditional avant-garde audience. His films move between narrative and absurdity, constantly undermining the traditional relationship between the visual and the aural. By blurring the perceived boundaries of experimental film, fiction, and documentary, Smith never delivers what he has led the spectator to expect.”  Mark Webber, Leeds International Film Festival, 2000″The popularity of John Smith’s films can be explained by his wry sense of humour, his play on language, and the elegance of his visual style. His understated humour thinly conceals a darker layer of meaning in his films. John Smith’s skill as both narrator and composer of visual narratives leaves us discomforted even as we smile.”  Catherine Elwes, UK/Canadian Video Exchange, 2000″It’s as if by choosing as his subject the ordinary everyday things that surround us all and by scrutinising them closely, turning them over and inside out, he can find all the hidden complexity of the universe. The whole world brewing in a ‘Teasmade’.”  Cornelia Parker ‘John Smith’s Body’ in John Smith: Film and Video Works 1972-2002





Director: John Smith
Producer: David Stacey
The Arts Council of England
Scenario: John Smith, Jocelyn Pook
Photography: John Smith, Patrick Duval
Editor: John Smith
Sound design: Roger Ollerhead
Music: Jocelyn Pook

John Smith, Blight