11 Feb: Looking at the work of John Smith & Zineb Sedira

JOHN SMITH (b.1952)

Since 1972 he has made over 30 films, video and installation works and is described (by Google) as an award-winning avant garde filmmaker.  The films document and probe the immediate surroundings, looking at the everyday, such as panes of glass and the discolouration of a mouldy ceiling.   They often contain an element of humour which in turn makes the viewer look at his surroundings more closely and the everyday world.

The following image is taken from his black and white film The Girl Chewing Gum (1976).  The film can be viewed on my video page CLICK HERE.


This film viewed without any prior information, suggests that it is about the making of a film  as suggested by the commentary.  However within a short period, the viewer is aware that the commentary has been made after the events were filmed and recounts what was seen.  He appears to make up his own storyline as the events unfold, but these are purely circumstantial. The last 1:30 mins of the film changes from the street scene to a landscape view which does not appear to have any relationship with the former, apart from an alarm which continues throughout the entire film.

Smith talks about his work and the motivations behind his making of the 16 mm colour film The Black Tower  (1985-87), which can be seen on my video page CLICK HERE.  This image was taken from the film.


I was interested to see what he had produced in his black and white film, Worse Case Scenario (2001-2003) which has been made from 35mm stills.  It looks down on to the intersection of a busy Viennese street.  It  is black and white, with ambient sounds in some scenes such as church bells timed to coincide with a man walking.  He has created a narration through the use of the images, sometime calm and at other times dramatic.  I did wonder how the effects had been produced as there in repetition in some shots, which may be merely repeating the frames or the use of Adobe After Effects.  The following image is taken from this film.  I was unable to download o copy but it can be viewed on-line at http://www.luxonline.org.uk.


I then looked at more recent work and in particular at White Hole (2014).  This image is taken from the film.


His film Dark Light (2014) is an expanded version of White Hole and was intended for gallery exhibition as a seamless loupe.  His website (www.johnsmithfilms.com) states that, “They are a juxtaposition of image and sound to express positives and negatives, beliefs and realities, history and present, forwards and backwards … a light at the end of a tunnel.”  Perhaps that is something we are all searching for.  I found a very thought-provoking and imaginative film, with little to distract visually.


I discovered her work at Luxonline.org site which describes her photography and video work as using, “… the intimate perspective of her own experience to frame questions about the intersections of eastern and western culture and identity.”  It also states that, “The work shifts from the political to the emotional; from a sense of history to the present; from east to west and through them both.”  Born of Algerian parents she has lived in France and the UK which gives her insight into different worlds. She has worked in film and fine art pieces including sculpture and wall coverings.  Her early work included a single screen project film entitled, Don’t do to her what you did to me (1998-2001).  This image is taken from the film.


Amongst the work she has produced I looked at the following pieces.  In 2000 she produced Silent Sight, which is almost surrealist image merely of a pair of eyes, reminiscent of a woman looking through the slit of a burka.  The film is 10 minutes in length but an excerpt can be seen on my video page CLICK HERE. This image was taken from the film.


Whilst one feels on a one to one basis with the person in the film who looks directly at us, it is slightly unnerving and I personally felt that 10 minutes is too long to maintain the attention of the viewer, but perhaps she does not want the viewer to feel comfortable.

Much of her film work involves the use of multiple screen installations to be shown within a gallery setting.   Her work Lighthouse in the Sea of Time (2011) is a two-part 16:21 mins video installation involving five screens and was commissioned by Folkestone Triennial.  The film can be viewed on my video page CLICK HERE, and this image was taken from the film.


Her most recent film work also involves a nautical theme and is entitled Guiding Light (2013).  This is a single screen video projection of 6 mins with the addition of a boat and stand on a plinth. An excerpt can be viewed on my video page CLICK HERE.  This image is a view of the installation within the MMK Museum, Frankfurt.


It shows a truck making its way along an empty road in a desert landscape.  There is a strong wind similar to a sea storm and the sounds of the engine as it makes its way towards the viewer.  There are also poetic phrase handwritten on the screen.  The website:, www.am-africa.com (Intense Art Magazine) describes the film as, “… displacement – the   migrant travelling before embarking on a perilous voyage across water to Europe.”

I found a great diversity in the work of both these filmmakers, particularly in respect of the backgrounds from which they have both come and their individual approaches to their work.  The use of multi-screen installations is particularly exciting but would be a major undertaking at my stage as a novice video maker.  The more that I look at the work of other filmmakers I realise the approach is very different to what I  have produced so far so has given me a strong starting point to work from.

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