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Pleasure Dome
Chris Kennedy on the works of John Smith

In person: Saturday, September 22

John Smith tells jokes through architecture. And like architecture, they are skillfully built, brick by brick, to conform to the diagrams of the mind, a clever web of associations that gradually unfold for the viewer. His camera, ablanced on a tripod, shares much with surveying equipment, carefully delineating the lines of his perspective. And from that perspective, we see an distinct sense of the landscape that surrounds people and forms their relationships with each other.

These are serious jokes, perhaps even moral tales, and like tales they rely on a clever use of sound to turn the phrase of the image into a new way of seeing. This is most notable in Lost Sound, where the landscape of a typical London Street is augmented by the sounds of a mixture of cultures, as found on the streams of old audio tape that lie tangled in the trees and fences of the neighbourhood walkways. Sound also directs the images of Blight, compiling the discussion of the futureM11K Route over images of the demolition of the public housing that must make way for London's suburban commuters. The definitive piece of sound direction is Girl Chewing Gum, where John Smith instructs the quotidian pedestrians of another London street as they go about their business, unknowingly playing the role of a movie set playing the role of a London Street.

As meticulous as he and his collaborators are in crafting an aural landscape, it his his visual landscapes that supply the source of many of his puns. The public washroom was perhaps not the "Waste Land" T.S. Elliot was envisioning, but it becomes an appropriate place for an afterhours lament. The one-off jokes of Gargantuan and The Kiss employ the simple use of a camera zoom or a tracking shot to redefine our sense of the image. The Black Tower employs Smith's favourite location, the streetscape, in order to develop his story of the haunting of the narrator by a black tower that appears everywhere the narrator goes.

The meticulous shots that make up The Black Tower and drive the humour on shows that John Smith is not afraid of time. His films continuously show of his patience in setting up a visual pun, filming certain angles over several days or months in order to develop our sense of place and flux. Regression makes time a focus of his humour. As he recreates a film he did twenty-one years earlier, he tapes each of the twelve days of Christmas, getting progressively younger as he replays the chorus of the accompanying song. In a sense, it is this youthful humour mixed witht he political wisdom of age and an unflagging patience that makes John Smith's films unique - they are not quick jokes, but elaborate latticeworks of humour. (Chris Kennedy)

The Girl Chewing Gum (1976) 12 mins. 16mm
Om (1986) 4 mins. 16mm
Black Tower (1985-7) 24 mins. 16mm
Gargantuan (1992) 1 min. 16mm
Blight (1994-6) 14 mins. 16mm to Beta SP
The Kiss (1999) 5 mins. 16mm to Beta SP
The Waste Land (1999) 17 mins. Beta SP
Regression (1999) 17 mins. Beta SP
Lost Sound (2001) 28 mins, Beta SP a collaboration with Graeme Miller

Chris Kennedy
Pleasure Dome, Toronto
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Pleasure Dome leaflet
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