John Smith 

unusual Red cardigan  

5 October to 10 December 2011

Acclaimed artist filmmaker and lifelong east Londoner John Smith will present a major new multi-media installation. His starting point is one of his best-known works, The Girl Chewing Gum, which he made as a student in 1976. Smith revisits this work, both in terms of its continuing legacy and also in a literal sense, filming the same street corner in Dalston 35 years on.

From this video work, Smith then leads us on a narrative journey that explores ideas around identity and anonymity – both his own (as perhaps underlined by the ubiquitousness of his name), and that of his two main protagonists, the girl who chews gum in his film and an on-line seller of his video containing this work. Smith writes;

In February last year I received a Google Alert informing me that a VHS compilation tape of my films was available for purchase on eBay. When I visited the eBay site I discovered that this second-hand tape, which had previously retailed for twenty pounds, was being offered for sale with a reserve price of five times that much. Intrigued by the fact that anyone could attach a value of a hundred pounds to this technologically obsolete relic, I immediately became curious about the seller’s identity. Studying the eBay page I found out that the seller, serenporfor, had 148 stars and 100% positive feedback. But who was serenporfor, and what else could I find out about him/her? Was there a clue in the name? Was it an anagram? If so, configurations like Senor F Roper and Rose Pronfer offered no illumination.

From this otherwise innocent if rather over-priced on-line offer, Smith is compelled to investigate further. The exhibition comprises the clues that he finds – both forensic evidence and artefact. From these fragments we piece together a kind of identikit image of the seller’s personality, and enter into Smith’s bizarre shaggy dog journey of speculation and discovery.

The internet also serves as the progenitor for another element of this exhibition. A range of used computers, huddling as if deep in conversation, populate one corner of the gallery, where Smith further broadens his investigation into the continuing adventures of The Girl Chewing Gum.


John Smith has shown internationally for more than three decades. His work is regarded for its formal ingenuity and its ability to combine compelling narrative with an acute observation of the everyday, often subverting the boundaries between documentary and fiction. As Smith puts it, ‘...if you look hard enough all meanings can be found or produced close to home.’ This exhibition marks a radical development in Smith’s practice, which to date has been almost exclusively lens based either for cinema screening or for gallery presentation. For further information and a full filmography go to John Smith teaches part-time at the University of East London where he is Professor of Fine Art. He is represented by Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin. His work is distributed by LUX.

John Smith discusses his work on Saturday 12 November 

Artist's Edition: 
John Smith has generously produced a limited edition print to help raise funds for PEER. Click here to view and buy the work.

This project has been generously supported by:

The Paul & Louise Cooke Endowment