John Smith’s film at the Turner Contemporary as part of RELAY meticulously draws in the viewer, says Amanda King.
It seems perverse to be sitting in a dark, enclosed room watching John Smith’s wonderful film; Horizon (Five Pounds A Belgian) when its subject matter, the spectacular Margate seascape, is only a few steps away. But of course, as explained last week at a fascinating artist’s talk event at Turner Contemporary (John Smith in conversation with curator of film at Tate Modern, Stuart Comer) Horizon is a meticulously constructed representation of what we see, framed and edited by one of Britain’s most influential artists using film and video.
Superficially, it is a beautifully crafted film that records the multifarious states of the sea as viewed from the shore. We see the dramatic changes in light, colour and texture of its surface as the cloudless sky hangs above. The sounds of the crashing waves, out of frame, punctuate the action. The film slowly reveals its hidden depths as the viewer is drawn inexorably into the piece.
Smith speaks about his ambition that an audience will enjoy his work on its own terms, without prior knowledge of his other films and influences. Horizon is accessible on many levels, and Smith’s use of a selection of boats, people and dogs by way of ‘surprises’ for the viewer ensures that there is plenty going on during its 18 minutes. As with his seminal 1976 film, The Girl Chewing Gum, Smith choreographs the various elements within the frame to brilliant effect.
Fittingly, an accompanying commission will take place later this summer when choreographers, Dog Kennel Hill Project, will create a new site-specific piece, entitled Marks, Measures, Maps and Mind to be performed live in the Kentish woods over the August Bank Holiday weekend. (See Stour Valley Arts and Turner Contemporary websites for more details.)