Stuart Comer

  • Hudinilson Jr., untitled, 1979, woodcut on paper, sheet 8 5⁄8 × 11 3⁄4".

    “Hudinilson Jr.: Explicit"

    Curated by Ana Maria Maia

    In 1980, at the height of Brazil’s repressive military regime, Hudinilson Urbano Jr. became infamous for scanning his own naked body on a photocopier on the premises of Pinacoteca de São Paulo. His flirtations with the machine, which had begun in the 1970s, brought new force to the task of making the personal political, which he also took up in his remarkable, densely collaged diaries. Early in his career, the artist worked for a television station and as a postal worker; the two jobs possibly prompted his pioneering approach to disseminating work via the mail, graffiti,

  • John Smith, Worst Case Scenario, 2001–2003, stills from a black-and-white and color film in 35 mm transferred to video, 18 minutes.


    John Smith’s films and videos, made over the past four decades, are puzzles that won’t be solved. Just when the logic of their structural precision begins to seem familiar to those acquainted with British and North American experimental filmmaking, Smith’s dark wit diverts the viewer into unexpected and unruly networks of meaning and absurdity. Smith studied at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London and is indebted to the Brechtian outlook of the London Film-Makers’ Co-op, of which he was a member; his explorations of perception and narration open up cinematic possibilities that remain strikingly prescient and relevant in the digital age. While his work has recently migrated from its roots in London’s East End to the artist’s travels through the border zones of the Middle East and Cyprus, it has likewise found new, far-flung exhibition venues, from the recent Berlin Biennale to MoMA PS1 in New York and the RCA, where a retrospective was held; a DVD compilation of his work will be released by LUX this month. Committed to defamiliarizing what we see and hear but never offering easy experiences of resolution, Smith has produced an important body of work that reorients our critical bearings as the outpouring of images becomes ever more promiscuous. Tate Modern curator Stuart Comer talks to the filmmaker about his deft use of strategic ambiguity and disorderly humor.

    STUART COMER: Documentary films are allegedly about evidence; in your films, the evidence itself often functions as the “crime.” For instance, in one of your best-known works, The Girl Chewing Gum [1976], the voice-over narration, the linguistic clues, are completely misleading with respect to the image.

    JOHN SMITH: When I made The Girl Chewing Gum, I became aware of just how powerful the word can be in determining how we understand an image. The film is composed of only two shots, and what you see for the first eleven minutes is just a documentary shot of people on the street in East London in

  • Duncan Campbell, Bernadette, 2008, still from a black-and-white video, 37 minutes.

    Stuart Comer


    1 Bernadette (Duncan Campbell) Campbell’s sharp, spartan study of Bernadette Devlin, a fiery 1960s activist from Northern Ireland, is a remarkable meditation on the politics of history and images.

    2 The Temenos (Lyssaraia, Greece, June 27–29, 2008) Three new chapters, or Orders, from the late Gregory J. Markopoulos’s eighty-hour magnum opus, Eniaios (1947–91)—two of them screened for the first time—flashed, flickered, and punched their way into the starry Peloponnesian sky in a stirring fusion of myth, landscape, and cinema.

    3 Hunger (Steve McQueen) Ruthlessly detailing the

  • Left: Joanna Zielinska and artist Paulina Olowska. Right: Artist Wilhelm Sasnal with CCA curator Lukasz Ronduda. (Photos: Adam Mazur)
    diary July 21, 2006

    Bloc Party


    As I stumbled through heavy curtains Monday night into “USA,” Wilhelm Sasnal’s film exhibition at Warsaw’s Center of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, I was slightly unnerved to find myself confronted by the 16-mm vision of a woman posing and cavorting in abandoned airplane wreckage somewhere in the Mojave Desert. My flight on LOT Polish Airlines a few days earlier came to an end with a rather “creative” landing, and Sasnal’s film strayed a bit too close to the visions that flashed before my eyes when we rather violently entered Warsaw’s airspace. Nevertheless, the sound track, comprising

  • Stuart Comer

    AS I EMERGED FROM the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale this July, the airconditioned drafts that trailed me out the door were less chilling than the news I received upon reaching the building’s terrace overlooking the Giardini: A second wave of bombs had just gone off in London—and this while the rhythmic chanting of the phrase “This is so contemporary, contemporary, CONTEMPORARY . . .” drifted over absurdly from Tino Sehgal’s project in the German pavilion next door. The initial reports located the attack on Hackney Road, one of the main arteries in the network of East

  • Left: Elmgreen & Dragset's duplicate Martin Klosterfelde booths. Right: Maureen Paley(s).
    diary October 29, 2005

    Great and Hood


    “Juanita, slap Fidel!” “Now, everybody DANCE!” Stumbling out of Andy Warhol's film The Life of Juanita Castro, 1965, into the blazing lights of an art fair café has to be one of the more jarring art-into-life transitions I've ever made. The film is being screened in a program selected by London’s cerebral art world playboy Cerith Wyn Evans for the mostly very interesting and well-selected “Artists Cinema” space organized by London-based nonprofit LUX and Frieze Projects. Throughout the Warhol film, which followed screenings of work by Ulla von Brandenburg and Kurt Kren, Evans wriggled with glee

  • Left: Urs Fischer's work at Eva Presenhuber's booth. (Photo: William Wintercross) Right: Jay Jopling and Ydessa Hendeles.
    diary October 22, 2005

    Double Deutsche


    The other day, on my glamorous daily bus commute down Hackney Road, I noticed a new sign on the Mecca Bingo complex: Play Bingo NOW! I have never thought of bingo as an imperative, but upon entering the seething opening of Frieze Art Fair number three, it occurs to me that Mecca’s management might have clocked a new cultural trend: “I’ll be at Anton Kern, D-SIX!” a fur-lined New York collector screams over her shoulder as she beats a path to the John Bocks. “Have you heard about the Jenny Saville?! It’s at Gagosian . . . I think it’s D-9!” cries another art tourist as she blithely tramples my

  • Left: Tracey Emin and friend. Right: The Serpentine Gallery's Summer Pavilion. (Photos: Nick Harvey)
    diary July 06, 2005

    Park Life


    During my harrowing mini-cab journey from Shoreditch to Hyde Park, the meteorological prospects for the Serpentine Summer Party did not look good. A long overdue week of glorious weather had succumbed to fitful rain, and my overblown visions of sartorial extravagance, radical architecture, and green urban meadows were quickly giving way to damp disappointment. The taxi made its way gradually, detained slightly by the hordes scurrying off to a Babyshambles and Kasabian gig elsewhere in the park. The clouds lifted just as I noticed a large “Make Poverty History” banner for the Live 8 concert that