Jack Smith and the Ugliness Of Capitalism

Panel discussion


8 DEC 2013

“I know how just a thing like the ugly design of kitchen sinks destroyed my childhood... 'cause I had to fight with my sister all the time over who had to do the dishes. It was the ugliness, the ugliness of capitalism, making it impossible for anybody to live a life that isn't made ugly.”

-Jack Smith

If Jack Smith is discussed today, it is almost invariably in reference to his 1963 film Flaming Creatures, a queer masterpiece which some would argue still retains its power to rupture the petrified facade of bourgeois complacency. However, towards the end of his life, Smith became ambivalent towards the film. While Flaming Creatures is often championed for its ambiguity, Smith himself came to bemoan this, posing that an artwork’s meaning is constituted by its concrete effects, and that the concrete effects of Flaming Creatures had been the economic gain of others. In the face of this he turned later in his life towards didactically political performance, in an attempt to attack capitalism and espouse anarchist-socialist notions in a manner which could not be misconstrued or misappropriated. One such performance took place at Cologne Zoo in 1974, and documentation of it is currently being exhibited at SPACE. In this roundtable, the panelists will discuss what is lost and what is gained in the shift from a non-rhetorical political art to a more discursive mode of expression and more specifically the relevance today of the ideas which Smith sought to express: Ideas denouncing a pervasive capitalism, but also towards a society without governance or landlordism, wherein things would not be designed as according to pre-given rules ascribed by authority and manufacturers, and people would freely exchange their unwanted things with others. 

The panel will be chaired by Daniel Neofetou and comprise Dan Barrow, Rebecca Bligh, Adam Christensen, Karolina Szpyrko, Jonathon Vaughan, and John Walter.

Dan Barrow is a critic and poet based in south London. He has written for The Wire, Sight and Sound, Plan B, The Quietus and New Statesman. His poetry was published in the anthologies The Salt Book of Younger Poets and Clinic III. His first monograph, A Scarlet Tracery, is forthcoming on Zero Books.

Rebecca Bligh is a writer from London. In 2012 she completed a PhD at Goldsmiths. She has been commissioned to write for artists such as Bonnie Camplin, Sidsel Christensen, Brian Moran and Urara Tsuchiya, and published on autism, gender, sex, libraries, art, death and bereavement. This summer she curated An Address to The Body, a programme of dance workshops, talks and research for Bold Tendencies 2013.

Adam Christensen is an artist living and working in London. He has exhibited in Prague, New York, Stockholm and Bilbao, and in 2010 had his first solo exhibition at Rachmaninoff’s, London. He performs with Jack Brennan and Vicky Steiri in the music project Ectopia, and in 2011 they played a live soundtrack to Jack Smith’s Normal Love at the ICA.

Daniel Neofetou is a writer, filmmaker and electronic musician. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Goldsmiths in the Centre for Cultural Studies. He is a founding member of the documentary collective Reeling the Real, and intermittently runs the cottage industry record label Nude Defending a Staircase Recordings. He has written widely, and in 2012 Zero Books published his first monograph, a study of David Lynch entitled Good Day Today.

Karolina Szpyrko is an artist, curator and theorist specialising in queer theory, gender studies and feminism with a particular interest in queer and avant-garde cinema. She has performed and exhibited across the UK and in Denmark and Poland, and in 2013 completed a dissertation on Jack Smith with the University of Warwick’s Department of Film & Television Studies.

Jonathon Vaughan is an independent researcher and multidisciplinary artist. He has written widely under multiple pseudonyms and is currently undertaking projects on precarious work in libraries, abstract cinema, and Malevich.

John Walter is an artist and doctoral candidate at University of Westminster. His PhD is titled ‘Alien Sex Club: How architecture affects the mind and body in cruising and alternatives to antiretroviral therapy’. From 2006-2007 he was resident at the British School at Rome. He has exhibited internationally, and organises the ongoing large-scale collaboration ‘Two Peacocks’, the next iteration of which is scheduled to take place in Aberdeen in 2014. He is represented by Vitrine Gallery in London.

Event organised by Daniel Neofetou