Filmed from the artist’s window during lockdown, a combination of fragments from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speeches relating to coronavirus with views of the London skyline. Recognising the British government’s decision to place business interests before public health, it relocates the centre of power from Parliament to the financial district of the City of London.
It was only natural that the minimalist and mischievous repertoire of John Smith’s films accommodate the formal straightjacket imposed by lockdown. In keeping with the rudimentary repertoire offered by home confinement, Citadel was filmed entirely from the window of Smith’s London flat opposite the City’s financial district. A double protocol of sound and visual sampling gives him the opportunity to flip the gloomy evidence of the urban landscape onto an unexpected side of dark fantasy. Organised metronomically by the editing, changes in the weather transform the business district into a disturbing mirage, a sort of crystal castle controlled by an ill-intentioned wizard. The wizard is handled by the soundtrack, which plucks mordant excerpts from six speeches given by Boris Johnson between March and May 2020. Behind the fickle ministerial bluster, the ultraliberal obsession reveals itself for what it is: a ghost that haunts the landscape, a mechanical pulsation whose political utterances are scarcely more than a clownish alibi. The castle itself (the faceless power of finance reduced to a bunch of skyscrapers) causes the Prime Minister’s insincere voice to vibrate with its spell. All that is left of ordinary people, portrayed as docile silhouettes cooped up behind distant windows, is the naked truth of a confinement that is basically only very marginally caused by the virus.
John Smith was born in Walthamstow, east London, and studied film at the Royal College of Art. He has made over sixty film and video works that have been shown in independent cinemas, art galleries and on television around the world.