Brian Reffin Smith

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Brian Reffin Smith (born 1946) is a writer, artist and teacher born in Sudbury in the United Kingdom. He lives in Berlin, Germany. Working with computers since the middle 1960s, he was a pioneer of computer-based conceptual art, with the aim of trying to resist technological determinism and "state of the art" technology which might merely produce "state of the technology" art. After showing interactive artworks at the Musée d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1983 he was invited by the French Ministry of Culture to intervene in art education, and was later appointed to a teaching post in the École nationale supérieure d'art (national art school) in Bourges. In the UK in 1979, Smith wrote 'Jackson', one of the first digital painting programs, for the Research Machines 380Z computer, software which was distributed by the Ministry of Education and widely used in schools and elsewhere. The BBC published his art software for the BBC Micro.

He has been cited [1] as one of the most prolific letter-writers to the UK newspaper The Guardian, along with the celebrated Keith Flett.

Smith is a member of the OuPeinPo[2] group of artists, Paris, France; Regent of the College of 'Pataphysics, Paris, France, holding the Chair of Catachemistry and Speculative Metallurgy. Until 2011 he was Professeur, École nationale supérieure d'art, Bourges, France.[3]

Smith won the first-ever Prix Ars Electronica, the Golden Nica, in Linz, Austria, 1987. Areas of work, research, teaching and performance include ideas of Zombie and 'Pataphysics in art and elsewhere, and the détournement or "hijacking" of systems, mechanisms, programs etc. from computing and other areas of science and technology, to make conceptual art. Smith claims to have become a Zombie, and hence to have a deeper insight into problems of existence, artificial intelligence and art, after a botched heart operation in a Paris hospital when, instead of the more usual latex balloon being used to inflate a blocked artery during angioplasty, the team had recourse to a puffer fish (or fugu).

Smith during Zombie-Pataphysical Steampunk Show, Berlin, 2010

He studied at Brunel University and the Royal College of Art, where he held a Research Fellowship in 1979 and was then appointed College Tutor in computer-based art and design at the RCA from 1980 to 1984. He taught widely in the UK and France including most London art schools and French Écoles nationales, the Open University in the UK, and the Sorbonne and Arts et Métiers ParisTech in Paris.

Exhibitions of conceptual art, installation art, performance art etc. include "Electra", Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1983; Fondation Cartier, Paris, Galerie Zwinger,[4] Berlin, and Krammig & Pepper Contemporary, Berlin, 1986-, Muses Maschine Art Laboratory Galerie, Berlin, 2014-2015 .

In addition to many books on computers for children and on computer-based arts for adults, he has broadcast and written widely on art and technology, in science, art and computing journals and magazines, and for British and European television and radio broadcasters and newspapers. He is a book and peer reviewer for Leonardo Journal. Smith has contributed papers, presentations and performances to international conferences on Art, Design, Consciousness Studies, Media Histories and Digital Arts. In his writings on computers in the early 1980s (for example "Computers", Usborne Publishing Ltd, 1981) Smith appeared to predict [5] in some detail smart devices such as the iPad and also the idea of using software held not in a computer but remotely, in the cloud, or elsewhere on the World Wide Web.

In his chapter in "White Heat Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960-1980" (Ed. by Paul Brown, Charlie Gere, Nicholas Lambert and Catherine Mason, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2009) Smith wrote:

"There is a mine, a treasure trove, a hoard – I cannot emphasize this too strongly – of art ideas that emerged in the early decades of computer art that still have not remotely been explored. We know how this happens. The next big thing comes along and the Zeitgeist has its demands: things get left behind…"

This quotation inspired an influential symposium "Ideas before their time" held at the British Computer Society in London in February 2010 at which Smith was the invited Keynote speaker.

From Smith's widely distributed "43 Dodgy Statements on Computer Art",[6] described by Wired as "Timeless":[7]

4. Using state-of-the-art technology merely produces state-of-the-technology art.

18. Just as everyone has a novel inside them, many believe they have an artwork. The purpose of a good art school is to seek out these people and stop them.

41. Of course computers and other devices will never fully understand flowing, allusive conversation. But they won’t care. (Letter to The Guardian, UK, 2011 [8]])


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