INTERVIEW WITH BEN JOHN SMITH for HORROR SLEAZE TRASH

HST: where have you been sourcing your inspiration, I only ask cause I need a hit my self. This place is a fucking cultural wasteland lately.
It’s still all internal for me. The World is doing a fantastic job of ignoring me most of the time, so I return the favour and make quite the effort to ignore the World right back. Africa could have sunk last month and I’d most likely be none the wiser. As such, I don’t have a list of hot artists to mention. Have gone on a massive Sartre binge with my reading, which has somehow spun off into Lacan with a bit of Bataille for light relief. And I’m still constantly rewatching Greenaway and Wong Kar-wai and Bergman. I enjoyed Under the Skin more than I expected to (incredible soundtrack really made it for me) and as yet I have been too chicken-shit to watch either of the Nymphomaniac films as I am literally terrified of how they will make me feel.
HST: Don’t get me wrong, i'm a fucking massive sucker for pop-culture, you know what I mean? I follow tumblr religiously just to keep up to date with what the kids are on about, im a real sucker like that.
I quit tumblr earlier this year, pretty much due to the frustration at the comments left on my work by a whole bunch of idiots. Having taken the time to fairly carefully construct an image it was a little disconcerting to have people with ridiculous nick names leaving comments about “Fuck Pigs”, “Filthy Cunts” and “Getting ready to be raped by Daddy”. There is some degree of intellectual snobbery involved there I guess. A lot of my work does take the less pleasant aspects of the erotic as a starting point and it is exactly that exchange that a lot of my output is concerned with. But I’m not glorifying it, not exalting it, just acknowledging it; so seeing it all reduced to disrespectful sloganeering, by people who would probably piss themselves in fear if ever alone in the same room as a woman...leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth, But still, I do seem to get a little protective of those I shoot with and as such would rather not have idiots being disrespectful towards them. In fact I should never show anyone my work ever, as I clearly can’t trust you people to understand my nuances!
HST: You have had a slower output in the last few years but you have been releasing some really quality work. Has that been a conscious effort? Less content with focus on the quality?
My last two films were hard work. The filming of “The Wet Nurse & Her Diabolical Concerns” and “Parfois, mon corps me trahit” narrate and encompass a pretty traumatic period of my life where-by I found myself reminded that if pricked I to do bleed. Was kind of reassuring to realise that as emotionally retarded as I am, little things could still eviscerate me and all of that seeped into the two films, albeit as a slightly obscured abstraction. This has meant that I’m finding it hard to take a light hearted approach to things and should probably spend sometime working on some more trivial projects that don’t have layers of meaning, rather are just absurdist erotica on one level or another. You know, like make a film the process of which I actually enjoyed rather than having to peel painfully little despondent ribbons from a wilting maypole or some such. What a novel concept.
HST: You have a couple of scripts ready to roll, you mention you’re looking for the right persons to work with on them, who is the “right” person and how do you know when you have found them?
These days I generally write with someone in mind. As I have said before, the photoshoots are not much more than mini-auditions these days to find folk to appear in the films, so if someone does express an interest then I will sit down and think of something to suit. I generally have a series of ideas floating around so will choose something as a starting point and see where it all takes me. With my work getting more and more intense and focused though, it is narrowing my pool of people to work with as it seems to be alienating potential collaborators with it’s own concerns. This does mean that if someone wants to work with me then they are seeing something of particular interest in my imagery to them rather than just wanting some “nice” black and white photos for their portfolio. My ideas and my performers have to match though. I have two scripts ready to go and two models interested in working with me on film projects, but neither girl works with either of the scripts for me. So it’s a case of waiting for further inspiration to strike and waiting until eventually the right person comes up for the ideas I have waiting. It’s a bit like gambling in a way, only with far less despair.
HST: Your newest two films have been dialogue, with sub titles, which Is a really different direction from you previous silent works. Was the transition simple enough? Will we be seeing more work from you with dialogue?
With “Wet Nurse” the process wasn’t much different as the dialogue took the form of narration recorded after the filming, edits and rewrites were complete which was then weaved into the film. I had never heard Icelandic spoken until I recorded Tindra’s translation of my text and it’s such a beautiful captivating language. With “Parfois, mon corps me trahit”, it was a much more complex development. we decided literally the night before that the film would be in French. This wasn’t an entirely random decision as the film had commissioned for a French film festival and as Tessa has something of an affinity for and following in Paris, it seemed to make sense. I asked some French friends to translate the dialogue for me and Tessa then asked friends of hers to coach her over Skype in the corrected pronunciations. Anyway, with these two films being as difficult for me as they were, I do want to do something a little more laid back perhaps, just have a little fun, make a strange film, enjoy myself…etc. But the added scope of dialogue adds so many more dimensions of expression and possibility I’m not sure if I will be able to be satisfied without it in future.
HST: You had an exhibit in Paris where you met Gasper Noe, I’m going to act like a massive fuck boy right now and gush, Noe is a fucking personal idol of mine, how was he in person? Give me a full run down.
Ha! I’d love to have a wild story about sharing a bottle of vodka, stealing motorbikes and getting in fights with invisible projections of our own selves, though unfortunately we were merely introduced and exchanged a few words before he was shown my film “Performance & Appreciation”. He didn’t so much as look at me again after that. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad sign.
HST: Where is your biggest following, location/style wise, at the moment? Who’s showing the love and who’s giving you the brunt?
I am currently getting about 70% of hits to my website from people in China searching for the word “Virginity”. I have no idea what they expect to find, but whatever it is, apparently it’s not found on my website, as they don’t seem to hang around for long. Other than that, people in the UK still seem to give slightly less than a fuck about my work. I had an exhibition here in London earlier this year and the only people who seemed to have any degree of interest were French and Spanish. Even the gallery seemed reluctant to feature my work, with the curator saying they had raised objections once my images had been hung and my film “Adoration” shown. I have been asked to give a Q&A after a screening of my work at the Sexhibition event to be held in Manchester in August 2015, so hopefully there will be some interest there. Although I suspect I will end up feeling like I’ve just shown a room full of dogs a series of card tricks, for all the response I will get. Anyway, an Italian magazine called me an Iconoclast and an Anti-Artist last week and recently I have been receiving photos of people having my work tattooed on themselves, so presumably I’m doing something right somewhere, in between bouts of entire apathy and near catatonia in my little cabin here!