Gregg Smith

Article Bio Works Merits Images www
loneliness, love, memory, oral tradition, transformation
Visual Arts (installation art, performance, video art)
Africa, Southern, Europe, Western
South Africa, France, Netherlands
Cape Town, Amsterdam
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May 16, 2003
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Gregg Smith
Gregg Smith


The psychology of desire and projection

Gregg Smith is an artist of South African origin, born in Cape Town and currently living and working in northern France. He works mostly in performance and video, presenting installations and public art projects. From a position of social engagement, in recent years his work has moved into a more subjective and personal arena. Smith has been awarded a number of international stipends and residencies, including postgraduate study at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.
Gregg Smith was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1970, has lived in Europe since 2000 and is currently based in Tourcoing, near Lille in northern France. As he states, ´like most middle-class white children, I grew up oblivious to the evils of the apartheid system which reached its darkest period during the 1970s and 1980s. Political oppression is at its most sophisticated level when it has existed for several generations. Its system becomes integrated into every level of one’s personal world and systems of relating to one’s surroundings.´ Since moving to Europe, Smith has started to think that the functioning of any society depends on some kind of repression of the individual. ´By repression I mean forces which keep the individual a little bit lonely and away from a sense of personal truth and expression. Labouring under the illusion that the causes and solutions for all fears and problems lie in things which are separate from the individual.´

Gregg Smith is committed to art in public space and has worked mostly in performance and video since 2001 and, to a lesser extent, in painting. ´The intention is consistent in most of my work to create an awareness of the present in both time and space. I try to create a sense of the density of space between things. By density I mean various levels: emotional, psychological, personal, historical, interpersonal. I am curious both about the things that hold the individual back from the present and also those positive urges which push the individual into the present. I usually try to create a tension between the two opposing forces.´

Smith was educated at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town (1988-91) and moved to Amsterdam in 2001 for postgraduate study at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam. At this point he moved away from the socially engaged performance work he had developed in South Africa towards a more subjective and personal way of working. He began to make theatrical public performances and videos in which he tells semi-fictional narratives while doing various recreational or emotional actions. Projects such as ‘trams taken and trams missed’, ‘we met at the bus stop’, ‘notorious’ and ‘brief encounter’ illustrate these themes and processes. The narratives explore human weakness, failures of intimacy and chance encounters in a way that blurs fiction and reality as well as the artist’s own identity.

In 2003, Gregg Smith is studying at Le Fresnoy studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing, France (since 2002). His performance film installation ‘Le Touriste’ made in Tourcoing in 2002 develops new ideas, finding more immediate ways of engaging viewers/participants in his projects. ´I used the idea of the tourist as a starting point and metaphor for a condition where one strongly desires a new understanding or relationship with the world but at the same time fears letting go of the past.´ ‘Le Touriste’ involves two filmed performances (one in 16mm film, one in video) which attempt to create narratives without the use of language or sound.

Public art works include the Proyecto Calle in Peralta, Spain in 2002 where, in collaboration with Consol Rodriguez, he made a street intervention and created permanent public work.

In 2001, Gregg Smith was selected for a Year of the Artist public art project at Gasworks Studios in London. Here he recreated ‘The Lovephones’, a public art project initiated in Cape Town in 2000. The project involved collecting true stories of love from residents in a specific area. Participants were found via advertisements in magazines, newspapers and on radio stations to narrate anonymously a true personal account. Stories were documented with sound and video and presented via simple installations making use of public telephones. Using a computer and voice modem, phones were made to ring in various parts of the city. When a passer-by picked up the phone, the love story began to play. In London, Gregg Smith worked with Tara Sampy on ‘The Lovephones’ and approached community groups such as inmates at Brixton Prison, residents at elderly care centres, young people’s projects and other members of the South London local community to record and collect diverse and individual love stories.

Smith has been awarded a number of international stipends and awards and has exhibited widely including group shows and performances in China, Brazil, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Italy and Sweden.
Author: Judith Staines


Gregg Smith was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1970. Since 2000 he has lived mostly outside South Africa in England, Holland and France. He is currently based in Tourcoing, near Lille in northern France. He was educated at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town (1988-91), continued at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam (2001-02) and is studying at Le Fresnoy studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing, France (2002-date). Smith has been awarded a number of international stipends and awards and has exhibited widely. Since 2001 he has worked mostly in performance and video.


Very Real Time

Production / Performance,
6 week residency and artists exchange organised by Gregg Smith for six local and international artists in Cape Town, South Africa

Proyecto Calle

Street intervention and permanent public work, collaboration with Consol Rodriguez, Peralta, Spain

The Lovephones

Exhibition / Installation,
Public art project at Gasworks Studios and Gallery, London, part of the Year of the Artist programme of residencies. Funded by Visiting Arts and the National Lottery.


Production / Performance
2002 ´it never entered my mind´, with Mathilde Rosier, Amsterdam 2002 ´brief encounter´, with Ana Kadoic, Chinese European Art Centre, Xiamen, China 2002 ´Notorious´, SMART Project Space and Grand Cafe, Central Station, Amsterdam 2001 ´trams taken and trams missed´, Piazza del Monte, Biella, Italy and Muiderpoort, Amsterdam


Exhibition / Installation
2004 Dakar Biennale, Senegal 2003 Videobrazil, Sao Paolo, Brazil 2003 ´Panorama 5´, Le Fresnoy studio national des arts contemporains, Tourcoing, France 2003 ´Lautloses Irren/silent wandering´, Berlin, curated by Harm Lux 2003 CEIA - Centre of Experimentation and Information in Art, International Performance Manifestation, Belo Horizonte, Brazil (conference and performances) 2003 Jakarta Video Art, National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta 2002 Rijksakademie Open Ateliers, Amsterdam 2002 ´Rendezvous in Xiamen´, Chinese European Art Centre, Xiamen, China 2002 SMART Project Space, Threshold, Amsterdam 1999 ´Breathe 1´, Tijdskriften Presens, Glashuset, Gothenburg, Sweden 1999 ´Staking Claims´, Old Granary, Cape Town, for the Cape Town One City, Many Cultures Festival


Exhibition / Installation
1998 Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town 1993 South African Association for the Arts Gallery, Cape Town


2002 Uriot Committee Prize, Rijksakademie Open Studios
2002 Vienna Festwochen, Young Director´s Workshop, Vienna, Austria
2001 Cittadellarte, University of the Idea, Pistoletto Foundation, Biella, Italy
2001 Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa
2001 Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten/Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Netherlands
2001 Harry Crossley Foundation Trust, Cape Town, South Africa
2001 National Art Council, South Africa


Lautloses Irren

Website for ´Lautloses Irren - Silent Wandering´ exhibition curated by Harm Lux in Berlin, November 2003.

Very Real Time

Residency project in Cape Town

Artist´s web site

The Love Phones
Brief Encounter
The Interview
The Tourist