Past

AS in DS: The World of Alison Smithson

Research Lunch – Giulia Smith

  • 11 May 2018
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm

Alison Smithson was an architect, designer, collector of everyday objects and indiscriminate author of architectural journalism and romantic fiction. Her experimental photo-book AS in DS: An Eye on the Road (1966–83) combines these skills to create an extraordinarily complex and unusually intimate portrayal of the effects of the environment on the embodied subject. A small booklet of less than two hundred pages, AS in DS is cut to the plan-shape of the Citroën DS, at a ratio of 1:18, which makes it roughly the size of a model car. The narrative, which stretches over roughly a decade, pivots on the car journeys that ‘AS’ and her family (Peter Smithson and children) took in their Citroën DS across the English countryside. What little literature exists on this remarkable travel log focuses on Alison Smithson’s conscious ambition to record ‘the evolving sensibility of a passenger in a car to the post-industrial landscape’. Much is left to say about her creative approach to narrative, and how this informed her unique contribution to the ecological debates of the 1960s and 1970s. Presenting a montage of lyrical annotations, personal photographs, postcards, road maps, and hand drawings by both Alison Smithson and her children, AS in DS triangulates notational evidence with subjective intuitions and affective relations. Its performative nature, I will argue, is best explored through the lens of feminist autoethnography. Following this line of interpretation, I will show how AS in DS, with its attention to familiarity and locality, offered a radical alternative to the planetary ecotopias bred by the counterculture.

About the speaker

  • GSMITH_HeadShot

    Giulia Smith specialises in modern and contemporary art, with a focus on ecological and feminist aesthetics in Britain and the USA. Her research deals primarily with questions of technology, materiality, politics, subjectivity, wellbeing and welfare. In 2016, she received her PhD from the History of Art Department at University College London. Her thesis, ‘Regeneration in Postwar British Art and Architecture’, investigates the collision of Pop Art with proto-environmentalist and eco-feminist motifs. Between 2016–17, Giulia was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Getty Research Institute, where she worked on an ongoing book project on the ecological imaginary of the Independent Group.

    In 2015–16, Giulia was Editorial Assistant at Oxford Art Journal. Previously she worked in the curatorial departments of The Drawing Center and the Guggenheim Museum, New York. She has organised public programmes in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Tate, South London Gallery and Arcadia Missa, London. In 2014, she co-curated Re-Materialising Feminism (ICA and The Showroom, London) and edited the accompanying catalogue (Arcadia Missa Press). She has contributed articles to British Art Studies, Oxford Art Journal, Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform and Object. Giulia has served as an art critic for Art Monthly, Frieze, ModernMatter and This Is Tomorrow.