Past Events

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

  • Headshot of Giulia Smith, looking slightly away and to the left in front of a plain white background

    Giulia Smith is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Previously she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (2018–2019) and the Getty Research Institute (2016–2017), having received her PhD from the History of Art Department at UCL in 2016. Dr Smith specialises in modern and contemporary art, with an emphasis on the legacies of empire in Britain and across the Atlantic world. Titled Living Landscapes: Biotic Resistance in the Transnational Caribbean, her book project considers visual objects and literary texts produced in the second half of the twentieth century alongside contemporary artworks that mobilise geophysical entities and climatic phenomena in support of counter-hegemonic critiques of colonial and neo-colonial regimes of oppression and environmental exploitation. Preliminary publications relating to this research include an essay for the catalogue of Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950s–Now (Tate Britain). In the past Dr Smith has contributed articles to British Art Studies, Third Text, Sculpture Journal, Art History and Art Monthly. She has collaborated on exhibitions and research programmes with South London Gallery, ICA, Showroom and Wellcome Library, among other venues.