John Smith’s Hotel Diaries / Fat Iraqi Kid Runs the Block

by Will Brand on December 1, 2011 Business/Pleasure

John Smith, Dirty Pictures (Hotel Diaries #6), 2007, 14 minutes.

Dirty Pictures isn’t my favorite of John Smith’s Hotel Diaries, but it’s the only one I can find online. Hotel Diaries, as a series, is a real gem; in each, Smith pans slowly over a hotel room he’s staying in, while delivering quiet monologues about contemporary political issues. It’s not novel and it’s not going to blow any minds, but there’s a small genius to harnessing the mindset of tourism. I said yesterday that “reintroducing [the] weirdness [of seeing yourself on camera] is hard”, but adopting the tone of a tourist is a useful shortcut: tourists allow themselves to feel “weirdness”, or perhaps more properly wonder, with a readymade ease.

It’s a bit like Jeppe Hein’s Bear the Consequences (2003), a one-liner for which the artist installed a motion sensor and a flame jet into the gallery wall. You want to evoke fear? Don’t create a painting, because paintings are physically inert collections of liquids on cloth that’re culturally variable besides. People can say no to a painting. Instead, use something universal, something undeniable: a giant jet of flame directed at the viewer.  It’s a simple matter of using the best tool for the job.

Without requiring the slightest artifice, Smith has the audience just how he wants them: eyes open and slightly uncomfortable. It is, again, a small genius.

Fat Iraqi Kid Runs the Block shows the other half of tourism. It’s a video taken by American soldiers in Iraq, who throw candy to the local children as their convoy passes through a village. As the other kids rush to pick up the sweets, one local bully and his crony unleash some serious brutality to get a take for themselves. It’s set to Snoop Dogg’s Tha Shiznit, which is a hilarious choice: In the back of the limo no demo, this is real / breakin niggas down like Evander Holyfield. Still, it’s difficult to laugh without feeling bad, because you understand, implicitly, that this would be less okay if it were in America and less okay if the kid weren’t fat. Where Smith uses a feeling of otherness to promote closer inspection, here it’s used for distance; perhaps the knowledge of this other extreme makes Hotel Diaries all the better.

Business/Pleasure is Will Brand’s new daily column of the best of Video Art and YouTube crap. Most days have one business video and one pleasure video. Got a tip? E-mail it to

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