Ian Smith Archive

Overview

Ian Smith (1959-2014) was an artist, performer and artistic director, founding the acclaimed Glasgow-based performance company, Mischief La-Bas, with his wife, Angie Dight in 1992.  Self-proclaimed ‘Art Gangster’ and mischief maker, Smith exploited and meddled with a multitude of art forms throughout his career including visual art, performance, street theatre, dance, comedy, cabaret, compering and music.

Smith was born in Bexley, South-East London in 1959.  Attending Ravensbourne Art College between 1977-1978, Smith went on to study Expressive Arts at Brighton Polytechnic, graduating in 1981.  One of Smith’s most notable performance projects at university was inventing the fictitious youth cult called Monolizm (1979-1980), which gained media attention and started to attract genuine followers.  As reality began to blur with artistic practice, Smith called an end to the project, but ‘this manipulation of reality in public spaces…continued to be a founding principle’ of Smith’s work.

After graduating, Smith remained in Brighton and became an established figure in the local performance, music and cabaret scene.  He was an integral part of the experimental Zap Club for cross-media performances, art, dance, music, comedy and cabaret.  Originally organised as a club night, the Zap Club soon established a permanent venue by its directors, Neil Butler, Dave Reeves, Angie Goodchild and Pat Butler, with Smith invited as the resident compere.  These compering skills were later employed by Smith whilst touring with the anarchic French circus troupe Archaos in 1990-1991 and for the National Review of Live Art (NRLA), where he performed the role of Master of Ceremonies for many years. 

In the 1980s, Smith toured extensively throughout Europe and North America with solo performances, such as Cannibal! (1988-1989), and collaborated with fellow artist, Roger Ely, combining feasting and performance to produce numerous ‘performance banquets’.  Smith also toured as the frontman for the band, Birds With Ears formed with Billy Cowie, and as part of the dance company, The Wild Wigglers with Liz Aggiss.  During the same period, Smith exhibited his artistic creations known as ‘Pulptures’, described by Smith as ‘like sculptures but not as good’, in Brighton and Wolverhampton.  Smith also directed the large-scale performance project The Tell-Tale Heart (1988), which invited artists to collaborate on a specific theme, an approach later revisited for projects, such as Bull! (1997-1998). 

In 1988, Smith became involved in Streetbiz Festival, Glasgow before joining Circus Archaos, as ringmaster and artistic director for a time.  Smith and Dight returned after touring internationally with the circus company and settled in Glasgow, setting up their interactive performance company, Mischief La-Bas.  Mischief La-Bas started with a two-year nightclub residency in The Arches, Glasgow in 1992 and went on to produce a vast amount of large and small scale indoor/outdoor shows in public spaces, creating an accessible style of street theatre that interacts and engages with the public.  Some of Mischief’s most notable performances and projects include BullBallet (1998), Project X (1999/2000), Painful Creatures (2003-2004), Montague Place (2006), Peeping at Bosch (2008) and The Zoo (2012), all evidenced in the archive.  (Since Smith’s death in 2014, Dight has become the sole artistic director of Mischief La-Bas, continuing its mission, ‘gently warping the underlay of the fabric of society’).

Smith continued to create solo installations and performances earning critical acclaim for his work including Good Grief (2003) at the NRLA and My Hands are Dancing but my Heart is Cold (2010), which was nominated for Best Male Performance by Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS).

Smith also took on various radio, TV and voicework throughout his career, gaining media exposure for his performances, music and as the radio and TV persona, Monty Cantsin, who had a regular spot on the Fred MacAulay’s radio show.  This coverage is reflected in the archive with videos of TV appearances, including recordings of Monty Cantsin, as host of The Beatroom for BBC Choice.

What the collection holds

The archive covers material spanning 35 years of Ian Smith’s career across the various forms of performance, including music, cabaret, dance, master of ceremonies roles, and personas and voicework for TV, radio and film.  There are video and audio recordings of performances, TV appearances and radio interviews, as well as photographic stills, press cuttings, publicity material and personal papers including business correspondence.  It also contains material relating to Smith’s artistic practices including his creative writing, scripts, sketches, proposals for performances and TV, as well as documentation of his visual art. 

The online catalogue for this collection can be viewed here: IS – Ian Smith Archive (Clicking on the underlined RefNo ‘IS’ will begin to open up the directory, or 'hierarchy' of the archive catalogue.) 

In 2021, during restrictions imposed by the pandemic, MA Art History students curated a virtual exhibition using documentation from Ian's archive.

Further information:

Mischief La-Bas website

You can read more about Ian Smith’s career in these published obituaries:

https://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/obituary-ian-smith-1529312

https://www.list.co.uk/article/64739-ian-smith-an-appreciation/

https://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/13173806.ian-smith/

The Ian Smith archive was generously donated to the Theatre Collection in 2020 by Ian Smith’s family.  Cataloguing of the archive was made possible thanks to funding from Creative Scotland to Mischief La-Bas.

 

Ian Smith as the 'Vagabond King' c.1985
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