May - September 2007
This season at BFI Southbank marked the publication of A History of Artists’ Film and Video in Britain, by David Curtis, published by the British Film Institute. The book was launched on Tuesday 15th May 2007 at BFI Southbank with a preview of the five-month season A Hidden History which reflects the themes of the book and Mobius Loops for Five Projectors, a new installation by Guy Sherwin. A display of artists’ film and video artefacts is in the BFI Southbank Mezzanine Gallery until early July 2007
David Curtis programmed a four-month season of screenings designed to reflect many of the themes of the book following its structure by showcasing works associated with key moments and movements in this history, and with the organisations that have contributed to its development. A special opening event accompanied the book-launch and the unveiling of Artefacts, a small exhibition of historic documents and images in the Southbank Centre’s new mezzanine gallery.
Launch programme – A Hidden History
The season’s opening programme offers a scattershot view of 100 years of history, in the form of six overlooked or recently rediscovered works, drawing attention to the urgent need to research and preserving the past.
Hepworth Manufacturing Company Burnham Beeches 1909 5min; John Latham Talk Mr Bard c.1959-62 6min; Conrad Atkinson X Film 1971 10min; Morgan Fisher Screening Room 1973 3min; Ian Breakwell Excerpts from the Diary 1975 24min; Marilyn Halford Cobaea Scandens 1976 8min.
Guy Sherwin Mobius Loops for 5 projectors, 2007
Artefacts: Artists’ Film and Video in Documents
This display of posters, leaflets, drawings and photographs relating to artists film and video was been drawn from the collections of the BFI Library, NFTVA and the British Artists Film & Video Study Collection at Central Saint Martins. Designed to reflect the do-it-yourself spirit associated with experimental filmmaking, it includes hand-printed posters from the 1960s, throw-away fliers from the 80s, artists’ notebooks, sketches and storyboards, and photographic documentation of exhibitions and other artist-led events from the 1930s to the present.
The Film Society and Filmmakers’ Little Magazines: 20s & 30s
Important to the development of artists’ film in the pre war period was the supportive intellectual context provided by The Film Society (1925-39) and a host of little magazines such as Close Up and Film Art, edited by and for film’s avant-garde. In this programme we recreate the Film Society’s eclectic programming mix, and present all silent films with ‘non-synchronous musical accompaniments’ by David Cunningham, as supplied by Len Lye’s sound composer Jack Ellitt to the Film Society throughout its 1934-5 season.
Walther Ruttmann Opus 2-3-4* 1923-5 10min; Fernand Léger Le Ballet mécanique* France 1924, 8min; Percy Smith The Birth of a Flower 1910 and The Strength and Agility of Insects. 1911; Oskar Fischinger Experiments in Hand Drawn Sound aka Ornament Sound 1932 7min; ‘Brunel and Montagu’* 1928 1min; Hans Richter and others Everyday 1929-67 15min; Francis Bruguiere and Oswell Blakeston Light Rhythms 1930 5min; B Vivian Braun Beyond This Open Road* 1934 7min.
Grierson’s Avant-Garde at the Brussels International Film Festival 1935 and New York Worlds Fair 1939
Through the Empire Marketing Board and its successor the GPO Film Unit, John Grierson and his successor Alberto Cavalcanti were able to support the filmmaking talents of many young artists. Highly personal, yet widely seen as shorts in cinemas across Britain, the films in this programme won prizes at festivals abroad, and established the international reputation of the British avant-garde.
Basil Wright Song of Ceylon 1934 40min; Alberto Cavalcanti Coal Face 1935 11min; Len Lye A Colour Box 1934 4min; Humphrey Jennings Spare Time 1939 18min.
Ambitious Narrative to Structural Film – 60s-70s
Experiments in film-narrative benefited from the support of the BFI’s Experimental Film Fund throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Contemporary literature (Duras, Robbe-Grillet) provided one model, with novelists BS Johnson and WS Burroughs making their own remarkable contributions (the latter self-funded); contemporary music another (here Luciano Berio). The early formal experiments of Greenaway and Hall associated with Structural film, seem remarkably at home in this context.
Anthony Balch and William Burroughs Towers Open Fire 1963 16min; David Gladwell An Untitled Film 1964 9min; Lloyd Reckord Ten Bob in Winter 1963 12min; Don Levy Five Short Film Poems aka Don Levy Programme 1967 9min; B S Johnson You’re Human Like the Rest of Them 1967 18min; Misha Donat / Luciano Berio Solo 1968 8min; Peter Greenaway Intervals 1969 7min; Jonathan Gili Incident 1972 2min; David Hall & Tony Sinden This Surface 1973 12min.
8mm Poets – Surrealists and New Romantics: 1960s-70s
Writing in 1965, critic Ray Durgnat urged artists to use the amateur 8mm film gauge while discussing the work of ‘the 8mm poet’ Jeff Keen: “An 8mm camera is the ballpoint of the visual world”. While the surrealists / outsider-art enthusiasts Keen, Robert Short and Victor Musgrave were the pioneers, it was Jarman’s enthusiasm and the ‘buzz’ surrounding the showing of Super 8 work by his protégés Maybury and Wyn-Evans at the ICA in 1981, that put Super 8 firmly back on the map.
Jeff Keen with Piero Heliczer The Autumn Feast 1961 14min; Robert Short, Bois Charbons 1968 14min; Derek Jarman Studio Bankside 1970 6min; Derek Jarman The Art of Mirrors 1973 10 min; Victor Musgrave Conversation Piece 1976 10min; Cerith Wyn-Evans Still Life with Phrenology Head 1979 14min; John Maybury Is Like a Memory [Experimental Hat Film] 1981 9min; John Maybury Pagan Idolatory 1984 10min from The Dream Machine.
Pop Art and Sculptors’ Films: Turnbull to Pye – 50s, 60s & 70s
Film was explored by many visual artists during the 1950s and 1960s; a period when British art was internationally associated with radical new sculpture and Pop Art. This programme contains rare film-works by some of the most celebrated artists of the period and by others who deserve to be better known. Many have their origins in the idea of documentation, but ambitiously explore different forms of collage, multiple viewpoint and space-time relationships.
William Turnbull and Alan Forbes 83B 1951 12 min; Jeff Keen Wail 1960 5min and Like The Time is Now 1961 6min; Eduardo Paolozzi History of Nothing 1963 12min; James Scott & Richard Hamilton Richard Hamilton 1969 25min; Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce Heads, Bodies and Legs 196? 3min; Derek Boshier Link 1970 10min; Nicholas Munro Sailing Through 1971 6min; William Pye Reflections 1972 17min.
From Sexual Liberation to Feminism – 60s, 70s, 80s
In the revolutionary atmosphere of the 60s, filmmaking artists noisily opposed censorship and demanded honesty in representations of sex on screen, with London-based New Yorkers Schneemann and Dwoskin leading the way. In the 70s, after the austere ‘structuralist’ period where representations of the body were generally considered taboo, Feminist artists led by Rhodes answered Laura Mulvey’s challenging question “What would women’s cultural practice be like? What would art and literature within an ideology that did not oppress women be like?”.
Carolee Schneemann, Fuses, USA 1964-66, 18 min; Dwoskin Moment 1968 13min; Lis Rhodes Light Reading 1978 20min; Sandra Lahire Arrows 1984 15min; Cate Elwes There is a Myth 1984 10min; Jo Ann Kaplan The Story of I 1997, 23min.
Film Co-op / Film as Film – 60s 70s
The London Filmmakers Co-op, founded in 1966, initially followed Jonas Mekas’ New York model in being a artist-run distribution organisation. But London quickly added a vital new ingredient – a film-editing workshop and film-processing laboratory, radically reducing costs and crucially allowing experiment during all stages of the filmmaking process. The works in this programme are by many of the key players of the Co-op’s first years.
Peter Gidal Room Double Take 1967 10min; Malcolm Le Grice Little Dog For Roger 1968 12min; Fred Drummond, Shower Proof, 1968, 10 min; Peter Gidal Clouds 1969 10min; Stuart Pound Clocktime Trailer 1972 8min; Roger Hammond Window Box 1972, 3min; Gill Eatherley Light Occupations: Lens and Mirror Film 1973 3min; David Crosswaite The Man With The Movie Camera 1973 8min; ‘1973 NFT Underground Festival’ 1973 10min; John DuCane Zoomlapse 1975 15min; Annabel Nicolson To the Dairy 1975 4min.
LVA – Video Art contra Television – 70s
The arrival of the artist-run London Video Arts, (later Access), marked a moment of ‘video specificity’ – video explored as a new medium, with its own material properties. More lastingly, it also issued in video as a critique of dominant mainstream television. Through its association with the Air Gallery and other artist-run spaces, LVA pioneered different forms of video exhibition – and this programme includes works for both single monitor and multi-channel presentation, (the latter courtesy of the University of Dundee’s REWIND project).
Clive Richardson Video Studies 1972 c22min; David Hall Television Interruptions (1) Interruption Piece 1971 2.20 min; Tamara Krikorian Unassembled Information 1977 10min; David Hall Television Interruptions (2) Window Piece 1971 2.25 min; Stephen Partridge Dialogue for Four Players [4-screen] 1978 16 min; David Hall Television Interruptions (3) Tap Piece 1971 3.31 min; David Critchley Pieces I Never Did [3-screen] 1979 35min.
During the early 1970s, artists outside the Co-op group were similarly exploring different ways of exhibiting film beyond the cinema context. David Dye and Anthony McCall took film into the gallery in a particularly sculptural form. For John Latham, John Hilliard and David Tremlett, film was primarily a documenting medium, an extension of the function of a still camera, or a means of recording statements and proposing ideas to be seen alongside related works in other media displayed in the gallery. Film in its most cinematic form became a serious preoccupation for artists such as Yoko Ono, David Lamelas, Tony Morgan and John Blake, albeit for a short period of time. At the same time, David Hall, Ian Breakwell and others were pioneering video as a gallery medium.
John Latham Speak 1962-5 10min; Tony Morgan Beefsteak Resurrection 1968, with Daniel Spoerri 10min; David Hall Vertical 1970 17min; John Hilliard From and To 1971 2 screen 6min; David Dye Unsigning for Eight Projectors 1972 [documentation 2000] c3min; Anthony McCall Landscape of Fire 1972 7min; Bill Lundberg Noumenon 1974 11min; David Lamelas Cumulative Script 1971 15min; John Blake Bridges 1974 aka Bridge Film 10mins.
Landscape / Portrait / Still Life
Landscapes, portraits and still-lives – the stock-in-trade subjects of painting – only began seriously to cross-over into the moving-image repertory with the arrival of cheaper film cameras and ‘home-movies’ in the 1950s. Since then, (and with more than an occasional nod to the panoramas and portraits made by cinema’s 1890’s pioneers), moving-image artists have made these traditional genres very much their own.
Alexandre Promio Liverpool, Panorama pris du chemin de fer electrique 1896 6min; Margaret Tait Three Portrait Sketches 1951 10min; William Raban Colours of This Time 1972 3min; Jenny Okun Still Life 1976 6min; Chris Welsby Streamline 1976 10min; Guy Sherwin Metronome, Guy Sherwin Candle and Clock 1976 6min; Guy Sherwin Portrait With Parents 1976 3min from Short Film Series; Malcolm Le Grice Academic Still Life Cezanne 1976 6min; Chris Newby Hoy 1984 15min; Marty St James Metamorphosis 1998 7min; Paul Bush Still Life with Small Cup 1995 4min; Gillian Wearing Two into One 1996 5min; Sam Taylor Wood Still Life 2001 4min; Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman & Joseph Gerhardt) All the Time in the World 2005 4.5min; Steven Ball The Defenestrascope 2003 6min.
Schooling Artists – Case Study: Chelsea School of Art
Artists’ film and video first seriously invaded the art-school towards the end of the 60s, and by the early 1970s had achieved a notable impact on the degree-shows of graduates at Hornsey, Saint Martins School of Art, Maidstone, the RCA, NELP, Newcastle Poly, Exeter, Sheffield and Brighton. This programme looks at Chelsea, where the moving-image never formed a single-subject course, but none-the-less thrived for many years thanks to the presence of Anne Rees-Mogg, followed by her protégé Anna Thew, and the quiet encouragement throughout of Nick Wadley.
Guy Sherwin Newsprint 1972 5min; Chris Welsby Wind Vane 1972 8min 2-screen; David Pearce Portrait no 2(Anne Rees-Mogg) 1974 11min; Anne Rees-Mogg Muybridge Film 1975 5min; Renny Croft Three Short Landscape Films 1979 6min; Richard Welsby Parallax III 1977 3min; Jock McFadyen Close Encounters with a Martian Missionary – The Case Continues c20min 1975; Ian Owles Film School Photo 1976 16mm 6min; Anna Thew Lost for Words 16mm 1980 – 2007 c12min; Nick Gordon Smith Heaven of Animals 1984 8min; Jock McFadyen [with Helen Chadwick] The Case Continues 1980 20min.
The Body and Indentity
In the 1970s and 1980s, feminism and gender politics reclaimed the body as a potent vehicle for expression in film, as it had been in painting and sculpture for millennia. The century’s last two decades added individual elegies to loss, displacement and ‘not belonging’, songs of protest, essays in self-definition and attempts to retrieve overlooked histories, and in common with art-cinema, works that explored the construction and function of memory.
Tina Keane Clapping Songs 1981 8min; Stuart Marshall Pedagogue 1988 10min; Amanda Holiday Manao Tupapau 1990 1min; Sarah Pucill You be Mother 8min 1990; Isaac Julien The Attendant 1992 8min; Fran Hegarty Turas 1991-4 7min; Breda Beban & Hrvoje Horvatic Absence She Said 1994 15min; Tracy Emin Why I Never Became a Dancer 1994, aka Why I Didn’t Become a Dancer 6min; Michael Curran Amami se Vuoi 1994 4min; Alia Syed The Watershed 1995 8min; Jayne Parker The Reunion 1997 9min.
Writing Histories event
Ripped-off, forgotten, marginalised, undocumented. How would we know who made waves experimenting with film and video if the stories remained untold? Yet the histories now emerging are passionately contested. As BFI Southbank approaches the end of David Curtis’ 12-part historical survey based on his book A History of Artists Film and Video in Britain (BFI publishing 2007), we examine the process of making a history and ask what we can learn from the past that will shape our future histories. Contributors include: Gareth Evans (Time Out/Vertigo) Cate Elwes (UAL Camberwell, author Video Art, a Guided Tour) Duncan Reekie, (founder member of Exploding Cinema and author of Subversion -The Definitive History of Underground Cinema) and David Curtis (UAL, CSM).