Posted on 17 Nov 2016
Film and video at the Tate Gallery: the rushes of a relationship
by Inga Fraser
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative (LFMC), a ground-breaking organisation that inaugurated a tradition for the production, distribution, and exhibition of artists’ moving image in the United Kingdom that remains vibrant today. To mark this anniversary LUX and Tate Britain presented Co-op Dialogues 1966-2016, a monthly series of screenings and artists’ conversations revisiting the legacy of the London Film-makers’ Co-op and its significance today. On this occasion, we have asked Inga Fraser, Assistant Curator of Modern British Art at Tate, to reflect on Tate's history with the London Film-Maker's Co-operative, and the role of the organisation in broadening the impact of artists' moving image, as an art form, in Britain.
In ‘Kinomuseum’, an essay Ian White developed from his catalogue text for the 2007 International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, White argues that the definition of the contemporary museum may be considered cinematic—in that it 'stages', 'frames' or 'performs' objects in its collection. He describes how the contemporary museum 'becomes a cinema of multiple points of view, its content the very nexus of its meanings', accommodating non-linear chronologies and encompassing a heterogeneity of subjects and styles. If the museum in the second half of the twentieth-century has, curatorially, become analogous to cinema, it has nevertheless been slow to engage with artists' film and video within its programmes and collections. The fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the London Film-Makers' Co-operative in 2016, marked at Tate by the Co-op Dialogues series and the Reel to Real programmes, begs the question: what kind of 'dialogue' has there historically been between the museum and the moving image in the past half-century? With reference to Tate Gallery programmes and Tate Gallery records, the following short essay sketches the nature of the dialogue between the London Film-Makers' Co-operative (and artists' moving image more broadly) and the Tate Gallery in the two decades between 1970 and 1990 (from the first film programming at the Tate to the opening of the Clore auditorium as a space with dedicated facilities for film and video projection).
There is an inherent tension between early film and video art in the UK and the gallery or museum. The Co-op's evolution from screenings of underground films at Better Books on Charing Cross Road and the Arts Lab in Covent Garden delineated a space for experimental film that was expressly counter-cultural and, in its activism and rhetoric, operated as critique of the artistic establishment of the period. Furthermore, much British experimental or avant-garde film made at the Co-op in the 1970s—in common with performance and conceptualism—foregrounded process and acted against commodification within the art market or the museum. Correspondingly, the embrace of television transmission in that decade extended this prevailing anti-gallery position among those artists working in film and video. Yet there was also a desire for film to be seen in relation to other contemporary art forms, and in the context of historical precedents in a range of media—after all many of the key protagonists in the early years of the Co-op were from an art school background, for example Malcolm Le Grice, who studied painting at the Slade. Agitating for such a development, in Studio International in 1973 Le Grice wrote, ‘there are three important areas for which the Tate could be the ideal screening context: (1) an historical repertory of avant-garde film, regularly presented as an aspect of the Tate’s permanent art exhibition; (2) a regular series of showings by individual film-makers, introduced by them, beginning with a complete review of home-grown production; (3) occasional special presentations of installation and cinema in the round, work prepared for the gallery situation.’
By 1972, the Education Department at the Tate Gallery had developed a film programme. On the whole, however, it mirrored the approach the Arts Council had taken towards film—as both organisations had to fit their remit around that of the British Film Institute, who was the national institution primarily responsible for film. Both the Tate and the Arts Council were, consequently, more focused on films about artists rather than by artists, though the Tate also planned seasons of historical avant-garde cinema. It is telling that one of the first artists' film programmes at the Tate corresponded to traditional art historical categorisation, that of landscape. Avant-Garde British Landscape Films in March 1975 featured contemporary work—in this case by Co-op members Chris Welsby, William Raban, and Jane Clark and Mike Duckworth. Confirming the correspondence in his introduction, Deke Dusinberre used language that could as easily been applied to an analysis of painting and sculpture, describing, ‘light, colour, movement and texture’.
Suggestive of its status within the museum, in the 1970s and 1980s the film programme was a prerogative of the Education Department and the basic obstacles of securing usable gallery space for installation alongside the appropriate expertise, administration and technical support within the institution had yet to be surmounted. For example, in the staging of the Tate Gallery's Video Show in 1976, Simon Wilson in the Education Department confessed, 'When we started the project, almost the only video art I had come across was by the American Dan Graham', continuing, 'I saw the Serpentine Video Show which I found confusing and irritating and I didn't look at it as hard as I probably should have done, although I didn't know at that time that we would be doing one.' As Richard Cork in the Evening Standard noted, the exhibition was not staged in the principal galleries but, 'tucked away downstairs in the Lecture Room, which can be reached only after a long trail through the entire length of the Historic British collection.' Key staff at Tate at this time with an interest in film and video included Wilson, Terry Measham and Cliff Evans who assisted with installations.
In 1980 Alan Bowness was made Director of the Tate Gallery, having previously worked as Chairman of the Art Film Committee alongside David Curtis and others at the Arts Council. In this decade, the number and frequency of film and video events increased at the Tate, with programming divided between historical work, contemporary work, and documentaries on art. There was also a desire to create proper departmental structures and working processes for film and video in the gallery, which led to the formation of an 'Audio-Visual Committee' at the Tate to discuss 'the needs both curatorial and technical for audio-visual collections and displays', with responsibility split between 'a group of curators from the Modern Collection, the Archive, the Library and the Education Department'. The minutes of a meeting on 30 July 1984 to discuss a new job description with AV responsibilities show how the Tate was (or wasn't) gradually making room for this 'new media' within its institutional structure, with Richard Francis stating that, 'the production of T/S programmes required an innovative mind and they could be made by an outside person, on say a three-day contract, or by a part time employee of the Tate who would be creating his own work in the rest of his time. This would be the best kind of person to assist artists in the realisation of their work at the Tate.' In the run up to the opening of the Clore Gallery extension at the Tate in 1987 (which included an auditorium fitted out with screening equipment), the Director, Alan Bowness, set up quarterly meetings on Audio Visual media. Staff attending at the time included Francis, Simon Wilson and Keith Skone. Nevertheless, the programmes from the period reveal the extent to which Tate relied on external creative and technical expertise from the likes of the Co-op.
Film and video continued to feature in exhibitions and events at the Tate Gallery throughout the 1980s. As well as historical seasons, such as that curated by Sara Selwood, with Keith Skone at the Tate (with input from David Curtis and Peter Vergo) to accompany the exhibition of paintings Abstraction: Towards a New Art in 1980, there were contemporary seasons such as Film, Video, Performance, Installation. This programme ran from 22 September-11 October 1981 and included Welsby's Shoreline One and Shoreline Two alongside single-screen works by Tina Keane (The Swing, 1978), David Hall (This is a Television Receiver, 1976), David Critchley (Pieces I Never Did, 1979) and others. The 1983 New Art exhibition ran from 14 September to 23 October and included film work selected by Gray Watson, and in June 1984 the Tate collaborated with the Pompidou Centre in Paris and London Video Arts on Anglo French Video Exchange. The landmark programme at the Tate in this period, however, was The New Pluralism: British Film and Video 1980-1985. It ran from 11-28 April 1985 and was selected by Michael O'Pray and Tina Keane. With O'Pray having both worked within and without the London Film-makers' Co-op and London Video Arts, contributing to Undercut (which he helped launch), Afterimage, and Art Monthly, and Keane having made work in both film and video formats, the season was intended to show the new diversity of approaches to film and video being taken by artists in the current moment. In his catalogue introduction, O'Pray described historical antecedents and contemporary trends, and draws comparisons between other media. In doing so, he not only framed the state of film and video at that time but, crucially, situated it within a broader art historical narrative, physically within the walls of the Tate, the national gallery of modern and contemporary art, thereby staking out the territory for this form of artistic production in the years to come.
Continuing to connect the moving image with other artistic forms, later in 1985, an autumn programme titled Performance Art and Video Installation ran from from 16 September-6 October and included works by Stuart Brisley, Marc Chaimowicz, Amy Greenfield, Lydia Schouten and Rose Finn-Kelcey. Keith Skone from the Tate Education Department selected the film programme with colleagues Catherine Lacey, Richard Francis, Jeremy Lewison and Ann Jones curating and coordinating other events. A follow up to The New Pluralism was staged at the Tate in 1987. Titled The Elusive Sign: British Avant-Garde Film and Video 1977-1987, it was selected by O'Pray and Tamara Krikorian, and Catherine Lacey at the Tate and organised in collaboration the Arts Council and the British Council. Finally, in 1988 Hi-Beam: Recent Film and Video for the Big Screen, again involved Tina Keane as selector, this time with Karen Alexander.
The documentation of this activity at the Tate and elsewhere is scant. Whereas exhibitions are documented in large correspondence files, promotional materials and catalogues; one-off screenings may only be referenced by a single sheet of programme notes and often not at all. This means that a full picture of activity is difficult to build, and greater research into this area is needed. (It is worth noting that this problem is mirrored today, in the issues surrounding proper archiving of documentation held digitally on contemporary screenings and events.) Nevertheless, researching and writing this brief historical sketch in some ways has crystallised the dynamic of a relationship between the museum and the moving image that continues to this day. Simultaneous critique and appeal to institutions on the part of film and video artists shaped both art and institution for every successive generation. Despite this, government remits set in for national museums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries continue to impact upon the type of programming and collecting that is possible. Curatorial expertise must be supported by technical expertise, and the developing field of time-based media has and continues to pose particular problems for publically-funded institutions in this country. Finally, collaboration—today as then—is pivotal in enabling the museum to show as broad a picture of contemporary art as possible. Key figures affiliated with the London Film-Makers' Co-op have been, as LUX are now, instrumental in presenting artists' film and video at Tate.
Assistant Curator of Modern British Art at Tate
 Ian White, 'Kinomuseum' in Kinomuseum: Towards an Artists' Cinema edited by Mike Sperlinger and Ian White (Köln: Walther König, 2008) p. 23
 Ibid, p. 26
 Co-op Dialogues 1966-2016, March-December 2016 at Tate Britain was curated by María Palacios Cruz and included artists of different generations affiliated with the Co-op or with LUX in conversation, such as John Smith and Laure Prouvost, Malcolm Le Grice and Matthew Noel-Tod, and Jean Matthee and the Otolith Group. From Reel to Real: Women, Feminism and the London Film-makers' Co-operative, 19-26 September 2016 at Tate Britain and Tate Modern was curated by Maud Jacquin and included work by Nina Danino, Ruth Novaczek, Gill Eatherley, Sandra Lahire and others.
 Prior to the foundation of Tate Modern in 2000, the Tate Gallery, Millbank was the home of both historic British and international modern and contemporary art. A dedicated space for film and video was first instituted at Tate in the Clore Auditorium, which opened in 1987.
 Malcolm Le Grice, 'Vision: the London Festival of Avant-Garde Film', Studio International, vol. 186, no. 960, October 1973, pp. 188-189
 See Lucy Reynolds, 'Avant-Garde British Landscape Films at the Tate Gallery', Luxonline, accessed 7 October 2016: http://www.luxonline.org.uk/histories/1970-1979/landscape_tate.html
 Four typed handouts, photostats, by Deke Dusinberre for a series of film shows, 'Avant-Garde British Landscape Films' held at the Tate Gallery (organised by the Tate Gallery Educational Department). Tate Archive. TGA 7034.
 The Serpentine Gallery's Video Show, 1-26 May 1975 featured work by members of London Video Art and the London Film-makers' Co-operative and was organised by Stuart Hood, Sue Grayson and David Hall. The Tate Gallery's Video Show, 18 May-16 June 1976, was organised with David Hall, and featured work by Hall alongside that of Tamara Krikorian, Brian Hoey, Stuart Marshall, David Hall, Steven Partridge and Roger Barnard.
 Graham Wade, 'Tate à Tate', Video Work News (London region) Vol. 2, No. 2, Feb-Apr 1976 (unpaginated).
 Richard Cork, 'Here's looking at yourself...' Evening Standard, Thursday 3 June 1976, p. 26
 Tate Gallery Internal Memorandum from Richard Francis to Modern Collection, 3 August 1984. Tate Archive. TG 22/2.
 Time/space programmes.
 Minutes from meeting to discuss Audio-Visual Post, Monday 30 July, 1984, p. 2. Tate Archive TG 22/2.
 The programme included work by Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Walther Ruttman, Oskar Fischinger, Fernand Léger etc.
 The Elusive Sign included video work by George Barber, lan Bourn, Catherine Elwes, Sera Furneaux, Judith Goddard, David Hall, Mona Hatoum, Steve Hawley, Tamara Krikorian, David Larcher, Jayne Parker, Christopher Rowland, Mark Wilcox and Graham Young.
 Hi-Beam included works by Mona Hatoum, Catherine Elwes, Ian Breakwell and others.
Image credit: Tina Keane's Swing, 1971, document.