Ken Gill, Does Good Video Art Exist in Britain, or Is It All Tedious?, 'Live Art Now'
The history of art is the history of ruins. It is through fragments, traces and recollections that history is constructed.
The REWIND research project in Dundee is dedicated to the collection, interrogation and restoration of remaining fragments from the emergence of video and media art in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s. Even such recent history is the subject of corrosion and misunderstanding; its very proximity belies the attention required to understand and enable continued engagement and evaluation. Through the following selections and accompanying commentary I will explore some of documents and collected material displayed on REWIND’s extensive website and pose some questions as well as suggest routes into understanding and interpreting this period through some of the resources the REWIND project has made available.
Minutes of 1st meeting of the Video Committee held at the Serpentine Gallery on 29th April 1974.
Discussion and meetings are instrumental in the development of critical positions, and bring work into public areas. ‘The Video Show’ held at the Arts Council-run Serpentine Gallery in 1975 marked the first large-scale engagement with video art by Britain’s gallery sector. The show was co-ordinated and designed by an advisory committee and this document gives a fascinating insight into the arguments that informed this pioneering show. The invaluable minutes of this meeting show in part how this exhibition laid the ground work for many of future explorations and presentations of media art in the UK. The arguments and issues documented here continue to be explored today; discussions of how gallery exhibition relates to screenings, how British work should be understood alongside international work, how exhibition structures can accommodate diverse forms of practice. A fascinating parallel to this document can be found in the related meeting for the unrealized exhibition proposed for the Hayward exhibition in 1981. Many subsequent group shows and discussions can be traced back to ‘The Video Show’ and the networks that it established lead to crucial development such as LVA (London Video Arts) whose legacy is continued in part by LUX. Other material related to ‘The Video Show’, both its inception and reception, can be found on the REWIND site and the legacy of these discussions can be followed through the site.
As well as collecting documentation of specific works and exhibitions, the REWIND project maintains a whole host of ephemera ranging from flyers, exhibition sketches, publicity photos and a fascinating labyrinth of correspondences linking artists, institutions and curators. The first postcard is one of many brief correspondences that can be found on the site and is a record both of Tony Sinden’s exhibition in America in the early 1980s and also of his relationship with the pivotal champion of British video art at the Arts Council, David Curtis. The other postcard illuminates the early days of LVA and artist-run organisations in the UK. This postcard is both personal and professional; sent to Stephen Partridge (now a key part of the REWIND project) from fellow video artist Tamara Krikorian whilst she was preparing a programme for LVA. Such brief correspondences that can be found throughout the site give an insight into the unseen connections at work behind artistic and curatorial practice.
3. New Generations
In this short polemic, Ken Gill argues in favor of the provocative British video artists The Duvet Brothers known for their agit-prop videos which imbue popular forms with political rhetoric. The article makes explicit the diversity and antagonism within the apparantly unified field of video art at that time. As Ken Gill argues, the Duvet Brothers’ show in Berlin ‘succinctly illustrated the degree to which the established video artists and their sponsors, have lost their way.’ The posed publicity shot of the two brothers is a further testament to the shifting context of video artists and the willful engagement with popular culture of the Duvet Brothers and their contemporaries such as George Barber, breaking with the more austere stance adopted by the previous generation.
John Hopkins, well known as ‘Hoppy’, was early to take up video in the UK, initially with the formation of TVX with Cliff Evans, the first British TV workshop, in 1969 and the ‘Fantasy Factory’ project with Sue Hall. Related to the culture of ‘happenings’ and spontaneous events, these projects, such as the ‘Bachdenkel’ event at New Arts Laboratory advertised with this poster, embraced collective organisation and authorship and the ability for instant playback unique to video. Drawing from late 1960s activist culture, these early projects linked underground music, squatting and social activism movements with new potentials opened up by video. In a similar way to the Duvet Brothers and Scratch Video in the 1980s, Hopkins’ projects embraced the popular and sought to integrate video into social gatherings and to explore new forms of production and exhibition.
5. Lists / Collections
These two posters for cultural events, the first for the Brighton Festival in 1979 and the second for the exhibition ‘Performance, Film, Installation, Video’ at the Tate Gallery in 1981, presented video in the expanded context of other media. Part of the fascination with historical exhibitions are the lists which make up their presentations and in these two examples the list of artists’ names is as intriguing as the types of work and events they encompass. Some of the fascinating juxtapositions thrown up by these posters linked diverse artists and art forms; imagine seeing eccentric poet Ivor Cutler followed by the Feminist Improvising Group and then a screening by Malcolm Le Grice at the Brighton festival!
Brochure with information on the touring exhibition ‘Eye Music: The graphic art of new musical notation’ 26 July – 31 August, Serpentine Gallery, London. Includes information on works by Judith Goddard.
In contrast to the ‘Video Show’ at the Serpentine, the parallel exhibitions ‘Eye Music’ and ‘Charting Time’ explore a broad spectrum of artists practice making fascinating connections between modern composition and artists’ film and video. The exhibition, like much of the material on REWIND, largely consisted of sketches, diagrams and graphic scores by both composers as well as film and video artists exploring the role notation plays within the creation of work and, crucially, how these materials can act as guides to understanding the processes involved. The diagrams for expanded cinema and installations can be considered the notation of video and film artists. The many sketches and diagrams collected by the REWIND project often stand as the sole documentation of installations or performances. The sketches by David Hall shown here are projects that were only ever realised on paper. Continue exploring the REWIND website.
George Clark is a curator, writer and artist. Together with Dan Kidner he is curating a group video show for Focal Point Gallery, Southend, for July – September 2010. He is currently collaborating with the artist Beatrice Gibson on the script for a film commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery and Camden Council.