The Desert People

Country: USA

Related artists:

Duration & details: English / 50 min / Transferred from 16mm film
Price & hire time: ( £3, $4 / 48hr )

To celebrate ICA London’s David Lamelas retrospective and the performance of his work Time at Tate Modern we proudly present his seminal fictional documentary film about a Native American reservation that critiques the practice of film production itself.

Conceived in part as a fictional documentary about a group of people recounting their experience visiting a Native American reservation, The Desert People (1974) is the first work that David Lamelas produced in Los Angeles prior to moving to the city in 1976. Described by the artist as “a study on American film production,” The Desert People shifts between genres to point to the deficiencies of narrative in documentary-style filmmaking. Part fact, part fiction, the film progresses as a typical road movie, interspersed with interviews that provide both reliable and unreliable accounts of the conditions of the Papago (Tohono O’odham) in southeastern Arizona, whose loss of indigenous culture forms the basis of Lamelas’s inquiry.

David Lamelas



Born in Argentina, David Lamelas was originally a sculptor, but came to prominence when he represented his country at the Venice Biennale with a piece called Office of Information about the Vietnam war on Three Levels : The Visual Image, Text and Audio. It was here that he met Antwerp-based gallerists from Wide White Space and Marcel Broodthaers, and the contacts he made helped to precipitate his later move to Europe. After Venice he moved to London, where he studied on a sculpture scholarship at St Martins School of Art. It was during his time in England, whilst using photographs and text as material, that Lamelas began working in film. Through a desire to “produce sculptural forms without any physical volume”, the core concerns of his work emerged: time, space and language.

During the subsequent years Lamelas has lived and made work across Europe and in America, each location exerting its specific influence on his work. And it is this personal experience of relocation and his efforts to understand and assimilate new cultures, that gives his conceptualist concerns a warmth and humour. For Lamelas, location and place are primary: “space has a reality, it exists”. Yet about time he asserts, “Time doesn’t exist, our consciousness constructs it. Time is a fiction.


Read more:

Read Jacqueline Holt on David Lamelas from LUXONLINE

Read Stuart Comer on David Lamelas from Afterall

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