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File Under Sacred Music

Iain, Jane Forsyth, Pollard

UK, 2003
22 minutes, B&W, Sound
Available formats: SD Digital file

Having pioneered the use of re-enactment in contemporary visual art with a series of live art projects begun in 1996, Forsyth & Pollard turned their attention to the moving image and began to look for ways to duplicate and capture ‘liveness’ on video.

File under Sacred Music takes as it’s starting point an infamous bootleg video documenting a live performance by The Cramps for the patients at Napa State Mental Institute, California on 13 June 1978. Captured on blurred and grainy black and white videotape, this unique social document has been shared among fans since the early eighties.

Forsyth & Pollard began by re-enacting that legendary performance in order to film it and remake the video document. During a six month period of preparation and research, the artists assembled a team of collaborators, including a band made up of Afonso Pinto (The Parkinsons ), Holly Golightly (Thee Headcoatees ), Bruce Brand (Thee Headcoats ) and John Gibbs (The Wildebeests). They also secured funding from the BBC and Arts Council England and gained the support of the ICA, where the set was built and the performance re-staged. An audience from Core Arts, a mental health charity based in east London, took part in the shoot in the ICA Theatre on 3rd March 2003.

Captured at broadcast quality, the resulting footage was edited and degraded to meticulously re-create the content, spirit and damaged aesthetic of the original videotape Forsyth and Pollard had purchased on eBay. Abandoning their original plans for digital postproduction , the artists worked with editor Robin Mahoney to explore more tactile strategies for degrading the footage, including using refilming on dusty monitors, copying and recopying using a bank of damaged VCR machines and physically scratching the videotape.

At a time when media technology has encroached on the live event to a point where few feel live at all, File under Sacred Music pushes beyond any simple re-presentation of a cultural moment to project an alternate testament of reality that examines liveness beyond the limitations of needing to be there. The work marks a significant development in the artists’ practice, and addresses one of the most important questions facing all kinds of performance today: what is the status of the ‘live’ and the ‘real’ in a culture now obsessed with simulation and dominated by mass media and mediation?