In this HLG Artists’ Takeover, Alice looks specifically at the area of moving-image art and film. She shares with us some research on ‘the archive’, philosophies around art-making and some current favourite moving-image artists. She also highlights some questions for us to consider when watching or showing films/moving-image, in what is currently a world very focused on the online format.
Our Kind prints, 2016
photogravure prints, printed by Michael Woolworth Publications, Paris
Looking through the list of film and video based works that form part of the Hugh Lane Gallery’s collection in advance of a talk I’ll be giving on the subject in June, I came across Alan Phelan’s Our Kind, an installation that included a 30 minute film that was commissioned by the gallery in 2016 on the occasion of the commemoration of the Easter Rising. This is a film I remember seeing installed at the time and being compelled by - I was drawn in as much by its cinematic quality as by its rendering of a fictional history; a world in which Roger Casement was not executed in 1916 but instead emigrated to Norway where we find him living in exile with his partner Adler Christensen in 1941. Phelan’s script is partly made up of extracts from the speech Casement made on his conviction after the rebellion thereby creating a fascinating point of convergence between imagined past and historical record.
I have a long standing interest in the role of the archive or collection and the use of found/historical material in moving image culture and practice. For this reason I was excited to properly discover the work of London-based artist filmmaker Onyeka Igwe last year who talks in this fascinating presentation on ‘Being Close to, with or Amongst: other ways of Knowing the Archive’ about a method she has developed called ‘critical proximity’ through which she looks to dispel with the hegemonic notion of an objective encounter with historical document and instead places her relationship with what she finds very much at the forefront of any reproduction or appropriation of that material.
Sadiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, 2019
This philosophy of practice chimes with the writings of American author and academic Saidiya Hartman whose influential and creative approach to working with the archive has offered radical new potential for engaging with disquieting material held in official, state or colonial archives that upholds or strengthens a regime or system of racism, oppression and prejudice. Curator and writer Claire Walsh brought this conversation between Hartman and Arthur Jafa to my attention, recorded on the occasion of the publication of Hartman’s book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals (2019), the commanding, profoundly affecting introduction to which is read out by Jafa at the beginning of the event.
Above: Orla McHardy, No Common Sentence, (2016-2019)
Over the last year and a half the role of the digital platform both as exhibition site and archive has increased significantly. A vast quantity of artist work has been made available and written about online in order to compensate for the inaccessibility of in real life engagement at the gallery or cinema. Edge of Frame and Missing Observer Studies are two brilliantly curated resources which came to my attention through Orla McHardy, an artist and experimental animator whose recent work has resonated with me since I had my daughter at the end of 2019. As Morgan Quaintance expressed in his recent article on ‘Remote Viewing’ for Art Monthly, the best curation for online exhibition makes use of what he describes as the ‘express line to interiority’ that the ‘one to one display medium’ of the digital interface provides. It is perhaps for this reason that the presentation and discussion of McHardy’s work about motherhood, time interrupted and a very particular kind of intimacy on the platforms above struck such a chord with me. More recently I was just as emotionally struck by an extraordinary film called Ida Western Exile by Courtney Stephens presented by desistfilm who describe it as ‘a piece that deals with fear, female risk, anxiety, and isolation’.
Below: Courtney Stephens,Ida Western Exile,
In her article for art-agenda entitled ‘A “small utopia”? Artists’ film and video online’, scholar and critic Erika Balsom expresses a concern however (also shared by Quaintance) about the urge some galleries, arts organisations and cinemas have to try to fill the infinite space that the internet seems to offer and she advocates instead for a ‘less is more’ approach, reminding us that ‘'the word “streaming” itself offers a hint at the problem: presented online, moving-image artworks risk absorption into a ceaseless cascade of undifferentiated “content.’
Curiously this article reminded me of a text I’ve returned to again and again in recent years, a 2004 piece entitled ‘Toward an Eco Cinema’ by Scott MacDonald in which the writer discusses a number of works by filmmakers like Peter Hutton, Diane Kitchen and James Benning in which the viewer is encouraged to ‘use spectatorship as a way of expanding our attention span and refining our perceptions of natural processes’. Now more than ever does that feel to me like the way in which I want to engage with artist and experimental film material in whatever sphere, virtual or otherwise.
Peter Hutton, Film strips from New York Study series, courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery
About the Artist
Alice Butler is co-founder and co-director of aemi, an Arts Council-funded organisation that supports and regularly exhibits moving image works by artists and experimental filmmakers. Previously, Alice worked at the Irish Film Institute where she curated film seasons and had responsibility for artist moving image programming. Solo curatorial ventures have included ‘The L-Shape’ at The Dock, ‘As We May Think’ at IFI and ‘New Spaces’ with VAI Northern Ireland. Alice has written for Sight and Sound, Vdrome, Paper Visual Art, CIRCA and Enclave Review as well as exhibition texts for Sylvia Schedelbauer, Atoosa Pour Hosseini and Colin Martin. She wrote a survey chapter on the work of filmmaker Pat Murphy and she has lectured on the moving image at Trinity College Dublin, NCAD and IMMA. Alice is on the Hugh Lane Gallery panel of artists, guides and lecturers.