Advisory Group: Jeremy Bailey (artist), Alli Beddoes (Artistic Director and CEO, Lighthouse), Duncan Forbes (ex. Director, Fotomuseum Winterthur), Karen Newman (Director, BOM), William Raban (film-maker) and Lindsay Taylor (Salford University Art Collection).
Self Portraits and Other Fictions
27 June – 8 July
Image courtesy of the Artist
1978, 45mins, black and white, Umatic video
Ian Bourn on Lenny: “[He is] a mixture of all the friends I hung about with and people I met on the streets of Leytonstone. But he was also a possible version of myself, expressing things I’d never been able to before. The objectivity it allowed me meant I could mix humour and seriousness in what was an incredibly bleak vision of the world.” (quoted in Felicity Sparrow’s essay for Lux Online)
Image courtesy of the Artist
Black White and Green
2003, 7mins, colour, DVCam/DigiBeta
Set amidst the etched glass, well-worn marble tables and polished tiles of a traditional East-End London eel and pie shop, Black White and Green is at once a meditation on the aesthetics of pie and mash and an excursion into memory, fantasy and places best forgotten.
“Today is bright and cloudless in the Uplands B Business Park, which overlooks the Lea Valley and its sunlit reservoirs. I lock my bicycle to some railings near the rubbish bins in the car park of Landmark House. I could have come by bus, but I’m trying to keep fit…[continues here]”
“My WS1 book is taken and tossed to one side as if it were unimportant by Ms. M, who today is temporarily standing in for K, my usual advisor. M is all the time giving me an “I’m not going to stand for any nonsense” look. “What kind of work is it you are looking for Mr. Burden-on-the-taxpayer.?” “Anything in the arts sector. Anything connected with art, video art in particular. That’s my background. That’s what I’ve always been involved with. I have a degree—” “And have you any other skills? I’m saying this because what you are suggesting is a rather narrow area with limited opportunities. We need to widen the range of your job-search. Would you be interested in cleaning work for example?” “I don’t think I could do that.” “Would you consider training to become a cleaner?” “Well, I don’t think—” “Mr. Bone-idle, you need to consider making changes to your work plan, and to your profile. It is no use waiting for a job ‘making films’ when the chances of that are highly unlikely…[continues here]”
Subjective Interfaces and The Work Programme form part of Ian Bourn’s ongoing project Placement. Developed from diary notes, the project creates a portrait of an artist working without supplementary income or savings, trying to survive on state benefits, and residing in a country which itself is supposedly living beyond its means.
Ian Bourn on his films: “Visions of my life as someone else.”
John Wood and Paul Harrison: the men inside my television – published by Carroll/Fletcher, February 2015.
“TVs today are not pieces of furniture like they used to be. They are flat rectangles and have no depth.
“The world outside my kitchen window is grey and uninteresting. The view is limited. Beyond the glass, a low bramble hedge is vibrating vigorously in a stubborn and prolonged battle with a persistent crosswind. Snug behind the hedge is a drab wood slat fence with concrete pillars, its strong horizontal line cutting off vision at a height of six feet. Peeping over this barrier, but in reality about half a mile away, are the dark grey triangular tops of a row of pitched roofs, descending in size because of the angle of the street where they stand.
“A few spiky trees poke up here and there and just fidget slightly instead of sway, their leaves having fallen off months ago. Likewise the spindly prongs of TV antennae bend only slightly in resistance to the blast apparently coming from an off-stage industrial wind machine.
“This low-lying arrangement of flat shapes, tucked one behind the other gives the scene a theatrical quality. The world feels hunkered down as a long procession of small blotchy clouds speed across from right to left, through the middle of an otherwise empty sky.
“There is a moment in The Only Other Point (2005) by John Wood and Paul Harrison when the camera, on its slow endless track, left to right, through grey simplified sets suggestive of interior or exterior landscapes, reveals what looks like a courtyard or city garden. A smallish tree with plain green leaves growing in a square black pot comes into view. This is followed by a dozen bright green balls in a loose grouping, mysteriously hanging in space at roughly the same height as the tree. As the camera moves across and the relative positioning of everything changes with perspective, a moment arrives when the group of balls becomes perfectly aligned with the tree and, as though it were their sole reason for being (which it is), the balls temporarily become the fruit of the tree. The camera moves on, the alignments untangle, we pass through a dividing wall and all is forgotten as the next new ambiguous space is revealed.
“As I look from my window, I feel a similar sense of sadness at the passage of time, of things coming together and then falling apart…[continues here].
Ian Bourn (b. 1953) was educated at Ealing School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. As a video artist, his screenings include Hayward Gallery, Tate Modern, National Film Theatre and Raven Row (London); The Kitchen (New York); Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam); and Image Forum (Tokyo).
Bourn was co-founder of HOUSEWATCH Artists’ Collective (1985 – 1992), whose site-specific film/performance projects included Conservatory (Lux/BFI, 1997), Paperhouse/Imaginary Opera (British Council tour of Japan, 1992 and Meltdown Festival, Southbank, London 1994), Little Big Horn (Southbank Centre, London, 1992), Night Assembly (Scottish Arts Council/Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh, 1987) and Cinematic Architecture for Pedestrians (Artangel, 1986).
Recent solo and group exhibitions and screenings include INSULA (London Gallery West, 2017), The Horizontal Within/The Horizontal Without (Lubomirov/Angus Hughes, London, 2017), Microcinema (Cambridge Film Festival, 2016), Subjective Interfaces (Piece of Paper Press and Peer Gallery, London, 2016), Experimenta: LFMC 50 (BFI Southbank, London, 2016), Contact Festival of New Experimental Film & Video (Apiary Studios, London, 2016), Video Room: Ian Bourn and Mark Dean (Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2014, and Interior Domestic: Early Works by Ian Bourn 1979 – 1988 (Five Years, London, 2014).
We Help Each Other Grow
23 May – 26 June
We Help Each Other Grow
Video shot on thermal imaging camera.
Music: We’ve Helped Each Other Grow composed and performed by Mx World.
Performed by and co-choreographed with Thiru Seelan.
Commissioned by and screened in collaboration with Furtherfield.
“I had to go because I needed to save my life. I wasn’t myself. Just bone and flesh. I didn’t have a soul or anything.” Thiru Seelan, Global Citizen Interview, 20.02.17.
Thiru, a Tamil refugee dances on an East London roof looking towards the skyline of Canary Wharf. His movement is inspired by the dance form Bharatanatyam, traditionally only performed by women and taught to Thiru in secret by his younger sister.
When Thiru came to the UK in 2010, following a six month detention in which he was tortured for his political affiliations by police authorities, Canary Wharf was his first home.
His movement is recorded by a heat sensitive camera more conventionally used as surveillance technology and deployed to monitor borders and crossing points, where bodies may be recorded and captured through their thermal signature.
The song We’ve Helped Each Other Grow composed and performed by London based Mx World was chosen with Thiru. Mx is a prefix that does not indicate gender. In the UK, it can be used on many ‘official’ documents – including passports. The repeated refrain, ‘We’ve helped each other grow’ suggests a communal vision for self and social development.
They Are Here (f.2006) is a collaborative practice steered by Helen Walker and Harun Morrison. They are currently based in London and on the River Lea. Their work can be read as a series of context specific games. The entry, invitation or participation can be as significant as the game’s conditions and structure. Through these games, they seek to create ephemeral systems and temporary, micro-communities that offer an alternate means of engaging with a situation, history or ideology. In parallel, they initiate multi-year socially engaged projects that become generative spaces for further works. They Are Here work across media and types of site, particularly civic spaces. Institutions they have developed or presented work include: CCA Glasgow, Furtherfield, Grand Union, Konsthall C (Stockholm), Southbank Centre, South London Gallery, Studio Voltaire STUK (Leuven, Belgium) and Tate Modern.
Courtesy Refugee Nation
The Refugee Flag was designed by Yara Said, commissioned by Refugee Nation.
“Black and orange is a symbol of solidarity with all these brave souls that had to wear life-vests to cross the sea to look for safety in a new country. Since I had worn one, I have a personal engagement with these life-vests and these two colours.” Yara Said.
“They come from different countries. They are raised in different cultures. They speak different languages. But one thing still brings them all together: the will of finding a place called home. Refugees are united by one hope. And now, they are also united by one flag. An orange and black flag inspired by the life vests many brothers and sisters had to wear in their search for a safer land to live. An orange and black flag as a symbol of hope and solidarity. An orange and black flag to bring the world together to support refugees. Because they exist. They are millions. And they matter. While this crisis persists, we’ll be on their side.” The Refugee Nation.
Making Films Politically?
“The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically.” Jean-Luc Godard.
On 18 May Close-Up and Carroll/Fletcher present the second part of Making Films Politically?, a short season of William Raban’s films. The programme features Civil Disobedience and Thames Film – two films exploring transient aspects of our natural and built environments to expose layers of historical, political and mythological meaning. The screening will be followed by a q&a with the director. Tickets are available here. Ahead of Part Two Carroll/Fletcher Onscreen presents two films included in Part One – London Republic and Available Light – and a short episodic reflection on Thames Film.
In April 2016, two months before the UK referendum on membership of the EU, Raban uploaded London Republic to Vimeo. Originally conceived as a political provocation that invited the audience to guess the outcome of the vote to decide London’s fate within Europe, London Republic has proved to be startlingly prescient of the UK’s vote to leave the EU and, perhaps, of the ultimate consequences…
Partly as a reaction to the political climate in 2016 and partly as an exercise in film-making within strict formal constraints, in Available Light Raban filmed himself using ‘natural’ light to read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Shot over six days, Raban used time-lapse to compress the film to nine minutes. The images are offset by David Cunningham’s score, which is composed solely from the two words of the book’s title.
“When I set out to shoot Available Light I thought the film should be 8 minutes long. I therefore timed myself reading 2 pages of the book and calculated that by filming at the time-lapse rate of 1 frame every 2 seconds, the 858 pages would last 8 minutes. I shot the film over 6 days though some days when I was going to work I only filmed for 2 hours. The ‘rule’ was simple. I set up the book under a window and only filmed in available daylight. I started reading at 07.00 when there was just sufficient light to see but not sufficient to fully expose the image on camera and continued filming until it got too dark at evening twilight to read anymore. It was February and freezing cold in my studio so I had to take regular breaks to make myself a cup of tea, have a cigarette or take a quick lunch break. At those points where I took a short break, I put a bookmark between the pages, closed the book and stopped the camera. So you can see that in the case of that film human agency impinges significantly on the pre-planned systematic structure. Also, the film ended up being 9 minutes long because I hadn’t reckoned on some passages being difficult to understand therefore taking longer to read so that is another example of human disruption to the pre-planned system.” William Raban in an interview with Federico Windhausen (courtesy of LUX, full interview here).
“Another example, more minimal in its form but which recuperates time-lapse, is Available Light (2016). The proposal is simple: while natural light is available, presumably the director himself – with only his hands seen – reads from beginning to end Das Capital by Karl Marx. To this seemingly simple premise is added a fundamental soundtrack. By means of little defined noises, David Cunningham’s music turns into a sound speech and represents what could be the awareness of whoever reads this masterpiece on political economy. At first the sounds advance autonomously against the movement of the hands that turn the pages. Little by little, music and movements are mimicked, until a near complete connection is almost complete. In time, one intuits that the word is ‘capital’ that is ringing, only in fragments but each time becoming clearer, although it never quite does so completely. In short, in its entirety, it functions as a birth – a word game with the title – a political claim, a grain of sand that sets out to change the world.” William Raban Retrospectiva: Politica y Sociedad a ritmo de Time-lapse, Iago Paris, 6 June 2016.
“When I make a new work, the thing I find myself striving for is to make an object of both truth and beauty. But of course truth is beauty so maybe the sole object should be to make an object of truth?”
“Making films is about showing people things, not telling them how to interpret the world.”
“This is a vision of the dark Thames, of ‘Old Father Thames’ as an awful god of power akin to William Blake’s Nobodaddy; and, in Blake’s poem, Jerusalem, ‘Thames is drunk with blood’. In this film there is something fearful about the river, something monstrous, recalling Conrad’s line in Heart of Darkness that ‘…this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.’ Walking along the banks of the Thames, downriver, approaching the estuary, it is possible to feel great fear. One of the possible derivations of the word Thames itself is tamasa meaning ‘dark river’; the word is pre-Celtic in origin, so we have the vision of an ancient, almost primeval, time. And yet there is beauty and sublimity in terror. Raban has learned something from the great artists of the river, such as Turner and Whistler, and portrayed the Thames as clothed in wonder.” Peter Ackroyd on Thames Film.
“The way my films look seems to be determined more by the necessities and conditions of their construction rather than by going out of my way to make beautiful images.”
By filming from the low freeboard of a small boat, Raban attempts to capture the point of view of the river itself, tracing the 50 mile journey from the heart of London to the open sea. Interspersed with images from Breugel The Elder’s painting the Triumph of Death, this contemporary view is set in an historical context through use of archive film and the words of the travel writer Thomas Pennant, who followed exactly the same route in 1787.
“[In Thames Film] Modernity is put on trial: Pennant’s links between British imperialism, technological advances and the Thames are juxtaposed with derelict British imperialism, technological advances and pompous voiceovers from post-war newsreels anticipating the collapse not just of the Empire but also the ideals which supported it.” Gareth Buckell, review on William Raban DVD release (BFI 2005).
“These examples of using camera movements to link particular ideas, are part of the larger project to determine the extent to which it is possible to construct political meaning by image and sound alone without dependence upon commentary or text. This has been the methodology that I had developed in Sundial (1992), A13 (1994), Island Race (1996) and MM (2002).”
“I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable.
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting”
From The Dry Salvages, T.S. Eliot
Breugel, The Triumph of Death, c.1562. ‘In this setting, legions of skeletons advance on the living, who either flee in terror or try in vain to fight back. In the foreground, skeletons haul a wagon full of skulls; in the upper left corner, others ring the bell that signifies the death knell of the world. A fool plays the lute while a lady sings; behind both of them a skeleton plays along; a starving dog nibbles at the face of a child; a cross sits in the centre of the painting. People are herded into a coffin shaped trap decorated with crosses, while a skeleton on horseback kills people with a scythe. The painting depicts people of different social backgrounds – from peasants and soldiers to nobles as well as a king and a cardinal – being taken by death indiscriminately.’
“It seems to be easier for us to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imagination.” Fredric Jameson, Seeds of Time, 1994.
William Raban on film-making
“Whilst I think my work has changed substantially over the past 45 years, the films I am now making are still informed by a structural film approach. It is especially evident in About Now MMX (2010), which uses grid-like camera movements to create a cinematic map of the city of London. Perhaps it is less obvious with films like the Houseless Shadow (2011) and Time and the Wave (2013), but nevertheless I see the methodology of using straight cuts and no special effects as linked back to minimalist principles. When making a film now I am always asking ‘what is the simplest and most direct way to achieve the desired affect?’”
“Four principles of political filmmaking:
(1) reflexivity: active audience participation rather than passive spectatorship;
(2) reflexivity: revealing the modes of production rather than concealing them;
(3) reflexivity: as understood in the social sciences – the effect that the researcher [film-maker] has on their subjects [content and audience];
(4) an ethical dimension of aesthetics – appearance determined by material conditions of production, it is not the pursuit of style.”
William Raban, Sequence, Winter 2012.
“The notion of the ‘picturesque’ suggests landscape to me, especially when you consider ‘issues of land ownership’. I see many of my films as ‘political’ but this acknowledges the pertinent observation by Jean-Luc Godard ‘The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically.’ I digress from landscape. I used to be irritated by the generic term ‘landscape film’. I was suspicious of where people were coming from who used it. Given that there is an accepted tradition of English landscape painting, I thought it was an attempt to legitimate film as a fine art practice. Partly with that in mind, I started making urban landscape films with Moonshine (1975) and Autumn Scenes (1978) and of course, it includes my more recent London films as well. I have always seen LS Lowry’s paintings of the industrial northeast as landscape paintings and I think there is work to be done to reclaim the term ‘landscape’ to include the city as well as so-called natural landscapes.” William Raban.
Re: development – Inside The Green Backyard
A collaborative networked exhibition
28 March – 1 May
Jessie Brennan, Ashtray, cyanotype, from Inside The Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–6
After five years hard work by its volunteers and incredible public support, The Green Backyard, a community growing project in Peterborough (run entirely by volunteers), is no longer threatened with redevelopment: the owners of the land, Peterborough City Council, have offered a rolling 12-year lease. Re: development – Inside The Green Backyard is a collaborative networked online exhibition to celebrate the success of the campaign to safeguard The Green Backyard from redevelopment. The exhibition features cyanotypes (camera-less photographs of objects from the site) and voice recordings (oral testimonies by the volunteers) from Jessie Brennan’s work Inside The Green Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–16, an outcome of Jessie’s year-long residency with The Green Backyard and arts organisation Metal. More about Jessie’s residency project can be found here in an article she wrote for the Guardian.
Jessie Brennan, ‘Sink plug washer’, cyanotype, Inside The Green Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–16
Michael Alexander, volunteer (Caravan and bog oak)
Jessie Brennan, ‘Robin’, cyanotype, Inside The Green Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–16
Nina Jepson, visitor (Maracas, shark, bell, bracelet, star)
Jessie Brennan, ‘Cotton lavender’, cyanotype, Inside The Green Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–16
Rosemary Steel, volunteer (Cotton lavender)
Links to other exhibits (in alphabetical order)
Digging for Our Lives: The Fight to Keep The Green Backyard
Sophie Antonelli, co-founder of The Green Backyard
This piece was written for Re:development, a book brought together by artist Jessie Brennan following her year-long residency at The Green Backyard. Published before the land was finally safeguarded, it traces the journey of transforming a former derelict allotment site into the thriving community growing project that is now The Green Backyard.
Jessie Brennan, If This Were to Be Lost, 2016, painted birch plywood on scaffold, 1.9 x 19 m, situated at The Green Backyard, Peterborough. Photograph by Jessie Brennan
In early 2009 we first opened the gates to a site in Peterborough that had been closed and unused for 17 years. A 2.3-acre site in the city centre, next to two main roads and the East Coast main line to London should not be hard to miss, but after almost two decades of disuse many people had simply forgotten it existed. I’d like to say that we knew what we were doing at that time, but as is often the case in voluntary groups, the creation of what would become The Green Backyard was motivated by the seizing of an opportunity, in this case offered land, together with a tacit sense of need: to preserve years of learning created by my father on his allotments; to create a space for people to learn and change; and to challenge the momentum of the city, which in my life-time had seemed stagnant and apathetic.
At the time I could not have articulated these motivations, and I am now very aware that my own impetus is likely to have differed from others’ around me. I find this to be the case with many community spaces: everyone comes to them with their own very personal set of hopes and needs which are often complimentary, and occasionally divisive.
The lessons that grew out of those undefined early experiences of creating a shared space made visible the participatory qualities inherent to the project and fired up the desire for imperfect spaces – rather than meticulously planned ones, with defined budgets and personnel. The threat then imposed by the land owners, our City Council, in response to the slashing of local authority budgets following the 2008 financial crisis, actually served to crystallise this value and catalyse a movement of enthusiasm for radical change in a city long-complacent and passive.
The battle to stop the land being sold off for development, I think, surprised everyone. First came the obvious shock when council officers arrived just a few days before Christmas in 2011 and told us of their intention to sell the land… [continues here].
Re: development: Voices, Cyanotypes & Writings from The Green Backyard
This piece was written for Re:development, a book that brings together voices, cyanotypes and writings from The Green Backyard following my year-long residency there. Published before the land was finally safeguarded, it questions the capitalist logic of the site’s proposed development by the landowner, Peterborough City Council. The book shares the voices of The Green Backyard – of those defending their right to the city.
Jessie Brennan, If This Were to Be Lost, 2016, painted birch plywood on scaffold, 1.9 x 19 m, situated at The Green Backyard, Peterborough. Photograph by Jessie Brennan
Among the borage plants there lies a toothbrush, its simple white length surrounded by vivid blue. It’s an object donated by a visitor to The Green Backyard (which is acting as a collection point) for refugees in Calais, and it is one of many hundreds of objects here that seem to invoke the voice of The Green Backyard: offering a conduit through which people close to the project can articulate its value. The objects that call forth the voice reveal, in turn, that those voices also tacitly object: through positive tactics of planting and communing, individuals speak of the necessity of The Green Backyard as public, open, urban green space, and why its proposed development must be resisted.
I first set foot inside The Green Backyard, a ‘community growing project’ in Peterborough, in May 2014, at a time when the threat of a proposed development by its owner, Peterborough City Council, was at its most heightened. What brought me to this site were questions of land ownership and value (framed by the long history of community land rights struggles) and the ‘right to the city’: whom the land belonged to.
Because, of course, feelings of belonging to a place in no way necessarily mean it belongs to you, as users – visitors, volunteers and trustees – of The Green Backyard are all too well aware. Despite the current social value that this urban green space clearly provides, debates around the proposed development of The Green Backyard (and many other volunteer-run green spaces) have been dominated by arguments for the financial value of the land – referring to the short-term cash injection that its sale would generate – rather than the long-term social benefit of the site… [continues here].
Resources and Links
Case Study: Seeds From Elsewhere – The Garden as Poltical Metaphor. ‘Seeds From Elsewhere’ (2016 – ongoing) is a project by They Are Here, in conjunction with Furtherfield, that has begun to re-animate a dilapidated play area in Finsbury Park, bringing together young asylum seekers and refugees, family, friends and other professionals.
10 Things You Need To Consider If You Are An Artist – not of the refugee and asylum seeker community – looking to work with our community. “There has been a huge influx of artists approaching us [RISE, Australia] in order to find participants for their next project. The artist often claims to want to show ‘the human side of the story’ through a false sense of neutrality and limited understanding of their own bias, privilege and frameworks.”
The Landworkers’ Alliance: An organisation of farmers, growers and land-based workers campaigning for policies to support the infrastructure and markets central to its members livelihoods, building alliances and encouraging solidarity.
Community Food Growers Network: a network of community food growing groups launched in London in 2010 who are actively engaged in growing food plants and supporting others to grow food, in healthy, sustainable ways.
Granby Four Streets: a Community Land Trust in Liverpool that aims “to create a thriving, vibrant mixed community, building on the existing creativity, energy and commitment within the community, where people from all walks of life can live, work and play.”
The Ivy House: London’s first community owned pub. In 2012, the Ivy House pub in Peckham was under threat of sale to property developers as part of the ongoing gentrification of South London, but the locals triumphantly saved it as the first asset of community value in the UK. Featured in Sarah Turner’s film Public House. Public House will be screening at various venues throughout England in May. Details here.
Arte Útil: Arte Útil roughly translates into English as ‘useful art’ but it goes further suggesting art as a tool or device. Arte Útil draws on artistic thinking to imagine, create and implement tactics that change how we act in society.