LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images
Anthea Hamilton, Venice (2012)
Spending four days in un-air-conditioned cinemas during the only weekend of summer we’ve seen in London all year was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The programmes I saw were thoughtfully curated, with one film leading onto the next, the juxtapositions and parallels taking me on trips through the eyes of the curators presenting them: Shanay Jhaveri, Shama Khanna, Light Industry, Rosa Barba, Martha Kirszenbaum, Carmen Billow, Michelle Cotton, Yann Cheteigné Tytelman, Ben Rivers and Elena Filipovic. Alongside this, there were a series of talks (such as ‘Theatricality and Staging’ and ‘Artists’ Long-Form Film Making’) and performances (in collaboration with Tramway and Electra) considering the moving image in all its forms.
LUX is fundamental to the distribution system for artists’ film and video within the UK as the primary source for historical and contemporary moving images (I cannot emphasize enough just how fundamental – it is essential). The organization is also responsible for encouraging and supporting generations of young artists who have participated in the unique Artist’s Associates Programme run by Ian White –‘graduates’ include Ed Atkins, Lucy Clout, Anja Kirschner, Laure Prouvost, James Richards and Corin Sworn. As such, as much as there is a glut of festivals, biennials and exhibitions, the LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images felt both important and timely, as a larger and more public platform for the organization’s work and the first of its kind in the UK.
The first video in Filipovic’s programme – entitled ‘This Obscure Object of Desire, or “No Ideas Except in Things”’ – was Michel Auder’s Talking Head (1981–2009): a little girl in a strange boob-tube-style dress stands in the middle of the screen, partly obscured by a large hemp plant, talking about a ‘thing’ whilst playing with a piece of plastic. She says: ‘the thing never came back again… it wasn’t the same thing… that thing, was nice’ – as she obsessively ruminated on what the thing was, how it disappeared and reappeared and how each time it was never the same, but that it was nice. I couldn’t help but wonder if the ‘thing’ she was talking about was love. The desire for ‘things’ was the premise behind Filipovic’s screening, something that was particularly interesting in the context of moving image – an ephemeral, light- and time-based medium – where there is no ‘thing’ to fetishize. Another film addressing desire was Danai Anesiadou’s I Kiss Your Ectoplasm Like I Would a Shark V (2009), a surreal work in which Anesiadou’s friend artist Sung Hwan Kim wears a long black wig with a fringe, mimicking Anesiadou’s own hair, in a video which begins with a close-up of a girl chewing in a restaurant, mouth wide open, as she stuffs food in with her hands.
Danai Anesiadou, I Kiss Your Ectoplasm Like I Would a Shark V (2012)
Another particular joy was Michelle Cotton’s series ‘On the Custom of Wearing Clothes’, for which the curator formed a laugh-out-loud-funny, feminist polemic exploring how convention and desire is played out via commerce, inspired by Michel de Montaigne’s essay of the same title, which states: ‘I see a far greater difference between my way of dressing and a peasant of my own district than between his and that of a man who wears nothing but his skin.’
Spartacus Chetwynd, Call of the Wild (2007)
Including films by Bonnie Camplin, Anthea Hamilton, Shahryar Nashat and Jennifer West, a highlight was Spartacus Chetwynd’s Call of the Wild (2007), in which fairly innocuous footage of a room of seamstresses is overlaid with an almighty female roar: each time I thought she had finished, she began again, verging into moments of screaming hysteria. This sensory overload left me shaking with laughter as it segued into George Barber’s Schweppes Ad (1995), which begins with the bubbles in a Schweppes bottle foaming out the top, repeatedly, as if the bottle was having multiple orgasms, followed by a hot tanned man stripping off a white T-shirt and another, naked from behind, lying on the beach, in a medley of Schweppes greatest hits overlaid with a satirical pop song.
Michel Auder, The Games: Olympic Variations (1984)
Sex in advertising is a happy cliché that will never fail, as desire is fundamental to us all, something addressed in a more uncomfortably raw way in Auder’s The Games: Olympic Variations (1984) for which – recorded off his TV set during the 1984 LA Olympics – he collages ‘crotch shots’ of the athletes competing, from bouncing penises and balls clothed in tiny shorts on heavily muscled runners, to repeatedly focusing in on the swimming costumed crotch of a synchronized swimmer as she splits her legs – begging the question: are we almost always eventually reduced to sexual desire?
Claire Hooper, Eris: The Path of ER (2012)
In the ICA’s theatre space, Claire Hooper presented a new performance work, Eris: The Path of ER (2012), which was commissioned by Electra. This piece elicited many strong responses in the audience members I spoke to, from extreme love to hate. The work presented the semi-biographical tale of a woman (Danielle Marie Shillingford) who had become pregnant as a young teenager. Via rap and spoken word performed by two women (MC Lioness and Shillingford), and interspersed with video, Eris: The Path of ER told her tale. From a tough, proud teenager, in love with her new baby, ready to do anything for him, to the birth of her second child with a new partner, who we then later see abuse her – scenes contrasting falling in love, with a violent wrestle on the floor were highly emotive. Regular battles with social services occurred, where the three social workers told her that in order to stop the cycle of teenage pregnancy that three generations of her family had gone through, her children should be taken away.
As a piece of social commentary, it chronicled a very common and tragic story, which Hooper tried to challenge via the creation of an alter-ego for Shillingford in the form of Eris, ‘the goddess of strife and discord’. Yet as a piece of art, it didn’t ever quite go past this: the female performers were very powerful, but I couldn’t reconcile the fact that it reinforced social clichés at times and also failed to do anything else as an art work. But then perhaps it poses an interesting question: what do we expect from an art work today? Particularly the types of works displayed at the ICA over the course of the festival, using multiple mediums and forms. After this and a long, intense day of around six hours of film and performance, James Richards’ depiction of a foreign (possibly Swedish or German) man singing ‘How can I live, if living is without you’ with the most serious facial expression in the world, washed away this unsettled feeling, as it made me laugh so hard I had to lie back on the floor to recover.
Eric Duvivier, Concerto Mécanique pour la Folie or La Folle Mécanomorphose (1962–3)
Alongside the above, I caught screenings programmed by Rosa Barba, Ben Rivers, Shama Khanna, Martha Kirszenbaum and Yann Chateigné Tytelman (the first film shown in this screening, a piece from 1962–3 by Eric Duvivier, is – in the words of my friend and colleague Tate film curator Stuart Comer – ‘amazing’) and all in all I watched around 48 films and various other performances.
Overall, the biennial left me asking: what does it mean to watch a video in a cinema rather than in an art gallery? I love the communal experience of the cinema, particularly of being part of an audience experiencing something together, moment by moment. Yet it also negates the intimacy one has when watching something directly, in a small gallery – for example the Auder film I first mentioned would have been powerfully different if experienced with the girl at human scale, as I would have related physically to her presence. Yet being in the cinema allows you to be fully taken over, swept away on a ride through the artist’s or curator’s mind: when the lights go out, my attention immediately intensifies.
Another interesting thing that occurs when one sits through a huge range of work is that certain tendencies, approaches and patterns emerge and repeat themselves: collage, the Internet as cultural archive, the cinematic versus the ‘poor image’ (a phrase coined by Hito Steyerl in her 2009 essay ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’), the use of structuralist montage and fast-paced editing in video, and a turn towards more staged performance were all common tropes. If I consider again the two ideas that underpinned much of the work I watched – love and desire – this seems entirely apt to LUX: as although they are a small organization with minimal staffing (run by Benjamin Cook, Mike Sperlinger and Gil Leung) they put a huge amount of love into everything that they do. Not to say that it is not a complex and rigorous organization – more that it is rare today that an organization exists primarily for a genuine love of the ‘thing’ it does.