‘Histories of experimental and avant-garde film tend to revolve around spaces like this – a bit ramshackle and apart from big institutions. Since the 60s there’s been a culture of screenings in small rooms with small groups of people.’ – Will Rose, Director of Pavilion
I am sitting with Will Rose in Pavilion’s bright, street-facing space they share with the Hyde Park Picture House at 42 New Briggate. He is describing their work with the Artists’ Moving Image Network, a critical forum for artists’ film, which they have facilitated monthly here since May 2018. At the time of visiting, preparations are underway for their inaugural Artist’s Moving Image Network Screening Weekend (5-7 July). Programmed as part of Index Festival, the weekend offered seven screenings of artists’ films over three days, comprised of submitted works by Yorkshire-based members of the network in dialogue with international artists and filmmakers. It was guest curated by Herb Shellenberger, a London-based curator, writer, and Associate Programmer for Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. Split between their New Briggate space and the Hyde Park Picture House, it was the network’s most public-facing and largest event to date.
The network provides a forum for attendees to watch films, screen their own and discuss practice. While it is primarily directed towards artists, programmers, researchers and curators, ultimately anybody with a critical interest in artist’s film is welcome to attend. There is no official membership, with the numbers at meetings fluctuating between 10 and 20, and no age limit, with attendees currently ranging from their early 20s to early 80s. There are no hard and fast rules, with the only real requirement being a desire to engage thoughtfully with what is displayed and shared. Having worked in Leeds since the early 2000s, showing artists’ film-making in various contexts, Rose had begun to notice that despite a rich history of the practice in Yorkshire, older work was little-known about and a natural hub for contemporary activity was missing. An initial meeting was galvanised by a visit from international guests, with the hope of connecting them with artists working locally. Since then, this ‘small room with a small group of people’ in the heart of the city has stayed.
Rose is open about the fact he encouraged submissions that might reflect the ‘process’ of the network, rather than simply the works which, in a festival context, the artists might want to be seen as their ‘best’. This could be felt keenly whilst watching two films by Janey Walklin: ‘So to Speak’ (1981) and ‘Women’s Refuge’ (1980), both deeply sensitive portrayals of the communities at the Ashwood Day Centre and Leeds Women Aid. These films are powerful examples of the feminist heritage of Leeds, a city that was at the forefront of Britain’s Women’s Liberation movement, as well as the location for Griselda Pollock’s dedicated Feminism and the Visual Arts MA. It is not unusual to still encounter women who set-up co-operatives or studied Pollock’s course before going on to form feminist artistic initiatives of their own. Walkin, who studied at Leeds University alongside the founding members of Pavilion (originally the UK’s first women’s photography centre), is just one example. Joe Goff’s ‘Meet the 4-year-olds’ (2019), a brief, abstracted, flurried encounter between children and the elderly, shown amongst the same screening, felt like a snapshot of how these collective and community-oriented approaches recur within the fabric of the region’s cultural life.
There was a sense throughout the weekend of histories being sutured together. Steve Nall’s ‘Single Frame’ (ca.1970s), a rich, silent, cacophony of colour produced through Nall painting and scratching directly onto the reel, and Alf Bower and Andy Birtles’ ‘A Mysterious Devotion’ (1973), a psychologically tense exploration of a family grieving in their coastal home, were two stand-outs on aesthetics alone. In the latter film, which was ambitiously shot in black and white anamorphic 16mm, dialogue was absent. In one particularly bewitching sequence interlopers appear to break into the family home to rape a woman inside, at which point the dappled, textured silvers seen elsewhere shifted into extreme high contrast slow motion. As the men entered the bedroom, their forms blurred, causing black to thickly stretch across the screen. This obfuscation of vision aligned with a feeling of being overwhelmed, which brought the few, brief moments of clarity to screeching emotional intensity. Bower explained that, while the slow-motion was a conscious choice, the required speed of film processed darker than expected. Something in the revelation of this fruitful, happy accident summarised much of the messy, material experimentation the network exists to discuss.
The inclusion of the aforementioned films in the programme was thanks to the work of Alex Wilson, a PhD researcher investigating the proliferation of independent film-making in the region from 1970. Through his Vimeo channel, Wilson makes available unearthed reels, which he painstakingly digitises, taking experimental film from ‘small room’ to ‘global village’.
Patricia Azevedo, Claire Charnley & Geoff Clout’s ‘Value’ (2019) took this borderless connectivity and made it their subject. On the surface, their work was about the building and breakdown of political hegemony, but really, it was ‘about friendship’, with the voiceover consisting of a quick-fire collaged conversation between all three makers. It was produced despite (or perhaps, because of) Azevedo living in Brazil. Charnley describes their relationship as an ‘ongoing long-term, long-distance (and sometimes close up) collaboration’ and the film was made during a visit by Azevedo to Leeds, with parts of the edit conducted remotely. Pavilion’s decision to name their endeavour a ‘network’, rather than a ‘forum’, ‘collective’ or ‘group’, felt increasingly apt throughout the weekend, as the evidence of these multi-directional links seemed to spawn.
The weekend offered the opportunity to watch works by some of the most recognised names in the field. The programme’s first screening focused on Chris Marker’s ‘Sans Soleil’ (1983); elsewhere was work by Alain Resnais, Shuji Terayama, Gordon Matta-Clark and Hito Steyerl. These film’s inclusions, for some, might be an important marker of cultural heft. It was a joy to watch them, yet the true power of the weekend was the egalitarianism with which these works were presented alongside all other inclusions. This attitude, of seeking enriching and surprising moments of connection, rather than critical assessment of works in isolation, appears to underpin much of the ethos of the network’s activity.
It is credit to Shellenberger’s selections, which held no specific loyalties to geography, era, or aesthetic that by attending the weekend, an audience member entirely fresh to the medium might have gained something like a potted history of its rich and varied capacities. Gradually, this worked not only to bring a picture of activity in the region into focus but also created a deep sense of site, unfurling tendrils from ‘local’ practice to its expanse across the globe.
Pavilion Artists’ Moving Image Network Screening Weekend, Hyde Park Picture House and 42 New Briggate, Leeds, 5-7 July 2019.
To find out what else is happening as part of Index visit: https://indexfestival.org/
Harlan Whittingham, whose work ‘Collectionneur’ (2019) was screened amongst the weekend, will present a TAAP Screening of curated footage from the LUX Collection at the Tetley on 4 September 2019, from 6pm.
Nina de Paula Hanika is an MA student in the Social History of Art at the University of Leeds.