Afraid of Film & Video in Scotland?
The Exhibition of Single-screen Film & Video:
Cafe Flicker, Museum Magogo, Canadian Fall
I would like to discuss a few recent events involving the exhibition of
single-screen film and video which have sharply brought into focus for
me, somewhat ironically, the lack of an existing infrastructure for the
presentation and dissemination of such work in Scotland. The following
introduction gives a concise outline of circumstances that have contributed
to the current drought of regular screenings. It frames an urgent context
for the appreciation of work and efforts that do still prevail in spite
of a funding climate characterised by erratic and contradictory decision-making.
I should say that my thoughts and feelings expressed here, though subjective,
are informed by my experience as an artist/ producer of experimental film
and video and as a voluntary co-ordinator and curator for New Visions
Film and Video Festival since 1993.
Scotland has never experienced a continuing and stable level of commitment
from arts funders in the film/ video sector, unlike our neighbours south
who can boast a number of organisations and agencies embedded and fully
established in a wider cultural nexus.
Many temporary and longer term projects and events have been initiated
in Scotland and have actively and successfully promoted film and video
by Scottish-based and international artists over the past ten to fifteen
years. New Visions based in Glasgow, and Fringe Film & Video Festival
(FFVF) in Edinburgh, were two key organisations with similar aims and
objectives but differing histories and life spans. Each undertook the
organisation of international festivals of experimental film and video
art, the bulk of which comprised single-screen programmes alongside installation
and related events.
FFVF did this on an annual basis and New Visions biennially as well as
providing a series of regular screenings and events. Each established
a reputation on the circuit of international festivals as well as a platform
in Scotland for the support and promotion of home-grown talent. I should
say that my focus on these two organisations, not intentionally at the
expense of mentioning other projects and ventures, serves the purpose
of this introduction.
Speaking for New Visions, public funding was never secure and less money
was awarded for each subsequent festival until our final festival in 1996
when we received nothing from the Scottish Arts Council (SAC). The decision
then from SAC was that Scotland's two festivals of film and video
were two too many, and a preference was expressed for a single organisation
with the insistence that FFVF and New Visions go into talks about merging.
In spite of our desire to continue working seperately, this option was
not made available to us and consequently SAC and The Scottish Film Council
(SFC, now Scottish Screen) ploughed £9,000 into two consultancies,
the result of which were the reports produced in August '97: 'The
Strategic Development of Creative Video, Film & New Media', undertaken
by Positive Solutions, a private firm based in Liverpool; and 'Equipment
Technology Resource for Scotland', undertaken by Clive Gillman and
Eddie Berg of FACT.1 This consultancy process
was overseen by representatives from SAC, Scottish Screen, FFVF and New
Visions and managed by Paula Larkin of New Visions.
The report furnished by Positive Solutions was built on the efforts of
many, not least those artists, organisers and educators who gave up time
and energy, voluntarily, to contribute. It took, as a springboard, the
models of practice developed over the years by both organisations and
put forward a number of possible options for the development of a single
new organisation. These reports have since been shelved, the funders under
no obligation to act upon any of the key recommendations. However, in
true hypocritical fashion, they are able to quote the reports and indeed
SAC have done so, in my own experience, as proof of their commitment to
the issues they raise.
None of this surprises me, government bodies govern and are themselves
governed by their own constrictive discourses. Arts Officers with changing
agendas come and go and often fail to respond to or nourish the forms
of cultural challenge already in existence. Recognising and acknowledging
this makes for contestation. Neither am I surprised, only disheartened
and embarrassed, at the show of blatant self-interest and divisiveness
put on by a few individuals, who seem to be busy building empires and
carving out careers for themselves without acknowledgement or respect
for other people's efforts.
Within this scenario, the climate has not been exactly ripe for the exhibition
of challenging film and video work. In spite of this however, new work
can be viewed, though not always in a concentrated form - events/
exhibitions occur in isolation as one-off projects, poorly funded or not
at all, often with film and video appearing as an adjunctive element or
Three recent artist-initiative presentations of film and video in Glasgow
demonstrate different levels of interest and commitment to this field
Cafe Flicker has been running since around 1993 and has survived for that
time without public funding. Its long life-span is no doubt linked to
this fact. The un-funded organisation ethic was not a driving force unlike
other groups springing up around the same time e.g., Exploding Cinema
in London. Flicker (as it was then known) aimed to serve the community
of makers in and around Glasgow by providing an informal platform for
the screening and importantly the discussion of film and video work. Some
events were pre-programmed but on the whole makers turned up on the night
with work in tow. All organising was and still is done on a voluntary
basis using ready resources of host venues (presently, Glasgow Film &
Video Workshop plays host with fully equipped screening facilities). Flicker
has evolved over the years with the efforts and vision of numerous people
including Shazz Kerr, Martha McCulloch, Paul Cameron, Jim Rusk and presently
Russell Henderson, Iain Piercey, John Fairbairn, Abigail Hopkins and I - igo
These days I - igo Garrido takes a firm stance against funding, rejecting
the restrictions and demands it brings to bare on the creative freedom
of an organisation. Although Cafe Flicker has changed much since its seminal
years, for him, its defining qualities are its freshness, openness and
most urgently its "low profile".2
Unlike other high profile organisations who find themselves inventing
their public and manufacturing evidence to justify public funding, Cafe
Flicker has no interest in serving any remit other than the provision
of support for the makers who pass through its doors.
Its atmosphere has swung from the awkward formalities of the first screenings
with few hesitant attendees to the more convivial social night, replete
with simulated cafe interior and lots of audience interaction. It now
sits comfortably between the two extremes and is not as daunting for first
time screeners tentative about being grilled in public.
The standard of work varies constantly and the range of styles and genres
is limitless: Experimental film (which means different things to different
people), drama and documentary (in all its mutant forms), comic, travelogue,
home movies, found footage, video art all from first time makers, seasoned
enthusiasts, hobbyists and those who call themselves artists and almost
all produced on low or no budgets.
That said, the most recent screenings I've attended have been dominated
by the short, straight drama. The proliferation of this genre is a reflection
of Scottish Screen's overwrought focus on The Industry as the mecca
for new talent. The emphasis is firmly on entertainment value; the formulaic
mimicry of conventional cinema being embraced at the expense of seeking
out new, challenging forms of creativity expressed in a more experimental,
innovative approach to film and video production.
It is to Cafe Flicker's credit that all works are screened on a first
come, first served basis, irrespective of style, genre, politics, and
that criticism is constructive and genuinely helpful. An ongoing database
of every work exhibited dating back to 1995 is a valuable resource open
to anyone researching this area. All visitors passing through Glasgow
on the first Wednesday of every month are always welcome - bring your
Museum Magogo was a recent exhibition of both pre-selected and open-entry
work housed at the Glasgow Project Room. Curated, or rather fashioned,
by artists John Beagles and Graham Ramsay, it showcased two hundred artworks,
among them a cluster of works on video. The Project Room is an open-submission,
artist-run exhibition space, self-sustained through a studio complex and
premised on the basis that it is somewhere for artists to try things out.
Museum Magogo saw the overall space, not excessive in itself, divided
by slim partition walls into smaller territories, each area parodying
an aspect of museological and curatorial drill - the Sculpture Garden
replete with grocers turf, the Lidl wing (the cheap-and-cheerful rebuttal
to the Tate's Sainsbury's wing), and, amongst others, the cuby
hole that was the Video Lounge.
Here, videotapes were shelved with an accompanying list of titles and
artists (running times and production dates were not listed but could
be found on some individual tapes) and could be selected at random and
viewed on the borrowed domestic monitor and video set-up.
While excess rather than ease was the order of the day, for me, this form
of monitor presentation is not always suitable. Here the artists'
work suffered to some degree in comparison with the other instantly viewable
exhibits - the wanton cacophony of wall embellishment in truth looking
more spacious and deliberated. Spectatorship and reception are, in these
circumstances, entirely dependent on the effort made by the viewer and
although it doesn't take much to stick a cassette in a player, in
my experience few people bother to do so.
Overall, there has been a massive upsurge in the use of video as an art
medium over the past five years. The proliferation in the use of loops
and the projected image, with its attendant seductive and monolithic qualities
have allowed video easy entry into the gallery site, a relatively clean,
quick and easy space filler. And the reverse of this being, since the
gallery now accepts video in ways it seldom did before, there is now more
typecast production. Video, in all its varied forms, has not been fully
embraced by the gallery, and film exhibition is virtually non-existent.
Single screen work, i.e. that which requires to be viewed from beginning
to end, irrespective of style, genre, format or running time seems to
suffer most in this environment.
While some of the works in Museum Magogo sat comfortably with the single
screen label, notably Alan Currell's dryly comic 'Lying About
Myself in Order To Appear More Interesting', and Tim Cullen's
animation pieces which both suited this particular presentation method,
others did not fair so well. Cath Whippey's eccentric ten-second
animated loop 'Bear Tries on His New Bear Outfit', and 'Blue
Moon Over Alabama' by Geeta Griffith were two most obvious candidates.
The 'Be Er Monsta' compilation of '96 put together by Glasgow-based
artists for pub screenings is a record of activity at that time and it
would have been valuable to see it again as a one-off, sit-down screening
in the environment it was intended for. Chris Helson's 'Chat
Show', a documentation of Orchardton Television's live broadcast
at the '98 Orchardton Arts Festival included some quirky features
and topical discussion but, at two hours in length, proved impossible
to view in the discomfort of the Museum Magogo set-up. While Smith and
Stewart's '97 piece 'Dual', a characteristically tense
play of performed action, and Wendy House's oddly anxious 'Untitled'
were compelling enough in entirety, I found myself losing patience and
tiring with the obvious lack of cohesion of works.
I am not advocating a strict approach to the construction of "sense"
as is witnessed in the curatorial obsession with theme. Accounting for
the curators' intentions, as I understand it, the video works were
treated no differently from the other exhibits - pre-selected or gleaned
from open-submission with an express aim of parodying the strictures of
the art institution, while perhaps at the same time bringing to the fore
a near-neurotic obsession of artists to exhibit at any opportunity, regardless
of circumstance. For me, though, this edge was lost in the Video Booth,
where the unnecessary effort required to view the works was questionably
as much a result of a real lack of available resources within the artistic
community as any intended irony.
The presentation of film and video in or outwith the gallery must always
be an issue and concern for those choosing to exhibit such work, whether
they be artists, curators, gallery managers or attendants. In the case
of Museum magogo, the small amount of project funding they did acquire
did not cover equipment hire and as such cannot be ignored as a factor
that impacted on the choice of presentation - wishfuly slack or not.
In fairness the resulting set-up, I'm sure, was also partly due to
the non-existent support network which the commissioned reports, referred
to above, identify as a prerequisite for the establishment of an effective
infrastructure for film and video exhibition in Scotland.
Choice and preferred options of exhibition are all too often compromised,
however there can be no excuse for well funded galleries and organisations
not addressing these consequential issues.
Canadian Fall was a programme of recent single-screen film/ video work
from across Canada shown in a number of Scottish venues in November and
December. The project and tour was co-ordinated by Paula Larkin of New
Visions and the programme curated by video artist Holger Mohaupt after
a visit to Canada. In his words it is "an insight into the anthropology
of video creation in Canada."
It is the second leg of a loose exchange initiated by Canadian video artist
Nikki Forrest who, on a trip to Scotland, compiled a selection of Scottish
work, Video d'Ecosse, for exhibition at the Articule Gallery, Montreal
The curatorial slant in both programmes reflects the notion of the chance
meeting, the experience of being out of sync in a foreign land, searching
for signs of familiarity and shared perceptions.
Scottish cultural links with Canada stretch far historically, specifically
the link with Quebec, where many of the artists in this programme are
based, in our common experience as countries within nations and the struggles
This current exchange between artists and enthusiasts looks set to continue
with further projects and contact. This is not purely by chance but is
rather motivated by genuine interest and the energies of individuals in
both countries as opposed to the vagaries of institutions with short-term
This energy was much in evidence at the launch of Canadian Fall at Glasgow
Film & Video Workshop. Nikki Forrest and Nelson Henricks, accompanied
by Cindra McDowell4 showed a selection of
video work and gave a slide presentation and talk on the Montreal scene,
the flurry of artists' initiatives, galleries, video workshops and
distributors. Canada has a very rich history of independent film and video
activity stretching back to the introduction of video technology in the
seventies, with a solid infra-structure of organisations supported by
"If such an underpopulated country produces an overabundance of video
work, it is because a government obsessed with communications technology
chooses to sustain it, via arm's length funding."5
The issues pertaining to Scotland's lack of that infrastructure are
perhaps woven not only with the short-sightedness of government-backed
funders, but also, from a wider cultural perspective, with our geographical
position in relation to the United Kingdom as a whole and the Westminster
government. Now that we have a devolved parliament, the rhetoric of Members
of the Scottish Parliament abounds with optimism and promise of cultural/political
transformation. This rhetoric raises serious questions concerning the
concoction of a new, national identity. Inane definitions of Scottishness,
which we have long suffered, prevail alongside prescriptive definitions
of The Modern Scot. Coloured with a new corporate cosmopolitanism, these
discourses are extolled with the risk, or even the aim, of smothering
the indigenous voices of marginalised and alienated communities, who also
contribute to the landscape of Modern Scotland.
The struggle to retain some sense of self tied to personal/ political
histories un-limited by suspect nationalisms, emerges recurrently in Canadian
Fall. The thirteen works "tackle the question of marginal identities
from a position of instability"6, that
is with a tolerance and bias in favour of flexibility and nuance.
As a whole, the programme is a finely balanced mix of styles and approaches
and gives a good overview of production methods characteristic to artists'
film/video - a key requirement which benefits audiences new to such
work. This balance allows each work the space to speak its own language
and although the theme of identity is clearly a concern, it is gradually
emergent as opposed to definitive, as is the case in many themed programmes.
Canadian Fall opened with Nikki Forrest's Shift, a poetic expression
of loss where perceptions of time and place impress upon memory and the
autobiographical to shift and de-stabilise any sense of a unified self.
Stravaig-Errance, also by Nikki Forrest, journies through landscape and
the city seeking this sense of self or a consciousness of self and finds
only, that with movement and passing time, the notion of absence inscribes
itself throughout. The treatment of time as an intrinsic element of the
video medium characterises both works by Nelson Henricks, Window and Time
Passes. Through a sensual manipulation of imagery, time is condensed and
moments of detail expanded as the artist creates impressions, as opposed
to clear-cut representations, of his personal interior and exterior space.
Though many of these works tell stories of some sort, different approaches
to narrative and the diaristic form are evident in Ghislain Gagnon's
Le Mouroir, Rhonda Buckley's Matter Over Mind and Joan And Stephen
by Monique Moumblow. Le Mouroir, which received its world premiere in
this programme, is a tragi-comic tale of a gay couple who get stuck in
a heat wave while working as cooks for a tree planting camp in northern
Canada. It has a beautifully dark, filmic quality which contrasts nicely
with the previous work Operetta by Laurel Woodcock, a more conceptual
video piece showing a close-up of a fly struggling to the sounds of a
crashing HAL from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Matter Over
Mind, Rhonda Buckley uses her own body to explore notions of seduction
and the representation of femininity as stereotype and Monique Moumblow
constructs for herself a fantasy involving a lover who lives inside her
Looking, as voyeur, and being looked at form the basis of Paula Levine's
three-minute Mirror Mirror. A male figure, posing with naked torso is
caught in slow motion returning our expectant gaze as if to challenge
our preconceptions. Steve Reinke's Excuse of The Real, exposes, with
sinister effect, the voyeuristic detachment often deployed by the documentary
film maker. A male voice speaking in the first person is layered over
repeat-cut home movie footage. He tells of his interest in making a documentary
about Aids and how this would involve taking a "close personal look
at a guy dying", concluding that his film would not be complete without
Yudi Sewraj's Rut lightens the tone with its more humourous approach
to the question of identity. We see a man in a bear suit, entering a room
and shaving his fur belly. Overlayed text tells how he sees himself as
a bear but how everyone else sees him as a man in a bear suit! Finally
Cathy Sisler's powerful Stagger Stories is a personal account of
her past alcohol and drug addiction and how she came to surrender her
fantasy that "deviance is necessarily an effective form of resistance".
We see her moving through busy city streets, staggering, almost a danse
macabre, as she asserts her right to difference, to be an "alcoholic",
to be "inconsistent", to be a "lesbian".
Canadian Fall7 will hopefully create a demand
for more single-screen, experimental film/ video throughout Scotland.
Paula Larkin, who also initiated the tour, sees it as a "prime opportunity
to create links with new audiences who, whether familiar or not with these
methods of practice, are sophisticated enough in their tastes to develop
interest in such work and recognise its intrinsic value."
This article is a record of my experience and interest at this point in
time. It is, more importantly, a record and assertion of the energies
and unpaid efforts of many involved in short-term projects whose histories
end up lost and distorted or viewed in isolation, in deference to a writing
of history and culture that fails to take account of the complexities
and facts that comprise their making.
1. Both documents are available from SAC.
2. I - igo Garrido - In the sense that Cafe Flicker is not duty-bound
by funders to market itself.
3. Cafe Flicker @ GFVW, 3rd Floor, 34 Albion Street, Glasgow G1, 7pm.
Works over 10 min. in length must be pre-booked. Flicker database available
for researchers. Call I - igo 0141 552 9936.
4. Cindra McDowell & Nelson Henricks were also exhibiting at the Gallery
of Modern Art as part of the Glasgay festival alongside Steve Reinke and
5. Nelson Henricks, Canadian Fall brochure.
7. For information and tour dates contact 0141-5720958 or 0141-4243369