Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Cut Above

Rather like hair dressing salons who feel duty bound to in some way reflect the service they offer in their names (Barnet Fair, A Cut Above, Snips, The Scissor Factory etc) there has been a long standing tradition that organisations that exhibit, distribute or provide services for artist film, video or photography should incorporate a media reference in their names. So for example we have: Frameworks, Light Cone, Montage, Flicker, Hi-beam, The Lux, Cinenova, Rewind, Photofusion, Wide Angle, Focal Point, Camerawork, The Filmmakers CO-OP, Cinema of Women, London Video Arts, the Exploding Cinema, Lumen, Film & Video Umbrella and so on. Digital Arts organisations employ a similar technique though they tend to obscure the media reference in an acronym such as FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology) or MITES (The Moving Image Touring and Exhibition Service) or DA2 (Digital Arts Development Agency).

This level of media specificity is somewhat curious when film, video and especially digital media have traditionally made claims to being either “new” or “cutting edge” and yet here they are effectively branding themselves in the same way as those old fuddy duddy printmakers and ceramicists. Nobody in their right mind would think of calling a contemporary art gallery Oil on Canvas, or the Easel, and when we see a name such as the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour we know to move on quickly and yet this is precisely what “new media” organisations have done and continue to do.

In the wider world things have changed. Many fine art courses have followed the Goldsmiths example and abandoned media specificity in their teaching. Gone are sculpture, drawing, painting and all the other headings, its all just art now, students use what they need when they need it. This seems far less restrictive, why shouldn’t one make a sound piece on Monday, a Super 8 film on Tuesday, a net work on Wednesday, a painting on Thursday and a performance on Friday? 

Many artists of course do just that and yet the “new media” establishment stick their heads in the sand and continue with a sort of media apartheid. This is a shame as a breaking down of these artificial barriers could only be beneficial. Many contemporary installation artists could learn a great deal from looking at the work of ‘experimental” filmmakers and similarly those with the new media establishment need to rise to the challenge of seeing their work in a wider context, 

There is an obvious continuity between say Malcolm LeGrice and Douglas Gordon so why pretend that they occupy separate histories? Recent screenings such as Shoot Shoot Shoot and a Century of Artist Film & Video at the Tate have done much to showcase work produced by British ”experimental” film and to a lesser extent video artists and yet didn't make the connection with contemporary UK artists working with film & video such as Tacita Dean, Douglas Gordon or Jane & Louise Wilson.

Perhaps the fear is that without the media in the name the new media establishment will loose their identities and also their hard won funding.

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