Interview

Q&A: Malcolm Le Grice

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of The London Filmmakers Co-op (LFMC). This month Tate Britain has been exhibiting archive material in their exhibition Shoot Shoot Shoot, telling the story of the LFMC's journey and I've been giving tours of the exhibition.

The LFMC were a ground-breaking organisation which inaugurated a tradition for the production, distribution and exhibition of independent filmmaking in the UK. Their films were non-narrative, non-commercial and in complete opposition to Hollywood style filmmaking.

Instead they focussed on the material of the film itself, colours, sound/image interplay and the poetry in their imagery. In the early 60s they also worked from the legendary Arts Lab space in London, a multi-arts venue set up by Jim Haynes. The image below right shows their cinema at the Arts Lab, my mum used to go in the 60s so I've been lucky enough to hear about it first-hand, it was a basement space where you'd take your shoes off, throw yourself down on a mattress on the floor and enjoy the all-night screenings of experimental films by LFMC members and other 60s icons like Yoko Ono.

Many of the members of the LFMC were fine artists, including Malcolm Le Grice who was teaching art at St Martins in the 60s, at the time of the group's founding. Alongside making his own films, he established the UK's first experimental film course. Today it's commonplace for film to be taught in art schools but in the 1960s this was a radical idea.

Last month the BFI celebrated his work with a series of screenings and reconstructions, I met Malcolm at the BFI and asked him about working with the LFMC

JB: Did you have any long-term aims for The London Filmmakers Co-op when it was first set up?

MLG: The London Filmmakers Co-op was started in 1966 but I was not then a member. At the time I was involved with the Arts Lab in Drury Lane … In 68 together with Simon Hartog, we defined the merger of both organisations, my diagram plan is still on the wall at LUX (see image below). This expanded the co-op from just a distribution organisation to include a cinema and production workshop. I became the architect and organiser of the workshop with film printing and developing, with the objective to make filmmaking cheaper and more available to experimental film makers. This succeeded and in the next 4 or 5 years and dozens of new filmmakers emerged in the UK.

JB: How important do you think the LFMC was for contemporary independent filmmaking in the UK and how did it give rise to our current culture of independent filmmaking and festivals?

MLG: The co-op became the centre of experimental film screening, making and distribution, very active and the major film co-op in Europe. The more general Independent film, the Independent Film Makers Association emerged more from the exclusively Political film makers - for example Cinema Action, Berwick Street Collective, and sought to become part of the film and TV industry. Many co-op film makers engaged with this, there were different objectives but no fundamental conflict. I was very involved in both, through my membership of the BFI Production Board and the lobby group to set up Channel 4 TV.

JB: Comparing the professional kit that is accessible to young filmmakers and film students today, can you describe the sort of kit and equipment you had access to back in the 60’s and 70s?

MLG: Our kit in the 60 and 70s was virtually all 16mm film, cameras were hard to come by and borrowed where possible. Film stock and lab costs were very expensive, only the co-op workshop offered printing, Processing and editing and cut costs. Early video kit was primitive - black and white and low resolution. From about 1984 higher resolution portable video, Vid 8, then Vid Hi8 and then in the 90s HD digital Video came. Also lower cost visual computers gradually opened up more sophisticated video editing and effects.

JB: How important was gaining the respect of film institutions like the BFI and galleries like Tate Britain to the LFMC?

MLG: What respect? … Any attention to Experimental film and the Co-op work is still minimal and sporadic, particularly at Tate which still treats experimental film as marginal. Virtually none of the pioneering work of film and expanded cinema of the early period has been bought and exhibited in National Collections. I have fought this battle for almost 50 years. Some recent recognition by BFI, NFT and Tate is still minimal and fringe …

Thanks Malcolm for the insights in to your practice and workings of the LFMC!

Q&A: Christopher Jarratt

I'm currently the Resident Blogger for Tate's Art Exchange, an online platform for artists, educators, creators and anyone interested in art to share ideas! It's free to register and packed with interesting ideas and projects to try with students or at home, take a look if you have time. Along the way I've met and interviewed some really inspiring artists, including Christopher Jarratt.

As an artist and maker Christopher designs and produces whimsical pieces like giant slingshots, spinning tops and hairbrushes. What particularly excited me was Community Kite Project, which Christopher set up in 2011 with a collective of artists, designers and makers. Together with Christopher they run kite-making workshops, which have taken them around the world working with diverse audiences of all ages.

here's a snippet of our chat…

JB: I noticed you write about imagination and the ‘fantastical ideas’ we dream when we’re children. Would you say this is your main influence? Where do your ideas for your objects and projects come from?

CJ: Story telling, daydreaming and play. These are key influences for me and I try and channel these things through my everyday life which hopefully in turn is sparking my imagination which in turn gets me creating things and coming up with new ideas. It's very easy to rationalise these types of things out of our mindsets as we get older. I feel there is huge value to everyone to keep these actions alive. If my work can spark these things in others, that is great.

JB: You formed Community Kite Project back in 2011 and have since been running kite making workshops. What first drew you to the idea of kites?

CJ: I have always had a passion for making and flying kites (especially single line kites). They seem to have an ability to tell stories as much as create them. This thing you have created, flying in the wind connected to you by a thin bit of string, it's a very special relationship. It is only able to fly because you are holding on to it. If you were to cut the string, it won’t fly away (like it feels it is trying too all the time!), it will just drop to the ground.  Most people need to just look at a kite and they smile.

Kites are full of useful information, from the physics of flight and material properties through to the sculptural/architectural aspect of kite making and the painting of the canvas. The visual history of politics, life, love and belief has been represented on kites for as long as people have been making them.

Want to know more? Check out Christopher's website below.

Q&A: Duggie Fields

"Life is the big riddle ..."

Having grown up with a print by Duggie Fields on my wall I was pretty excited to meet and interview Duggie at his home and studio the other week. Soon after my parents met in the late 70s, and after so many attempts to win my mum’s attention, my dad bought her a print of Duggie Fields’ Dynamic Perversity … well at least he’s got good taste, she thought, and the rest is history.

L-R: Duggie Fields: Dynamic Perversity, 1980 and Dynamic Landscape, 2007

Duggie Fields arrived in a blaze of colour onto the 70s art scene. He’s known for his very graphic imagery, his use of bright colours and often features limbless figures reminiscent of Classical statuary but with his own take. Early on his work shifted between minimalism and constructivism, before turning to his signature style – what he terms post-Pop figuration.

L-R: Duggie Fields: Landscape into Art, 1999, Neo Classic, 1992 and Dancer, 1969

Duggie's home is an artwork in itself, a living gallery of Duggie’s work. We talked about everything from his inspiration and colour palette to his own music and video pieces, hanging out with Andrew Logan & Zandra Rhodes and being a style icon inspiring a Commes des Garcons catwalk show.

L-R: Duggie inspired Comme des Garcons Fall Catwalk 2007, Duggie with Andrew Logan in 2002

The video’s coming soon, so in the meantime here’s a little window into the vibrant, and vivacious world of Duggie Fields.

I’m curious to know how the change came about when you switched from studying architecture and moved to Chelsea to study fine art? Did that initial architecture training influence your painting?

I started painting when I was in my early teens and it was something I did everyday; a real passion. For years I drew using graph paper and tracing paper with a set square and T-square and I make my pictures geometrically. If you look at the figures, they have ruled and sometimes straight edged outlines. When I moved to digital I found that the computer put up a grid and I was already used to working on graph paper … so it was an easy transition.

So you started using computers in the 90s, how do you think new media affected your work – did it change it?

Yes, it allowed to me do things I’d never dreamed of doing. As for making music, the idea I can construct something that sounds musical myself is still a revelation to me.

Duggie Fields: The Big Riddle

What imagery initially influenced your work?

My earliest passion was comics, in the 60s I had a huge comic collection. When I was experimenting with paint in my teens I used to go outside and pour paint onto a canvas, letting the wind blow the paint onto the canvas from different heights. Then I gradually got more conceptual until I started seeing figurative elements without wanting to. I remember the transition; one day I had a Donald Duck pin and I stuck it in the middle of this 5ft minimal canvas and suddenly transformed it. That made my leap into figuration.

Do you have advice for young artists?

Think about what you enjoy doing most and how to keep yourself in touch with that, then you’ve got survive in the external world but keep that internal focus – that’s the toughest bit but that’s the most rewarding.

Thank you Duggie for a glimpse into your world ... the video's coming soon so watch this space!

Keep up with Duggie by following him on twitter @duggiefields or check out his website below

Q&A: Gaby Sahhar

'The exhibition considers how an artwork's presence is in a perpetual state of flux'

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection's London space aims to capture the ever-changing presence of an artwork and how it constantly evolves from conception and fabrication to eventual display and archive. The exhibition has been curated by students from Goldsmiths' MFA Curating course and The Cass London Met University, and what's really special is their choice to exhibit both established and young, emerging artists alongside each other.

This space is an atmospheric location for the exhibition, it was once a Methodist Chapel built 1867-71, and is far from a typical four-white-walls gallery. Each work has been carefully positioned in relationship to its neighbour, some in clusters according to the work's own personal journey and history. Gazing up at the cavernous main room or winding through its narrow back corridors I found myself captivated by the space itself, while each of these works have their own unique story, they also seem to contribute to and soak up a new history specific to their surroundings.

Gaby Sahhar is one of the youngest exhibitors, on display are two pieces from his We are becoming the horse series including his short film, I got the chance to catch up with him at the opening night and talk to him about his excitingly original and dynamic practice.

Above: London based Artist Gaby Sahhar at Zabludowicz Collection

What was the idea behind the We are becoming the horse series, what was it about horses that interested you?

Filmed between London and Tokyo, We are becoming the horse is a projective work that suggests that humanity is approaching a state of redundancy with the evolution and standardisation of technology as a new model. Using my original footage of abandoned horses on the Thamesmead estate and of rush-hour in modern-day Tokyo, it explores the marginalized and redundant status of the horse in a society it helped to build, aligning this equine plight to the human condition. The glitch-aesthetics of the video combined with the broken down display screen and surveillance sculpture take the conversation further, revealing technology itself as an unreliable and vulnerable body. 

Above: Stills from the We are becoming the horse film

I’ve seen some photographs showing how you created the Lake series which are really atmospheric, can you talk me through the process?

I was making a lot of paintings about different forms of energy in the body and exploring the different waves of energy we experience. Originally when I produced the paintings I wanted them to feel extremely fluid and to depict all the forms of energy we experience on the spectrum, from hyperactivity to irritation and energy driven anger. I eventually began to understand that energy in the body was an over controlling thing, which I tried to show in the paintings by using paints such as enamel blacks and inks. However, after making the paintings and seeing them side by side in the studio I wasn’t pleased with them and they didn’t seem to be fluid at all or very energetic or reference the body, so I decided to be self-destructive and take them to a lake - an environment which I saw as very fluid and still dominated by nature, not humans. I then decided to walk into the lakes with my paintings and started drowning them under the water whilst also getting myself very wet and cold in November. I was so much happier with the result as everything felt heightened by the environment afterwards. The paintings in the lake had connotations of body’s now, and the water magnified the colours. To date I think it is still one of the best works I have ever done.

Your work seems really diverse and experimental, is there any particular influence or theme that links it?

My practice consists of film, sculpture, painting and installation. I am driven by environments, humans and animals and in particular the emotional impact that 21st century life in the city has on humans and how our species adapts to it, creating odd narratives in site-specific locations to express this. I often use animal analogies as a metaphor for these themes. 

Above: Images from the Lake series

You seem to take a lot of risks with your work especially as it's so diverse ... are there any challenges?

Sometimes it feels like my practice is one big challenge. Often when I am making site-specific work it can be dangerous if I don’t fully understand my surroundings. I often re-visit places where I know I am going to be doing a lot of work to ensure the best results. I also seem to develop ideas which are a struggle to realise in real life. Adapting my ideas can be hard, especially working in a timescale when you’re studying. More recently, filming wild horses has been a bit of a challenge, I have had to learn a lot about horses to know how to approach them and learning how not to startle them when you’re holding a lens to their face.

Gaby has exhibited and worked collaboratively on shows such as Invisible Hours at SLG 2014, De/Construct at Whitechapel Gallery 2014, Deep within the Bosom of the Night at Harts Lane Studios 2014, Artcube 2014/2012, and Frieze London 2014/2013. He also designed a TATE limited edition handset for Vodafone UK in 2012.

Visit Gaby's website to below find out more about his unique and compelling practice

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection is on now until 22 February and free, it's an exciting show in an amazing space so catch it while you can

More info here

Q&A: Nicky Giraffe

On the Road to the Sea is the first book from artist Nicola Adriana Rowlands  AKA Nicky Giraffe, showcasing Nicola’s contemporary photography alongside a collection of Victorian/Modernist poems. This unique pairing of Nicola’s own surreal, entrancing photographs and the poetry of Charlotte Mew is a beautiful intertwining of their two narratives. The book has already been shortlisted for its cover design by the British Book Design & Production Awards ’14.

On the Road to the Sea can be purchased here.

I caught up with the captivating Nicola at her recent book launch in Chelsea to discover more about her creative practice and inspirations.

How would you describe your work?

I call myself a surrealist artist … I am interested in the interaction between the imaginary and reality. I create to get to an emotional universal truth. I want to create work that is active, that projects and imbibes emotion onto the viewer through the composition and color. I hope that through my work I use a combination of reality and imaginary to transport people to somewhere they have been before or would like to/wouldn’t like to go. I guess it’s about communication and transportation from reality to a familiar surreality. Staging and choreography are inherent in my work as well. Most of my photography is preceded by drawings/sketches/stage design … so I suppose like poetry it’s a contrived image making process that hopefully results in something that appears more effortless and ephemeral.

What influenced your new series and book On the Road to the Sea?

The poetry of victorian/modernist/lesbian poet, Charlotte Mew. But on a formal level, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the colour palette in each separate series is influenced by a specific Rothko painting.

L-R: Untitled #1 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013 and Untitled #2 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013

How did you discover Charlotte Mew’s Poetry?

Charlotte, in an odd way found me, her poetry read as a visual language and posed questions about my own image-making processes and why I am a photographer. Charlotte and I were introduced by the poet Jane Weir, who looking at a montage of my photographs, intuitively drew a line between my work and Charlotte Mew's famed poem The Farmer's Bride. The montage was shot during my first trip to Derbyshire at the end of March. 

England's grey sky was cut open with ice-blue, black silhouettes of winter trees and lambs teetered on the hills, and I walked for my first time on the cusp of winter slipping to spring. It was an afternoon of revelation and the photographic sequence are a southern Californian's instinctive response to this northern European shock of nature in transition. In those moments I shot compulsively. It was as though I was translating, editing and creating my reactions through my lens, through my eye — but why photography? 

Answers came from this yellowed, well-thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Bride, where I first read Charlotte's poem of the same title. Alongside my work the poet painted, framing herself into my experience; I recognized myself – the woman, 'flying like a hare', across the fields, escaping the farmer’s grasp, spoke of liberation. The same emotional release I experienced as I captured the photographs … my images, climaxing with a nude erected on a frost bitten wall. In its visual and linguistic representation of specific moments, poetry becomes photographic in its method and process, through the medium of poetic language. Photography and poetry, both devices of artifice, strive with impression and image to project and then communicate whatever preoccupations rise to the surface in the artist’s consciousness.

L-R: Untitled #2 from Fame, 2013 and Untitled #3 from Fame, 2013

What mediums do you work in? 

Photography and film. However, my work is preceded by writing, research, drawing and painting. When I say painting I mean sketching or storyboarding - with really cheap watercolours. For this project I spent a lot of time hunkered in the V&A library researching and getting yelled at for bringing paints into the library. For On the Road to the Sea I shot on 120 film with a Pentax 6 x 7, I processed and developed the film and prints myself. As most of my work is staged, I suppose you could say that people, costume, scenery are my mediums as well, all of which are placed within the frame. 

Do you think that growing up in LA informed your interest in film?

LA affected everything … that crazy, bizarre, beautiful, SURREAL place. It’s a place where make believe is taken seriously and it’s only when I left LA that I realised how engrained the idea of play, façade and hyperrealism is to my work. Growing up I was always in theatre and ballet, I know that this has had a huge impact on my work. I was lucky to have spent most of my academic years in after school arts programmes. I come from a theatrical family, my sister and I were always putting on shows, making movies and dressing up.

LAX from Greetings from ... Los Angeles

What are your challenges at the moment? 

At the moment, the biggest challenge is wearing so many hats! I mean, I love hats! But sometimes it gets frustrating, exhausting and confusing being your own business manager, assistant, PR person, mother, grandma, critic, doctor etc. I am coming off doing a show in LA, having my book published, finishing a film and screening it at festivals, and an exhibition here in London and finally it feels like a space has opened up for creating work again (which I hope speaks for itself).

I’m excited to get back into the trenches… But I feel incredibly lucky to be in total control of the creation and presentation of my work.

So … what’s next?

I have some ideas brewing … things are going to get a bit sculptural.

Check out the link below to explore the alluring world of Nicola Rowlands (aka Nicky Giraffe)