Those with no time for art-house cinema should click away now. For the subject of this short blog is artist film, a mode of moving image that offers even more challenges, but perhaps even more rewards, than art-house.
Kenneth Anger, 'Scorpio Rising', 1963. (Film Still)
Artists’ films are works made by visual artists rather than traditional filmmakers, and more often than not they are seen in art galleries and museums rather than in cinemas. But the ICA in London has for the past five years run the Artists' Film Club, a programme that uses the institution’s quality cinema spaces to project significant developments in the medium.
‘We are the only venue in London that has a programme dedicated to artists’ film and moving image by emerging artists,’ explains its curator Steven Cairns. ‘All of our artists are practicing today and their ideas are very much related to "the now" – the time that we are all experiencing.’
Bonnie Camplin, 'Get Me A Mirror', 2006. 6 mins, Looped DVD.
Even filmmakers active in the more art-house strands of the mainstream cinema scene need to play by the rules (whether narrative or otherwise) in order to raise finance and enable distribution of their works; artists’ films, in contrast, can break the rules, emboldened by the freedom of the art world, in which complex and not immediately crowd-pleasing works are attributed value.
When I walk into an exhibition space and a moving image work is projected, it will normally have already started, I will not know how long it will last, the chairs will be uncomfortable, and the sound and image quality variable. In contrast, the Artists’ Film Club, explains Cairns, ‘offers a state-of-the-art projection and sound system, and an opportunity to dedicate one's time to viewing a work start to finish.’
Ken Okiishi, 'Telly & Casper', 2000. SD video, 27 min.
Highlights of the ICA’s latest season include a focus on the London-based subculture-centered Bonnie Camplin (31 July), which will be ‘a survey of her entire film oeuvre, a unique opportunity to see her work all in one place’, followed by a Q&A between the artist and Cairns. Other screenings include works by young artists such as the language-obsessed Cara Tolmie (21 Aug) and internet explorer Ken Okiishi (14 Sep), plus, this weekend (27–28 July), films by Los Angeles legend Kenneth Anger, whose imagistic and often homoerotic works have had a huge influence on the medium. In a month’s time (20–22 Aug), the ICA’s cinema programme goes outdoors, as a selection of Middle Eastern artists' films are presented on the Duke of York Steps, adjacent to the ICA on the Mall.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine