Collections of and the act of collecting TBMA

To define collecting as an activity, you may go through images in your mind of All 4’s Britain’s Biggest Hoarders on TV wherein hoarding disorder specialists are brought in to treat people on the show with the condition, and asks ‘Will intensive therapy help?’ Or perhaps articles like this one from the Telegraph in 2015 through which Gill Hornby looks at whether in fact, ‘just living in the accumulated evidence of one’s own existence does bring a sort of joy.’

Libby Purves: There's a hoarder in all of us
‘Hoarding is heaven’

Looking on Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, collecting is introduced:

The hobby of collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining items that are of interest to an individual collector. Collections differ in a wide variety of respects, most obviously in the nature and scope of the objects contained, but also in purpose, presentation, and so forth. The range of possible subjects for a collection is practically unlimited, and collectors have realised a vast number of these possibilities in practise, although some are much more popular than others. – Wiki

The entry then goes on to address this list of contents:
1 Types of collection
2 Value of collected items
3 Psychological aspects
4 History
4.1 On the Internet
5 Notable collectors

My first recollection of having a collection was of yellow shells that I picked up on regular visits to the beach where I grew up, and subsequently, this turned into a bigger collection of flotsam and jetsam from various beaches. I see this as treasure, and sits in a large jar on my windowsill. I no longer collect beach-combed finds.

My second encounter with collections and collecting, was an inheritance of my late grandfathers camera equipment and film rolls. He had served in the RAF most of his life, and had photographed as he travelled, from Cyprus, to Paris, and holidays in Scotland and Spain. He had amassed a substantial collection of undeveloped colour slide films, which I am halfway through developing myself. His passion for photography shaped my teenage years, and I too, now collect cameras and photographic ephemera.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Despite this admission, I wouldn’t call myself a collector. I do not catalogue the cameras that I have, they are not on display, and I can’t remember how many I have. Perhaps I am a hoarder, however I don’t compulsively buy them, I don’t have the funds. One day I might do something with them but for now, they are in an antique suitcase under my bed.  They are not difficult to store, or maintain. So they remain forgotten until I am reminded of them again.

Difficult to collect items are a challenge. Time-based media (TBM) is classed as one such type of difficult-to-collect / store / maintain material. My research focus throughout my masters study is that of installations and site-specific projects involving film, video and multi-channel installations. I am interested in both the historical timeline of TBMA, and the contemporary issues of conservation, preservation and curation of historic works, as well as developing practical technological knowledge to enable me to curate contemporary TBMA installations. With this firmly in mind, I am seeking out a collection of this type of material to research further.

My existing research into this area has allowed me to uncover a time-line of the developments in and public exhibitions and screenings of TBMA, and more specifically video art and experimental films in the UK since their emergence on the 1960’s scene. Most significantly – it introduced me to LUX.

LUX’s history began in 1966 with the founding of The London Film-Makers Co-operative, or LFMC. Part of the 1960s counter-culture in London, the LFMC originally grew out of film screenings at the Better Books bookstore, before moving to the original Arts Lab on Drury Lane. – LUXonline

The LFMC was established on 13 October 1966. A telegram published in the first issue of the Co-op’s magazine Cinim declared:

“LONDON FILM-MAKERS COOP ABOUT TO BE LEGALLY ESTABLISHED STOP PURPOSE TO SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT STOP NEVER STOP NO BREAD NO PLACE TO LAY OUR HEADS NO MATTER JUST MIND IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MONEY STOP IF YOU LIKE BRYAN FORBES STOP IF YOU READ SIGHT AND SOUND STOP IF YOU WANT TO MAKE FILMS I MEAN FILMS COME ALL YOU NEEDS IS EYES IN THE BEGINNING STOP GEN FROM 94 CHARING CROSS ROAD W.C.2 PARTURITION FINISHED SCREAMS BEGIN STOP”

Inspired by Jonas Mekas and The Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York, the LFMC, founded by Stephen Dwoskin and Bob Cobbing (amongst others), worked to assist artists in the production as well as the distribution of their films and was regarded as one of the most important experimental art spaces in London during the 1970s and 80s. Early film-makers associated with the group include Malcolm Le Grice (Berlin Horse), Lis Rhodes (Light Music), and Peter Gidal (Room Film 1973).

malcolm le grice berlin horse installation shot 1970
BERLIN HORSE Malcolm Le Grice — 1970 Multimedia recording Double projection. 16 mm film transferred to video, b/w ans colour, sound, 6 min 32 s each MACBA Collection
Light Music by Lis Rhodes
LIGHT MUSIC Lis Rhodes 1975 – 1977 25 minutes, B&W, Optical, 4:3 Original format: 16mm film

 

room film 1973 GIDAL
ROOM FILM 1973 Peter Gidal 1973 55mins Colour 16mm

As Marie-Anne McQuay explains in her article for LUXonline, the past 50 years has seen much change in the experimental arts film scene, with the amalgamation of several organisations due to rent prices, funding cuts, and technological advances.

‘The LUX Centre for Film, Video and New Media opened in Hoxton Square, September 1997 with new works by artists including Jane & Louise Wilson and Angela Bulloch and a specially commissioned project by Ian Bourne, The Conservatory, a temporary structure modelled on Victorian architecture which housed a screening programme of works by Bourne and his fellow HOUSEWATCH collaborators. The LUX Centre, an early Lottery Capital Development, had arisen primarily out of the pragmatic need to consolidate the funding and centralise the resources of the London Film Makers Co-op and London Electronic Arts (formerly London Video Access). The LFMC had been founded in 1966 as a radical co-operative, promoting the creation and distribution of experimental film; the LEA had been founded in 1976 by David Hall to promote the distribution and exhibition of artist’s video and had a greater emphasis on individual artists work. The Centre housed and distributed the archives of both organisations, along with a cinema (run by the LFMC), film and video production and post-production facilities and a gallery (run by LEA).

The LUX Centre ran many successful events including the Pandaemonium Festival, along with offering screening programmes, exhibitions, artist’s workshops and advice for galleries working with moving image. The LUX made some forays into the digital arts such as Net.Art but this was never seriously commissioned, collected or distributed.

Although popular, the LUX Centre did not always achieve consistently high visitor figures and in addition, failed to generate a regular income, partly due to the lack of interest in hiring the video editing facilities since this technology was now provided by home computers. Whilst the Centre opened in 1997, the two organisations housed within it did not officially merge until 1999 and by this time the organisation was already seriously in debt: while the LUX Centre was purpose built, the organisation was a tenant in the building. The rapid regeneration of Hoxton led to rent prices more than trebling and this became a key factor in the eventual demise of the LUX as a venue based organisation in 2002.’

Marie Anne McQuay is a freelance writer and curator based in London and Liverpool, and formerly Head of Collaboration Programme at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). Here, she goes onto to highlight the next steps for LUX: ‘Advances in moving image technology and computers meant the video medium was more widely available as a cheap and convenient tool for artists, one which also enabled increasingly complex exhibition opportunities; from video walls at Video Positive in Liverpool to the multiple projections of artists such as Bill Viola (The Veiling) and Gary Hill (Between Cinema and a Hard Place). The advent of lottery funding for the arts offered further opportunities for film and video artists and saw the construction of The Lux Centre, a purpose built home for the London Filmmakers’ Co-operative and London Electronic Arts.’

The_Veiling
Bill Viola. The Veiling (detail), 1995. Video and sound installation, including two channels of colour video projections from opposite sides of dark gallery through nine scrims suspended from ceiling, two channels of amplified mono sound, and four speakers. 138 x 264 x 372 inches (350.52 x 670.56 x 944.88 cm)
Gary Hill TATE
Gary Hill, Between Cinema and a Hard Place 1991

Lucy Reynolds, Luxonline Content Manager concludes the LUX story thus far: ‘The new century is marked by a final acceptance by the gallery system and art market that the moving image is a viable art medium. Following the demise of other centres for screening artists’ film, such as the Lux Centre and the Video Positive festivals, film and video has come to increasingly take its place in the context of the gallery space. As new generations of artists turn to the moving image medium, a spate of recent retrospective exhibitions such as X Screen and Shoot Shoot Shoot indicate that it’s histories are by no means forgotten.’

Shoot Shoot Shoot began as a major survey of the first decade of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative, curated by Mark Webber and organised by LUX in 2002. Consisting of 8 programmes of single screen films, double projections and expanded cinema, it premiered at Tate Modern in May 2002 and then toured internationally to 19 cities worldwide over the next two years, heralding a resurgence of interest in the historic work of British filmmakers. A smaller touring programme in 2006-08 accompanied a DVD release of 13 films. For the LFMC’s 50th anniversary in 2016, an exhibition of archival documents, also titled Shoot Shoot Shoot, was on display at Tate Britain from April to July 2016.

rsz_jpg-3
Screening/Talk SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT / Soft Floor, Hard Film: Celebrating 50 Years of the London Film-Makers’ Co-op Thu 13 Oct 2016 / 7pm ICA
shootshootshoot LUX book jacket
Shoot Shoot Shoot: The First Decade of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative 1966-76

 

These days, as the only organisation of its kind in the UK, LUX represents the country’s only significant collection of artists’ film and video, and is the largest distributor of such work in Europe. LUX works with a large number of major institutions including museums, galleries, festivals and educational establishments, as well as directly with the public and artists. Their main activities consist of distribution, exhibition, publishing, education, research, and professional development support for artists and arts professionals.

The collection

The LUX collection contains over 4000 films and videos by over 1000 international artists, ranging from the 1920s to the present. It is the largest collection of its kind in Europe, containing much rare and unique material, while continuing to grow with the addition of both new works and restored classics.

The collection is an active resource rather than a static archive, so does this affect its status as a ‘collection’? Perhaps to understand it in more depth, I can look at the following terms within collections management and see how they apply to LUX’s collection. I have arranged a meeting with LUX director Benjamin Cook to discuss the collection. I will be asking questions around these areas:

ACCESS

ACCESSIONING

CATALOGUE

COLLECTING PLAN

COLLECTIONS CARE

COLLECTIONS MANAGEMENT PLAN

COLLECTIONS RESEARCH

CONDITION ASSESSMENT

CONSERVATION

POLICY (set of principles to establish directions, guides decisions, and provides a framework for plans)

PRESERVATION

DIGITAL RECORDS / DIGITISATION

INVENTORY

LOAN

MAINTENANCE

STANDARDS

STRATEGY

Through the Collection development toolkit and guidance from the The National Archives, I have collated some further questions around collections as archives, and how these questions can be reworked as an inquiry to the LUX collection as active resource rather than a static archive:

1 What has been collected?
1.a What types of records, information and other material does this include?
1.b What is the history of the collection? How has it evolved? Who or what does it document? 

2 What is important, valuable or unique about this collection?
2.a Why does it need to be developed?
2.b Are there gaps in collecting in this area of interest? Who or what is missing?
2.c What needs to be done about these gaps?

3 What else should be collected?
3.a What types of records, information and other material should this include?
3.b Are there any people, aspects of your activity, community or organisation that should be represented in your collections?
3.c What is missing? 

4 Who are the main users of the collection?

I may be able to address these questions through the resource online, and then fill in the gaps through interviews with Benjamin Cook.

One subject I would like to address in my conversations with Ben, would be surrounding technology.  Do LUX have technical limitations which affect the collection? Do these technical limitations affect the new material selected for the collection?
Technical limitations might include:
– Understanding the collection
– Understanding storage and handling requirements
– Understanding requirements of: Photographs / Moving image (film and
video) / Sound (tape or disc) / Digital records (on removable media such as CD and DVD or on computers)

Pip Laurenson, Head of Collection Care Research at Tate, has written several papers* on TBMA installations, including The Management of Display Equipment in Time-based Media Installations, 2005 / Developing Strategies for the Conservation of Installations Incorporating Time-Based Media: Gary Hill’s Between Cinema and a Hard Place, 2004 / Authenticity, Change and Loss in the Conservation of Time-Based Media Installations, 2006.

*Tate Papers (ISSN 1753-9854) is a peer-reviewed research journal that publishes articles on British and modern international art, and on museum practice today.

In 2007, Joanna Phillips, a conservator working for the interdisciplinary research project AktiveArchive based at the Swiss Institute for Art Research in Zürich, contributed to the same platform with Reconstructing the Forgotten: An Exhibition of 1970s and 1980s Video Installations, Re-staged with Authentic Technology.  Her paper was written as a short discussion document for the Inherent Vice: The Replica and its Implications in Modern Sculpture Workshop, held at Tate Modern, 18–19 October 2007, and supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  In it, she discusses the problems that arose when tasked with an exhibition project that involved the reconstruction and presentation of early Swiss video installations and tapes from the 1970s and 1980s. Phillips says:

The dilemma of preserving ephemeral works of art is taken to a further level when it comes to video installations. Their electronic components are not only subjected to material wear and decay, but also suffer from rapid obsolescence, depending on the video format and devices employed. As soon as a format becomes outdated, spare parts will cease to be available and devices cannot be repaired or replaced any more. Owing to the rapid development of media technology, video installations have commonly been considered as variable and have undergone many changes in their appearance during their exhibition history. – Joanna Phillips

Questions faced during this work included – How will the dated devices survive an eight-week exhibition duration? How many extra devices can we provide for replacement in case of failure? Will installations with rare or delicate devices be subjected to a restricted operation time? How elaborate will the maintenance of the old devices be during the exhibition? How will the visitor be informed about what is original and what is reconstructed? Do the reconstructions count as originals?

These questions are pertinent when looking at the LUX collection. All of the works in the collection are available for screening and exhibition internationally, as was the aim right from the start of the LFMC.

MLG co-op scheme
London Filmmakers’ Co-op schematic diagram by Malcolm Le Grice

The online catalogue includes a complete list of all the works in the collection, although not all have a representative stills image. The list shows all of the formats on which the works are available. In many cases there may not be an existing copy in a particular format, which LUX state, they will make to order if requested.  As a note to this section of their policy, they state that it may be possible for LUX to make digital copies of works currently only held on 16mm, with the artists consent; additional costs will apply if the film materials require telecine transfer.

Questions arise from this in terms of artists permissions and also on installation instructions. Are these specified by the artists?

To be continued…

 

References:

Curating Art Collections in Scotland. 2004. REWIND: Artists Video in the 70s and 80s. Available at: http://www.collectingcontemporary.eca.ed.ac.uk/collection-details/rewind-artists-video-70s-and-80s (Accessed on 14 May 2018).

TAKE ONE. 2012. Interview with William Fowler by Anthony Davis. Available at:
http://www.takeonecff.com/2012/interview-with-william-fowler (Accessed on 14 May 2018).

A Cast Iron Radio production for BBC Radio 4. 2016. Miranda talks to filmmakers Malcolm Le Grice, John Smith, Lis Rhodes, Tacita Dean and Ben Rivers among others. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07cyfkq#play (Accessed on 14 May 2018).

LUX. 2016. Our history. Available at: https://lux.org.uk/about-us/our-history (Accessed on 14 May 2018).

LUX. 2016. Professional Practice Seminar: Artists’ Moving Image Archiving. Available at:
https://lux.org.uk/event/professional-practice-seminar-artists-moving-image-archiving (Accessed on 14 May 2018).

Kholeif, O. 2015. Documents of Contemporary Art: Moving Image (Part of the acclaimed
‘Documents of Contemporary Art’ series of anthologies.) Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press.

Merewether, C. 2006. Documents of Contemporary Art: The Archive (Part of the acclaimed ‘Documents of Contemporary Art’ series of anthologies.) Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press.