By IAN McKAY
Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead (Thomson & Craighead) make artworks that examine the changing socio-political structures of the Information Age. In particular they have been looking at how the digital world is ever more closely connected to the physical world, becoming a geographical layer in what they describe as our collective sensorium. “Time is often treated with a sculptor’s mentality,” they say, “as a pliable quantity that can be moulded and remodelled,” that is. Jon Thomson is Professor of Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, and Alison Craighead is Reader in Contemporary Art at University of Westminster and Lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University of London, but they divide their time geographically, living and working between London and Ross-shire.
As artists Thomson & Craighead have been working since 1995 – some 24 years now – and as Jon Thomson notes, they are now focussing on organising their own archive, which will be no mean achievement, I’m sure. Meanwhile, LUX Scotland has invited them to make a selection of works from the Lux collection as part of a guest-curated programme too be screened at Eden Court, Inverness. Elsewhere, the artists are focussing on their archival work, too, and as artists they just completed a public art work for a new student centre in Bloomsbury for University College London; Here Not Here.
To say they are currently busy is probably an understatement. “We are also close to completing a public artwork for Nucleus archive in Wick, which is an extension of A Temporary Index; an array of decorative counters that mark sites of nuclear waste storage across the world, commissioned by Dr Ele Carpenter and Arts Catalyst as part of their Nuclear Culture project. As the project literature for A Temporary Index states, “each counter is a kind of totem marking the time in seconds that remains before these sites of entombed nuclear waste become safe again for humans. These timeframes range from as little as forty years or as much as one million years.”
With regard their upcoming screening in Inverness, LUX has existed since 2002, but traces its roots back to the London Film Makers’ Co-operative, founded in 1966, and London Video Arts, founded in 1976 the artists remind me. “The Lux Centre came in to being with the merger of those two organisations in the 1997, which happened to be just around the time that we were both graduating from art school in Dundee, and so the LUX collection has been with us as a national resource for experimental film and video for about as long as we have been practicing as artists.” As a playful homage to the collection, they are therefore seeking to create a programme with a particular significance to them (and then); “a selection of LUX Classics, if you like.”
LUX SCOTLAND PRESENTS…
For the screening that takes place on 7 April at Eden Court, “rather than attempt a comprehensive overview of the collection, we have focused on works that use structural, performative and technological conceits to help us reflect on our place in the world” write Thomson & Craighead, but what does this actually mean in terms of what will be screened? The range of films are broad but they form a coherent programme overall – “A ball of rock hurtling through space in Tony Hill’s vertiginous Downside Up; the simple unblinking eye of a film camera recording the filmmaker’s mother on Orkney in Margaret Tait’s touching A Portrait of Ga; Jayne Parker’s The World Turned Upside Down, which playfully reminds us that we are all part of the animal world and not apart from it; John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum, which pokes fun at the artifice of cinema while alluding to more existential anxieties such as the validity of our own freewill.”
The final film mentioned is Laure Prouvost’s Breugel Girls, which was only made two years ago, but as they state, “we propose it as an instant ‘classic’ – a work that glories in being lost in translation, reminding us how the cracks and fault lines between one thing and another is often where the most interesting things in life can be found.”
From a personal perspective, hearing these names and remembering organisations now gone is a real joy. Personally, I have fond memories of many of the moments in art filmmaking history that Thomson & Craighead allude to, and I wonder if our paths have ever crossed. In the mid-1980s when all moving image work was what many refer to now as ‘dead format media’ (i.e. analogue / non-digital), and art films were largely classified as such according to often quite arbitrary judgement (a well-known critic once quipped to me that “you know it is an art film if there is a hair in the gate”), it was to either the London Film Co-Op or London Video Arts the I would go to when needing to view an NTSC tape sent to me from the USA for review, or to get access to a U-Matic video player for similar review material here in the UK, also. The wealth of talent that passed through the doors of those organisations is too numerous to mention here, and the history of both that eventually came together as LUX (long after I had moved on to other things) is, it seems, still very much in the making, and rightly so.
MARGARET TAIT 100
With wider regard to LUX Scotland in particular, therefore, also worthy of mention here is that I recently received information concerning a call for proposals for Margaret Tait 100 – that is, an open call for film commissions celebrating the influence and legacy of Scotland’s pioneering filmmaker and poet, Margaret Tait. As part of the Margaret Tait 100 programme, ten new works will be commissioned, five of which will be drawn from the open call process. These will be presented alongside new commissions by curator and filmmaker Ute Aurand; director and writer Mark Cousins; artist, filmmaker and musician Luke Fowler; writer Ali Smith with artist and filmmaker Sarah Wood; and curator and filmmaker Peter Todd. LUX Scotland are now inviting proposals from Scotland-based artists and filmmakers for new short moving image works that respond to the life, work, approach or attitude of Tait. Envisioned as ‘one-minute for Margaret.’ Further information here.
LUX Scotland Presents…
Selected by artists Thomson & Craighead
Sunday 7 April, 17:00 hrs
Thomson & Craighead will introduce the screening at Eden Court, the total duration of which is 48 minutes.
Tony Hill, Downside Up, 1984. SD video transferred from 16mm film, 17 minutes
Margaret Tait, A Portrait of Ga, 1952. SD video transferred from 16mm film, 5 minutes
Jayne Parker, The World Turned Upside Down, 2001. SD video transferred from 16mm film, 8 minutes
John Smith, The Girl Chewing Gum, 1976. HD video transferred from 16mm film, 12 minutes
Laure Prouvost, Bruegel Girls, 2017. HD video, 5 min, 25 sec