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Gary asks what is the difference between film, and artist film & video? / 29 October 2011

two photos of men collaged, one on top of the other

Still from Gary Thomas' DADA-South commission 'Coming Out' featuring Craig Henderson (top) and Nic Main (bottom)

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As I walked around Tate Modern in 2002 I was struck by so many things while watching Eija-Liisa Ahtila's work. My main question was, 'Why is this Art?'

How is it the Arts Council don't fund film yet this has clearly been deemed as art by others with suitable knowledge? This was before I spent a year working on my first Arts Council application with Abbie Norris, and before I was successful in receiving my first commission from DADA-South (largely inspired by Eija's work).

During that time I embarked on my own research and began to try and answer the question, what makes film 'Artist Film & Video'?

Do you just watch work sometimes and think 'What the hell?' Sometimes I’m happy that questions like ‘What is Art?’ and ‘What is artist film and video?’ are rhetorical. You ask them, then the questions echo for a while. But you never get a straight answer.

Artist film and video is complex, and to look at all works even from British Artists would take months, maybe years. In my research I started with the Turner Prize, as there was a group of people who had already decided that this was art.

Looking at work by Gillian Wearing, and then later on by nominees such as Phil Collins and Jeremy Deller, I questioned lots of things about the work, but ultimately came to a few conclusions:
1. Sometimes it is artist film and video because the artist has made it (particularly looking at Deller’s video documentary on George Bush & the Iraq War).
2. Sometimes it is quite extraordinary, and is far removed from ‘narrative’ cinema, like Julian Rosefeldt's five-screen installation masterpiece ‘American Night’, shown at the BFI Gallery in 2010. 'I was concerned about what was going on in the world… like Iraq… and so I’m always wanting to make my own artistic comment on that without being too explicit…' Julian Rosefeldt explained at the BFI, 2010.
4. It nearly always comments on something (says the write up).
5. Sometime in the 1970's artists were just looking for ways to experiment, and when you look at them a while later sometimes you just think: 'What the hell?' (Like some of Rebecca Horn's video work – or maybe I just missed the point on this one).

The reason I was so interested in this is because the Arts Council had an interesting phrase they used after explaining what they do and don’t fund when it comes to film. Firstly, what you can apply for: 'the production of artists’ moving image work, for example work related to the visual arts or other art-form practice (e.g. dance), for galleries, cinemas, the public realm, publishing, broadcast or online exhibition or distribution.'

That says cinema, right? But as long as it’s about something related to the visual arts. So that short horror film you’re thinking of? No. But a horror / zombie dance film working with a top choreographer? Maybe…

So, what won’t they fund: 'film, video or digital production and cinema exhibition, unless it is in support of artists’ work in the moving image.' And the second part of that phrase seems to crop up everywhere.

So here's my own statement on artist film & video:

Artist film and video is often experimental, often on more than one screen. It is sometimes incoherent, and sometimes understandable by its audience (not that that should mean anything). It can be perplexing or 'mundane', and is not something that a large group of people would understand straight away. It can be any length, from 0.1 seconds, to 24 hours or more, and can be completely original, or made up from archive footage. Above all, it should not have a straight forward narrative (unless its making a point about straight forward narratives).

There you go. An answer. For now.

Keywords: artist film and video,film