Exhibitions Archive

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  • Petra Bauer ‘Me, You, Us, Them’
  • 27 March to 8 May 2010

For her first solo exhibition in the UK, the Swedish artist Petra Bauer will explore the history of UK film collectives from the 1970s and 1980s. Through ‘Me, You, Us, Them’, Bauer’s intention is to re-examine claims made by political filmmakers at this time, and bring the various issues that preoccupied the period’s practitioners into view against the concerns of contemporary artists. Questions such as what constitutes a political practice, the role of the audience, the relation of theory to practice, issues around authorship and auteur theory, collectivity and the concerns of the women’s movement were all vigorously debated and critically interrogated.

In all, there are five distinct elements to Bauer’s project for Focal Point Gallery. Firstly, a new film has been made that takes the form on an interview; secondly, a collection of research material will be shown in the gallery; thirdly, four historical films made by collectives will be presented on monitors; fourthly, two events will be produced in collaboration with local organisations in Southend-on-Sea. Finally,

a book will be published after the exhibition has completed its run in June 2010. This publication will contain documentation of the exhibition, as well as transcripts from interviews and the exhibition’s wider series of events.

Each element of the exhibition will overlap to create a survey of an important and little-discussed period in British film history, a critical reflection on the questions that were originally posed by them, as well as an expression of how they resonate now. Bauer’s project ranges over the issues around the connection between aesthetics and politics that have proliferated in the fields of art, culture, politics and film theory since the 1970s.

The artist’s new film, co-produced by Focal Point Gallery and Lunds Kunsthall, was shot in a television studio in Stockholm, and features an interview between Bauer and the well-known Swedish celebrity and journalist, Stina Lundberg Dabrowski. During the interview, which is framed and performed as a classic thirty-minute television programme (the interviewee is interrogated about the biographical

connections to her work), Bauer responds to questions earnestly and confidently, yet, after the first ten minutes of the routine, it becomes clear that the film clips the artist introduce and discuss are not her own; instead they are taken from the work of a variety of British film collectives active in the 1970s and 1980s.

Documentation will be placed on tables within the gallery, presenting material in a form between an archive and a display of research (some of this paper is adorned with notes made by the artist). This collection of printed matter theoretically frames the films and also reveals a tension between artistic practice, its critical reception and subsequent theoretical promulgation. In essence, one could say that it’s the very friction between the lineage of critical reception and progression that underpins Bauer’s project. As in the aforementioned interview with Lundberg Dabrowski, Bauer brings to light the way in which we – as artist, critic, curator and audience – understand the ‘political’ dimension and ‘responsibility’ of collective filmmaking

at this present moment in time.

Each of the four monitors in the exhibition presents a film made by a different collective. The films are: Night Cleaners (1975) by the Berwick Street Collective, Women of the Rhondda (1973) and The Amazing Equal Pay Show (1974) by the London Women’s Film Group and BBC clips from an invasion of the BBC newsroom in 1988 by activists against Clause 28. By showing these works in relation to her filmed interview, Bauer attempts to introduce and include herself within a contemporary discourse around radical practice and the moving image, so as to reignite some of the issues around collectivity, authorship and the respective roles of the audience and filmmaker that enlivened film in the 1970s and 1980s. By inserting herself into these histories, Bauer questions confuses modes of address and the systems of representing chronological documentation, while the political agency of film and collectivity are reflected and refracted through her forms of presentation. Through this methodical scrambling of understanding, Bauer seeks to comprehend and identify

the particular socio-historical conditions that brought artists’ film collectives and their related works into being. More importantly, she tries to trace their decline, and open a space to question the relation of politics to art in order to ask what the conditions are for working practices today.

This exhibition is the result of an extended artist’s residency at Focal Point Gallery funded by the Emée Fairbairn Foundation. For a period of six months, the artist researched UK-based film collectives and conducted interviews with many of the leading figures in this field, and has used the opportunity to research works that are rarely screened outside of the UK. Bauer’s presentation focuses on the gallery’s location; by exhibiting new work alongside personally annotated archive material, it reflects upon the surrounding library as an active site of learning, encourages viewers to think about their local community and what it would require, and mean, to become an active part of it. With the intensive development of the Thames Gateway, Bauer’s project can also be seen

as timely, because it focuses on a period when the notion of political art, and working within communities – which were deprived of a voice, or were unable to find the means to express their ideas – was directly addressed and opened up for debate. Films like Night Cleaners and The Amazing Equal Pay Show attempted to provide a voice for an exploited workforce and address aesthetic issues, which themselves might be understood as political.

As part of her wider discussion around film collectives, the artist has also organised a series of events with Dan Kidner, Focal Point Gallery’s Residency Programme Manager, for London’s Raven Row. These talks, entitled ‘Visions, Divisions and Revisions: Political Film and Film Theory in the 1970s and 80s’, will include speakers Marina Vishmidt, Nina Power, Humphrey Trevelyan, Esther Leslie, Paul Willemen, Colin MacCabe, Margaret Dickinson, Noreen MacDowell, Felicity Sparrow, Steve Sprung, Alex Sainsbury and Peter Osborne, and will take place during the exhibition ‘A History of Irritated Material’ in March and April 2010. Transcribed

recordings of these discussions will appear in the aforementioned book, which is due to be published by Focal Point Gallery in 2011.

For further information and images, please contact Laura Bowen, Exhibition and Marketing Officer laurabowen@southend.gov.uk or
Dan Kidner, Residency Programme Project Manager 2009/2010 dankidner@southend.gov.uk.

Petra Bauer ‘Me, You, Us, Them’ is generously supported by Arts Council England, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Swedish Arts Grants Committeé, and Metal Culture.