Review The Film Lab Festival 2013
The film lab festival is a week long festival “celebrating and developing the working practice of emergent film makers”. It was set up in Hackney Wick and the local area with the participation of several venues. We might call this venture a short cinema guerrilla feast. And a fast it was. But a special mention has to be made in regards to the socio-cultural role of the project which is noted in the pamphlet. The general idea is to culturally galvanize the locality which has been reshaped by the advent of the last Olympics but also to an extent undermined in terms of creative resources and opportunities. This festival is structured around this axis; accessibility and exchange, building a platform for cultural growth within the new economical perimeters implemented in the region. This seems like a Herculean task. We are talking about a form of flexible resistance to the tide of uniform apathy engendered by financial paralysis.
We are therefore looking at a socio-cultural enterprise in the sense that the activities are not only aimed at the audiences represented by a very wide cross section of society but also at participants represented by as wide a cross section within the creative realm. Of course many such programs have been initiated, by 4 Corners for example and Bow Quarters where people have been invited to partake in a particular discipline of the arts such as painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography for all age. But there is a difference.
I had the pleasure to visit one venue, in Mother Project Space, Hackney Wick hosted by Bill Howard, Jo Hughes and Abbas Nokhasteh. What I find refreshing and exiting is the way in which this venture is open from all sides This is exemplified by the actual set up in which we evolve, the ‘gallery space’ in which we are invited to view and discuss. The audience, artists, directors and curators are here on an equal footing, allowing a flexible exchange of ideas, values, concerns, criticism and experience without prejudice or any sense of discrimination.
While searching for projects relating to the Film Lab concept, I came across the Imagine Film Festival at the Eye Institute in the Netherlands. But although this one also comprised talks and master classes, the emphasis was placed on the film industry/production rather than on a wider comprehensive interaction with the public sphere. There are studies related to this form of Art/Social communication methodology under the heading “Art and Social practice”. It is defined as a site specific participatory, interdisciplinary and publicly accessible art project and practices”.
What comes under this description is the middle ground where the artists and the audience meet and focus on a particular subject and come to materialise an idea side by side or in some form of collaboration. This means a direct engagement with the context ensuring the art will on one hand not become a source of confusion or alienation, and on the other, retain its integrity since there is no demand for compromise, but simply an intention to create a bridge between what may have appeared until now insular, obscure or aloof to the layman and to society in general, and the population, its collective consciousness as much as the individual.
These bring to view the place of art in the current politics and the economical agendas forming the infrastructure and the life of the city at large. In a response to an article by Ivan Mercl Loser Friendly, 2008, volume12, entitled Progress without Art I wrote: “I was amazed by your article: “Yes or No” in which your describe a pervasive and global state of intellectual stagnancy especially in regards to the arts, referring in particular to the domain of our so called patrons and guarantors, art distributors; the domain through which art should be rendered accessible to an audience… uncensored…There is a question reflecting your own concerns: “Can we now refuse to be forced into still further competition with one another, to allow every aspect of our life to be placed under scrutiny and exploited in the form of cultural capital in the service of a chimerical creative economy?” Luke Fowler ends with these words as a warning against complacency and ignorance: “I envisage a future where corporate populism has become the final arbiter of value.” This idea of the uselessness and usefulness of art has intrigued me and I realized while thinking about it how art was not an effect so much as a phenomenon. Were we as a species to blot out this form of life we are the instruments of, we as a species would cease to exist in our present form.” In another article “The Useless Usefulness of Art, (a question that cannot be answered?), I stated: “I do not see art as taking or filling space. I see art as the very stuff that makes space possible.” But we must put our effort in the realization of this creative mental space. City Racing was an artist led gallery in the 80s. There was at the time a powerful impulse towards self management and on the other hand a will to engage with the public in a more holistic way. Patrons’ and government’s help were not so out of reach, and to build a project based on live work space was more feasible, also in the light of alternative utilization of empty spaces. This was happening in Hackney Wick not so long ago. A friend of mine now part of the Magma Collective was involved in this DIY/ PR development, galvanizing the undercurrents of a semi wild community. But as usual, creative input into rundown areas attracted business and property developers…nevertheless, as Bill Howard pointed out, why should this be the end of the story?
On one particular evening three directors were invited to talk about their work. While this was going on in the central part, monitors were playing various films, while in an adjacent room two or three members of the audience could remove themselves from the main crowd and enjoy watching the same films in a more intimate setting. The sounds would occasionally mingle and this added to the peculiarity of the moment. I caught part of what the director was saying. She asked several questions in her movie. Do we know what our desires are and what society dictates in relation to those desires? What is the authentic self, does it exist? Yet, the director’s specific choices, her adamant opinions, and her theoretical perspectives indicated a solidity of judgment and a personal intellectual development that pointed to the very notion of the authenticity she was questioning, the authenticity of self in relation to the vagueness of our position in the pre-defined order of a systematized universe. This is the core of the exercise. To emit thought and receive thought. To react and to generate more thoughts. The result is the birth of new ideas, more art, more human interaction….evolution of the mind. And this is why this project is valuable. It is already expanding in several European countries bringing the participation of overseas organizations and individual artists together. It is a form of regeneration working alongside influences that for all intents and purposes stand as a contradictory force. Nevertheless, if there is such a thing as expanded design, it is put in practice here through the astute strategy of negotiative incorporation. Watch this space as they say.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2013