Master Thesis Heritage Studies: Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image
THE LIVING FILM COLLECTION A WORKSHOP FOR THE PRODUCTION OF INFORMAL FILM MEMORIES
Ana Sofia Seco Santiago Pires (11315636) Department of Media Studies | Faculty of Humanities | University of Amsterdam email@example.com 26 June 2017
Supervisor: Dr. Annet Dekker (University of Amsterdam) Second Reader: Dr. Eef Masson (University of Amsterdam)
With the support of
Um poeta está sentado na Holanda. Pensa na tradição. Diz para si mesmo: eu sou alimentado pelos séculos, vivo afogado na história de outros homens. Herberto Helder, Os Passos em Volta (2013:13)
CONTENTS Contents ............................................................................................................................ 4 1. INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................... 5 1.1 Terminology............................................................................................................ 9 1.2 Introduction of the Case-Study ............................................................................... 9 1.3 Chapter Outline ..................................................................................................... 11 2. PRESERVATION PRACTICES ............................................................................ 12 2.1 Aesthetic Value ..................................................................................................... 12 2.2 Materiality ............................................................................................................. 17 2.3. Author .................................................................................................................. 20 3. OUTCOMES OF FILMWERKPLAATS MEMBERS ........................................... 23 3.1
Technique ......................................................................................................... 29
Intangible knowledge ....................................................................................... 30
Useless/usable .................................................................................................. 32
Accident vs. Standard ...................................................................................... 33
The lab ............................................................................................................. 36
Sharing openly ................................................................................................. 38
Conclusion ....................................................................................................... 39
4. DISCUSSION ............................................................................................................ 41 4.1. The Living Film Collection ................................................................................. 41 4.2 The Application of the Living Film Collection .................................................... 43 4.3. The Relevance of the Living Film Collection to the Film Museum .................... 49 4.4. Informal Social Memories and the Living Film Collection ................................. 53 4.5. Producing the Living Film Collection ................................................................. 56 5. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................... 60 6. WORKS CITED ....................................................................................................... 64 7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ..................................................................................... 70
1. INTRODUCTION In his manifesto, Best practices for conservation of media art from an artist's perspective (2015), Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican-Canadian electronic-artist, summarises all the predicaments that undermine the development of preservation efforts by artists and filmmakers before delving into practical advice. Even though LozanoHemmer's work situates him within the context of media-art preservation – outside the scope of my investigation – what Lozano-Hemmer states in his introduction is key to identifying the theoretical underpinnings that inform my line of inquiry. Moreover, this is one of the few, insular attempts1 initiated by an artist at documenting and sharing the process of preserving his own work and for this reason is highly pertinent to the topic of this essay. For Lozano-Hemmer preservation is troublesome for artists because:  We are already too busy maintaining operations as it is,  we think of our work as a “living” entity not as a fossil,  we are often unsure if a project is finished,  we snub techniques that may help us document, organise or account for our work as something that stifles our experimentation and creative process. In addition, especially when we are resentful that institutions are not collecting2 and preserving our work in the first place,  we reject the whole concept of an Art collection, —agreeing with critical historians for whom collecting and preserving contemporary Art represents an obsessive-compulsive vampiric culture of suspended animation and speculation that is grounded in a neocolonial, ostentatious, identitarian drive: Nietzsche’s “will to power” mixed with Macpherson’s “possessive individualism”. (Lozano-Hemmer) To Bill Brand, an experimental filmmaker and an optical printing technician, other issues prevent the development of preservation practices by artists and filmmakers. In his opinion, it is chiefly a question of means. Firstly, experimental filmmakers do not have the possibility to expend indefinite amounts of time in the preservation of past projects and thus they prefer to focus what time they do have on the creation of current works. Secondly, experimental filmmakers usually do not have economic surplus to cater to the decaying needs of their previous work. In sum, all of the meagre means available at any given moment should be entirely focused on the development of new projects that expand the artist’s research. Brand continues, Most artists and filmmakers are better at making art than keeping track of the art they make—especially films and videos. Even if we know we should take better 1
For other attempts, specific to experimental film preservation, see Brand and Treadway (2006: 85-95) It should be mentioned, however, that Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s work has been collected by major institutions such as MoMA, in New York, and Tate, in London, among others. For a comprehensive list, see the artist’s biography on his personal webpage, http://www.lozano-hemmer.com/bio.php 2
care of our work,  we are stopped in our tracks by what we think is too enormous, too time-consuming and too costly an effort.  We feel we must make a choice between producing new works and preserving old ones. (85) In light of these statements, the challenge of preservation to artists and filmmakers becomes apparent. This challenge presents itself as the dilemma of making a choice between past and present work. This predicament is manifested both in terms of time, means, material and intentionality changes in regard to the status of completeness of the work. Essentially, as Lozano-Hemmer matter-of-factly points out, preservation is a contradiction to artists because it implies that an artist is at the same time "interested in both creating the work and overseeing its death or zombiefication” (Lozano-Hemmer). I believe this contradiction of preservation is real and not simply imagined. Artists should remain involved in their artistic practice while archival institutions should continue to commit to the preservation of their works. However, from my experience, even if filmmakers do at times need assistance with preservation, and film museums often welcome the artists’ collaboration, I note an estrangement between the two. Yet, in the context of the film museum, I believe it is especially problematic that filmmaking practice and film archival practice remain so estranged. In my view, the case of living filmmakers demonstrates this problematic estrangement most acutely. This estrangement is problematic because film museums embody above all the possibility of film production. Alexander Horwath, head of the Austrian Film Museum defines film museums as, Institutions that define […] the cinema auditorium as the actual museum space. […] the space where film itself can appear – the work that is not an object but an event in time. It is the space where a museum of film can turn its film collection into actual films – into projections which are also performances between humans and technology. (24) From this it becomes clear that locating the film museum as a space inscribed with the possibility of film production does not entail a narrow understanding of it as a space of production only of new films but also, one of production of film history as such. Understanding the film museum as a space of production means regarding several of its most common activities as spheres of possible production. Production can happen, for example, via screenings, via laboratory practice and research, via use of machines, processes and techniques, via re-use of certain collections and footage and, finally, via installations, exhibitions and presentation. Identifying, in the activities of the film 6
museum, instances of production possibilities is then coming closer to an understanding of how filmmaking practice and film archival practice can be more weld together. These two spheres of activity are in fact closely related, if not by nothing else then by the fact that film museums will end up acquiring, collecting and preserving part of the output of contemporary filmmaking. Likewise, this estrangement is a problem to filmmakers as well as to film museums because both miss out on relevant opportunities to exchange knowledge that are indeed crucial to a more in-depth understanding of contemporary filmmaking practices and thus essential for its future integration and theorisation within the space of the film museum. Artists and filmmakers often base their artistic research in a thorough study of the past and in so doing, a closer engagement with the museum provides the opportunity to produce novel relations with this very past and its activations in the present. On the other hand, art and film museums acquire, collect and preserve the products of human creative activity and thus engaging in closer relation with living artists and filmmakers offers the museum valuable insight into the nature and intent of creative processes. Thus, to relate these two spheres of practice more closely to one another in anticipation of collaboration between the two, it is important to look at how living artists and filmmakers understand and engage with archival practice. Accordingly, the first goal of this research project is to look at film archival practice, more specifically film preservation, from the point of view of living filmmakers, actively producing work. I will do this in order to understand and document the issues that determine the apparent estrangement between living filmmakers and film museums and I will identify those spaces where potential collaboration can be honed. A number of questions prompted this essay, namely: What predicaments inform the gap between filmmakers and film museums? How do living filmmakers see archival practice? How do film museums see collaboration with living filmmakers? How would a model of collaboration between living filmmakers and film museums be possible and what forms might it take? How can preservation come to be understood as a collaborative dialogue between living filmmakers and film museums? How can this dialogue be understood as the vehicle for the development of living film collections, in the context of film museums?
In what follows, I will argue for a specific collaboration between living filmmakers and film museums in the process of preservation, in view of achieving what I term “living film collections.” This is based on the following observation: within every film museum there is a basic bifurcation. There are two different categories of collections: the living film collection and the collection of works by deceased filmmakers. Ideally, preservation should not be applied generically to these two different categories because the provenance, the nature, and preservation requirements of each are distinct. Whereas the living film collection is built in the present often under legal obligations regarding funding, the collections of works by deceased filmmakers came to the film museum through a variety of paths, i.e., within a larger body of films screened by a given distributor or from a private collection. It can be said that the living film collection also requires a higher level of attention to format obsolescence and migration considerations and more active involvement with the author of the work in view of documenting intent, whereas collections of works by deceased filmmakers more often constitute familiar formats, with authors whose original artistic intentions may no longer be ascertained by direct inquiry. This line of reasoning will lead me to argue for the application of distinctive preservation practices for living as opposed to “dead” film collections, in the context of the film museum. To do so, firstly, I will borrow frameworks developed for the preservation of time-based media collections wherein collaboration between artist and art museum is more thoroughly theorised and established. Secondly, I will analyse artists’ perspectives from a non-institutional context in order to ascertain what is relevant for them to cultivate in a collaborative practice of preservation, again exclusively in the context of film museums. A comparative analysis of this sort will allow me to hypothesise a novel perspective on the application of the living film collection residing in film museums. In sum, this research project looks at film preservation from the point of view of filmmakers as a means of understanding and documenting: - the issues that determine the apparent estrangement between living filmmakers and film museums; - what filmmakers can contribute to an enlarged understanding of what preservation can be;
- how living filmmakers can serve as a source of insight for the preservation of living as opposed to dead film collections; - what sort of long term collaborations might be possible between living filmmakers and film museums and what forms these may take.
1.1 Terminology Over the course of this text I use the term film archival practice to designate the set of practices carried out by film museums in order to collect, preserve, restore, and present film legacy in all of the technological embodiments and formats that constitute its history. I use the term preservation to designate the set of practices employed by museums, both in active and passive forms, in view of prolonging archival integrity into an indefinite future of formal and informal social memory. I use the term film to designate all moving image forms collected, preserved, restored and presented by film museums that constitute the manifold technological embodiments and formats of the filmic mediumâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s history. If clarification is required I add preceding qualifier to denote the kind of moving image technology I am referring to, i.e., photochemical or digital. I use the term film museum to designate the space where film archival practice is carried out and publicly presented, accessed, shared, and practised. When designating the film museum I am referring to the space where the complex of practices comprised in what I have previously designated as â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;film archival practiceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; work towards the public and shared experience of film as a time-based experience as well as to the public access and experience of film legacy, both in its formal and informal aspects.
1.2 Introduction of the Case-Study I choose to examine the Filmwerkplaats, an artist-run film laboratory part of the independently organised cultural venue WORM, based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to analyse how living filmmakers regard film preservation and the collaboration with film museums. I decided to focus on this specific context as indicative of an environment 9
partially eclipsed in the literature on film preservation,3 from which important contributions may emerge towards a fuller understanding of what film preservation means in the context of living film collections. The Filmwerkplaats seems especially relevant because of its ethos as an organisation, founded under the aegis of, “punk , Dada, Fluxus and hacktivism, WORM is the blue-blooded bastard child of an impossible love between avant-garde recreation, DIY and sustainability” (WORM / #AVANTARGISTISCHESTAD). If this project aims to understand how a better dialogue between living filmmakers and film museums can come to fruition, taking models from what is established in the context of time-based media collections, it seems critical to include statements from a non-institutional environment - as it is often in these non-institutional contexts heavily tied to practice-based research and experimentation that new collaborative ideas are most likely to appear. In summation, the idea of approaching the Filmwerkplaats was rooted in three key realisations: 1 – That expanding the institutional perspective of film and art museums by collecting a corpus of statements by artists partly absent from the literature that nonetheless represent a relevant context of contemporary (photochemical) filmmaking is worthwhile in-and-of-itself; 2 – That analysing a context that is not only somewhat representative of the working and conceptual context of other artist-run labs4, but also a context that works in an alternative space to more conventional modes of film production and distribution, in Europe is productive; 3 – That collective thinking with the members of an organization distant from the establishment and the status-quo, that practises an independent and autonomous approach to film production and distribution, with a do-it-yourself approach to past techniques and processes of photochemical film, may offer original insight into what preservation can come to mean and what forms a collaboration between film museums and living filmmakers may yet take.
Artist-run labs are organised in the international network filmlabs.org. The extensive body of knowledge produced by the network is openly accessible online, see http://www.filmlabs.org/. Yet, the academic contributions to the topic have been limited. See, for example, Knowles (2013: 447-463) (2014: 20-27), Chodorov (2014: 28-36), Waltman (2015: 46-58), and, Yue (2015). 4 For a complete list of the 43 members of the network, see http://www.filmlabs.org/index.php/lab/
1.3 Chapter Outline In Chapter 2 – Preservation Practices, I will compare the traditions of the film museum and the art museum in order to distinguish different cultures of preservation and practices that diverge according to value, materiality, and relation to authorship. I will focus on these aspects to identify why in the context of the art museum, specifically in the context of time-based media collections, the relation with artists in the process of acquisition and preservation is more established than in film museums. Ideally, this literature review will point to the ways in which a relation of this type can also be put into practice in the framework of the living film collection. In Chapter 3 – Outcomes of the Filmwerkplaats’ members, I will present the outcomes of my interviews with some of the current members of the Filmwerkplaats and discuss their views on what is important in preservation and in a collaborative relationship with film museums. I will do this in order to look at archival practice from the point of view of filmmakers from the non-institutional context of an artist-run lab. In Chapter 4 – Discussion, I will offer my analysis on what I have learned from the contrast of these different perspectives. I will do this in order to show how the inclusion of the filmmaker in collaboration with the film museum in processes of preservation is possible and I will hypothesise the forms it may take within the framework of the living film collection. In Chapter 5 – Conclusion, I will conclude with an overview of the research and consider some of its shortcomings and forthcomings.
2. PRESERVATION PRACTICES In what follows, I will, from an institutional perspective, compare the traditions of the film and the art museum in order to distinguish their different preservation practices according to aesthetic value, materiality, and relation to the author of works. I will do so in order to identify, firstly, why the connection to the author of the work is a more established practice in the context of art museums than in film museums. And secondly, to understand how the estrangement between living filmmakers and film museums can be bridged by eventually replicating some of the preservation practices already established in art museums, in the context of time-based media collections.
2.1 Aesthetic Value Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (1936) examines how reproducibility challenges the traditional value of the work of art, by defying notions of uniqueness and authenticity enmeshed in what Benjamin defined as the aura of the work. According to Benjamin, “in principle, the work of art has always been reproducible” (12), yet, it is its technological reproduction which represents something entirely new. Benjamin defines the aura of an artwork as “a strange tissue of space and time: the unique appearance of a distance, however near it may be” (15). What technological reproduction deprives the work of art of is precisely its here and now, intrinsic to the definition of aura as presented above. To Benjamin, “the here and now of the original constitutes the concept of its authenticity” (13) and authenticity, contrary to the case of other objects, is at the core of the work of art. To Benjamin, “the authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the history to which it testifies” (14). Essentially, reproducibility undermines the aesthetic value of film because it hinders its aesthetic legitimation in exclusive relation to authenticity. However, in line with Benjamin, this interference opens up an alternative construct of value since by depriving the work of art of its aura, “the technology of reproduction [also] detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition” (14). Likewise, the unique position of film within the hierarchy of aesthetic value is inseparable from film’s cathartic possibility to annihilate “the value of tradition in the cultural heritage” (Benjamin 1412
15). Thus, it is precisely film’s reproducibility that undermines its aesthetic value and consequently its definite status within the hierarchy of symbolic values that structures cultural institutions. Walter Benjamin argues that it is in the concept of authenticity that the idea of tradition is grounded since “the uniqueness of the work of art is identical to its embeddedness in the context of tradition” (16). To Benjamin, “the most originary manner in which an artwork was embedded in the context of tradition found expression in the cult” (16). Thus, whereas “the technological reproducibility of the work of art emancipates the work from its parasitic subservience to ritual” (Benjamin 17), the unique value of the work of art embeds it into the cult ritual of the (art) museum. This is why Benjamin concludes that, One could portray art history as the working out of a tension between two polarities within the artwork itself and see the course of its history in the shifts in balance between one pole of the artwork and the other. These two poles are the artwork's cult value and its exhibition value. (17) As a result, it is in light of the working out of this tension that the different traditions and preservation practices of the film museum and the art museum should be analysed. In what follows, I will look at how reproducibility has been tackled differently by the film museum and the art museum in order to understand how this has determined their distinct preservation practices with regard to artworks made from reproducible technologies. Karen Gracy has summarised how the ambivalent aesthetic value of film is reflected in the delicate cultural status of the institutions committed to preserving it, By appointing themselves as the legitimators of a genre of cultural objects whose status as art is itself often contested, film archives occupy a weak position in the hierarchy of cultural institutions. They must emulate the practices of older, more established cultural institutions in order to be seen as authorities. (64) The dispute of the status of film as an art form, and likewise its preservation as such, is, of course, heavily influenced by its reproducibility. However, other factors have contributed to thwart the preservation of film as an art form. Gracy points to the understanding of films as “tokens of mass culture” (67) as one such critical factor. Paolo Cherchi Usai identifies other salient reasons that span from,
The popular perception of cinema and video as expressions of the entertainment industry, to the belief that moving image carriers represent an ' art of reproduction' and therefore do not possess the 'uniqueness' required to warrant the conservation treatment given to other artefacts. (The Conservation of Moving Images 250-251) In summary, the contested status of film as an art form appears to be always related to three defining characteristics of the medium itself: its reproducibility, its appreciation in the contexts of other more popular forms of expression and, finally, its inherent fragility because of its dependence on a technological apparatus for projection. Likewise, it has been the very defining characteristics of film that have contributed to undermine: firstly, its status as an art form; and secondly, and consequently, the need to preserve and collect it as such, in the context of film museums. Moreover, the indefinite aesthetic value of film has lead film museums towards conflicting terminologies, and understandings of the artefacts they preserve and as a result to inconsistent institutional practices. In light of this, it is revealing to note that film archival institutions have been interchangeably called throughout their history film museums, film libraries, and film archives, according to the distinct genealogies within which they conceive of the artefacts they preserve. Richard Rinehart has characterised this group of institutions as forming “the institutional tripod that supports the formal or canonical aspect of social memory” (89). The reason why film archival institutions have used these three names interchangeably is also partially related to their different understandings of film as either a mass entertainment medium, historical document or, more seldom, work of art. Furthermore, the aesthetic value of film becomes more problematic when considering that film as a collectible artefact has stood at the crossroads of these distinct traditions, again according to the different readings of its aesthetic value. According to Rinehart, These three primary memory institutions differ with respect to the content of their collections, the access they provide to them, and the ways in which they describe and document them. (92-93) In the case of film, however, these differences between institutional practices are not as easy to establish because film’s content diversity and material reproducibility evade many such distinctions. For instance, in regard to the content of collections, Rinehart distinguishes between the “mass-produced, textual, and published” (93) collections of libraries, the collections of “rare or unique physical objects” (93) of museums, and, 14
finally, the “textual, but usually unpublished unique instances” (93) collections of archives. Secondly, regarding access, Rinehart differentiates between the “direct and minimal – self-service with little interpretation” (93) access libraries offer to their collections, the “indirect, selective, and mediated [access] in the form of exhibitions” (93) provided by museums, and the “hybrid of the two aforementioned models” (93) of access offered by archives in the form of collections (93). Rinehart’s last distinction regards documentation practices. Whereas libraries are proficient at “describing subject—what a thing is about” (94), museums are skilled in “describing the Ding an sich (thing unto itself)” and, finally, archives are trained in “describing relationships between items as well as the history of their ownership, or provenance” (94). Film museums therefore embody doubts in their nomenclature, and consequently in their preservation and institutional practices, because film sits at the crossroads of these distinctions. For example, film can both be a mass-produced ‘published’ object as in the case of Hollywood productions, a rare and unique physical object as in the case of experimental film, and a group of unpublished unique instances, as in the case of rushes, dailies, unfinished films or newsreels. Film can also sometimes be a combination of these categories, like for example the film We Can’t Go Home Again (1973) by Nicholas Ray. Moreover, although it is rare that users have direct access to film, it is common that access is provided both in the form of exhibitions and in the form of collections and sub-collections. Finally, because of the sheer diversity of filmic materials and genres and because of the varied scope of collections, some at a national level and with national public mandates, film museums have become experts in all the aforesaid descriptive practices. Film museums are apt in describing “what a thing is about” (Rinehart, The Open Museum 94), as this is crucial in the case of, for instance, broadcasting collections. Because of the material specificity of film in its manifold manifestations and technological evolutions, film museums have also become experts at describing “the thing unto itself” (Rinehart, The Open Museum 94). Finally, because great parts of film museums’ holdings were acquired in collections, from previous collectors, film museums have also become experts at describing the relationships between items, such as relations of ownership and provenance. The consequences of the conflicting terminologies film museums have adopted to designate their functions expose an ill-defined understanding of the aesthetic value of 15
film within the symbolic hierarchy of cultural institutions. Consequently, in the context of film museums, this has impaired the status of film as an art form, and ultimately its preservation as such. However, recalling Gracy’s initial argument, if in order to establish authority film museums must parallel the practices of more established cultural institutions (64), it is pertinent to look at how art museums have theorised and constructed the aesthetic value of art works made from reproducible technologies. The aesthetic value of the artworks purchased, collected and preserved by art museums was stably defined in relation to the constructs of authenticity and exclusivity until artworks that challenged such stable definitions started to enter collections. To a certain extent, the historical moment that provoked a shift in the institutional assumptions of the art museum can be broadly called modernism. This was the moment when artists started to “push the boundary of what counts as a work of art” (Altshuler 3); when photography enabled the dissemination of reproducible copies of the museum’s holdings and when art works produced with reproducible technologies started to be integrated in museum collections. Art museums reacted to this shift in the established value of the work of art and, more importantly, in the challenge to their own authority as institutions that legitimise, determine and control the symbolic value of art, by, as Douglas Crimp suggests (117) in relation to photography, attempting to restore the aura of what constitutes an art work made from reproducible technologies. In this redefinition, art museums were essentially shifting the sacrosanct value of the work, enmeshed in the aura of its authenticity and uniqueness, in face of reproducibility. Art museums accomplished this by relying on their established authority as legitimising agents of artistic value, exemplified in the precedence of their acquisition and classification practices, which in their selectivity embody what P.J. DiMaggio defined as the development of the art museum as curatorial institution (qtd. in Gracy 70). A curatorial institution’s main goal is, to Peter CannonBrookes, that “of assembling objects and maintaining them within a specific intellectual environment” (qtd. in Gracy 70) to whom “the whole exercise is liable to be futile unless the accumulation of objects is strictly rational” (qtd. in Gracy 70). The development of the art museum as a curatorial institution, by the construction of highly selective acquisition and classification practices and by the establishment of determined intellectual and historical frameworks within which to contextualise their unique collections of artworks, allowed the art museum to ground its 16
legitimacy and authority in face of the unconventional materiality of the reproducible artworks they were beginning to acquire. Likewise, art museums have constructed their authority and legitimacy on the assurance of the embeddedness of works within the sphere of tradition and similarly in their function as gatekeepers of authenticity and of the cult experience of art. Even when these artworks apparently challenge the tenets of authenticity and exclusiveness, the art museum continues to preserve them, in their reproducibility and shared authorship, as art forms.
2.2 Materiality In making a case for a specific practice of preservation that involves a closer collaboration with the author of the work in the context of the film museum, it is relevant to compare this specialty museum to the sub-collection of the art museum that shares defining material characteristics with film but which is preserved as an art form, in line with broader traditions of the art museum. Likewise, in view of understanding how the materiality of works collected has lead to preservation practices that privilege the input and collaboration with the author of the work, I will in this section compare the preservation practices of the film museum with the preservation of time-based media collections as a means of understanding how a similar practice can be replicated in the context of the film museum. As Karen Gracy points out, in the case of film museums, â&#x20AC;&#x153;the artefact and its physical state have come to define the institutions, more than any other aspect of the workâ&#x20AC;? (20). In relation to film preservation, Paolo Cherchi Usai summarises the current state of affairs: The main aim of each project of preservation of the moving image is therefore, strictu sensu, an impossible attempt to stabilise a thing that is inherently subject to endless mutation and irreversible destruction. (The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age 67) It is precisely this pressing relation to the volatile materiality of film that has, according to Gracy, defined the preservation practices of the film museum. To Gracy, the development of preservation practices in the context of film museums has occurred under the enduring need to duplicate films from one deteriorating film stock to another more stable one (19).
Consequently, duplication has been one of the dominant practices of preservation in film museums. As, it is clear in, for example, the Digital Film Restoration Policy (2011) of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum, this standard practice was originated from the materiality of the medium itself, Since the beginning of filmmaking, copying one film onto another has been common practice. The technical characteristics of the medium itself make this constant duplication of images from one support to another a fundamental part of cinematographic production and distribution. (1) Nonetheless, Gracy continues, although today “in the film archive community, the meaning of preservation is elusive and mutable” (141) preservation does not stand exclusively for duplication but is rather “a key indicator of an archivist’s responsibilities, commitments, and values” (141). To conclude, Gracy argues that the volatile materiality of film has led film museums to see in preservation their main priority and institutional goal, instead of, for example, selection or access, as is the case in museums and libraries (19). As Usai contends, “the lack of an 'aura' of uniqueness in the traditional photographic film gives no incentive to treat the copy in question as an artefact, thereby endorsing the view that a damaged item can always be replaced with an identical copy” (The Conservation of Moving Images 251). Likewise, films have rarely been preserved as art forms because the perceived possibility to produce any number of identical copies has transcended the priority of preserving films as original artefacts. Whereas, in contrast, art museums have been committed to preserving in face of change the integrity of one unique object at which “all effort is thrown (…) —the vaulted doors, atmospheric controls, electronic security, chemical treatments, and limited exposure to light via exhibition, to name but a few” (Rinehart, The Open Museum 103). Film may have enjoyed throughout its history manifold technological developments as a medium, yet four main characteristics have continued to materially define it in its ongoing technological iterations: firstly, its reproducibility; secondly, its experience as an event over time; thirdly, its dependence on a technological apparatus for it to be experienced as such; and, fourthly, the fact that, as a collectible artefact, film is not collected as an actual object but as a complex of artefacts that “represent the potential for museum performances” (Horwath 24).
Several of these defining characteristics are also shared with time-based media collections, preserved in the context of the art museums - duration as an artistic dimension and dependence on technology as the most obvious. Considering the similarity of the two, it seems rational to ask, why and in what ways has the materiality of time-based media collections come to inform different preservation practices in the context of art museums. And how might these be replicated in the context of film museums in view of a closer involvement with the filmmaker in the process of preservation? The term time-based media collections “refers to works of art which depend on technology and have duration as a dimension” (Tate). These have existed in the collections of art museums ever since the 1960s (London xvii). These artworks are different from other collections “because of their dependence on technology and the significance of the less tangible elements of these works” (Tate). Dependence on technology is related to the fact that “in order for these artworks to exist, two components need to be present: a signal and a display” (Cyr 2), whereas ‘the significance of the less tangible elements of these works’ is related to the fact that signal and display “are rendered in a space and context specified by the artist” (Cyr 2), a context that therefore forms the installation. Because of their dependence on technologies prone to obsolesce, in terms of preservation these artworks “defy stasis” (Tate). That is why art museums had to devise distinct practices5 to preserve these subcollections which were foreign to the conventional tenets of authenticity and uniqueness that guided the preservation of more traditional art forms. As Julia Noordegraaf encapsulates, The resulting artworks, with their basis in rapidly developing technologies that cross over into other domains of culture such as broadcasting and social media, have greatly challenged the traditional infrastructures for exhibiting, describing, collecting, and preserving art. (11) Moreover, time-based media collections further challenge traditional preservation practices because they “are allographic by nature; rather than being composed of a
The Netherlands Institute for Culture Heritage (ICN), since 2011, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and the Foundation of Contemporary Art (SMBK), have inarguably played a key role in producing, in its symposia, conferences and publications, an extensive body of knowledge on the issues of modern and contemporary art preservation. Among these, I highlight for further reference Beerkens et al. (2012), Scholte et al. (2011), and Hummelen et al. (1999). For resources and guidelines devised specifically by art museums, see Variable Media Network (n.d.) and Matters in Media Art (2015).
unique original, they exist only when they are installed” (Guggenheim). As Pip Laurenson explains, The fact that these works are installations has perhaps a greater impact on the development of a conceptual framework for their conservation than the fact that they involve time-based media. (1) To conclude, these aspects in particular have come to define the preservation practices of time-based media collections in the context of art museums. Most of these aspects are also shared with film and that is why this makes the time-based media collections a relevant background from which to develop expanded practices of preservation that attempt to bridge the estrangement between living filmmakers and film museums.
2.3. Author In this section, I will show how the dependence of time-based media artworks on technology prone to obsolesce has pushed art museums in the direction of documenting the artist’s intent in processes of preservation. Moreover, I will look at how the allographic nature of time-based media collections has pressed the preservation practices of the art museum in the direction of documenting less tangible sources of information in closer collaboration with the artist during acquisition and preservation. Because film has seldom been preserved as an art form, in the context of film museums limited priority has been granted to the documentation of the artist’s intent. Yet, I argue that the performative filmmaking practices of the members of the Filmwerkplaats, as well as other sub-collections, for example ‘expanded cinema’, are also to some extent allographic in nature and this justifies a closer collaboration with the artist in the context of film museums as well. For time-based media collections the main issue posed by works’ dependence on technology relates to the technological obsolescence of crucial elements of the artwork. As Tate articulates prominently on its website, Artists make very specific decisions in their choice of media and the way in which their work is presented. Specific display equipment might be important because of a particular quality of sound or image it creates, or because the artist has made conceptual links between a particular item of equipment and the meaning of the work. (Tate) Likewise, this leads conservator’s to face the need to document what is important to preserve in order to assure the integrity of the artwork long into the future. Because the 20
technological elements by which an artwork is fundamentally defined will eventually reach a state of obsolescence, time-based media conservators need “to proactively manage the degree of change that may be introduced to each” (Guggenheim). This degree of change can only be established by documenting the artist’s intent. That is why “conservators enter into a dialogue with artists, technicians and curators in order to understand what it is important to preserve” (Tate). As Glenn Wharton details this encompasses, for example, “recording their opinions about changing media from analogue to digital or about changing the projection format from cathode ray tube to liquid crystal or flat panel digital display” (170-171). The second challenge that time-based media collections present is related to their allographic nature. As Laurenson clarifies, “time-based media installations involve a media element that is rendered within a defined space and in a way that has been specified by the artist” (1). Because these works only exist in their installed state (Tate) this entails a second stage of creation at the moment of installation of the work. This defining characteristic requires conservators to also preserve intangible aspects of the installation (Tate), likewise “consideration must be given to the details of the light levels, the physical relationship between components of the work, or the way in which the visiting public enters the space where the work is displayed” (Tate). Because “every reinstallation introduces some extent of interpretation” (Dover) conservators are also faced with the need to approach the artist in view of documenting and preserving his/her views on the future realisation of their works as installations in the gallery space. Glenn Wharton explains the importance of involving the artist in preservation, Many conservators have recognised that what we need to do is document how we install the artwork and define what the artwork can be, not just what it is or what it was. This involves working with an artist, sometimes over a number of installations. Having a record of the artist’s input and thoughts about this process is very important. (McCoy) Challenges posed by non-traditional objects of preservation, in the context of art museums, as in the case of time-based media installations, have lead these institutions to develop, theorise and establish tools for the documentation of artist input. One tool developed for this purpose is the artist interview,6 which has become in the past two
For detailed guidelines on the artist interview as a tool for preservation, see Beerkens et al. (2012). For a discussion of the application of the artist interview in the institutional contexts of the Restaurierungszentrum, in Düsseldorf and of Tate Gallery, in London, see Weyer et al. (1999). For an
decades an indispensable part of the preservation process, especially in contemporary art museums. As Frederika Huys details, Cooperation with the artist can take several forms; from short conversations to years of dialogue. Sometimes one or more interviews are sufficient to gather the necessary information. In other cases, a long-term relationship is initiated so as to learn about the possibilities and limitations of the installation. (105) I argue that the artist’s interview is a relevant tool for a closer collaboration between living filmmakers and film museums in processes of preservation. Although this procedure may not be applicable to every new film that enters the film museum’s collection, I believe that it can be relevant to the preservation of certain sub-collections of the film museum, for instance, ‘expanded cinema’ and ‘experimental film.’ Moreover, I believe the artist’s interview is especially applicable to the filmmaking practices of the artists of the Filmwerkplaats because these works are highly material specific and are also often allographic in nature. The works of the Filmwerkplaats and other artist-run labs7 are often screened as installations, performative and live music events, and are heavily determined by material specificity because of their artisanal modes of production. The experience of such works largely hinges on the artist’s original exhibition intentions. Furthermore, several of these works cannot be dissociated from their installed state, using at times multiple projectors, loops, the creation of live sound, and synchronisation of performative events in parallel with projections. To a certain extent, as is the case with time-based media installations, these pieces are only really collected as disassembled parts whose meaning is often only realised at the moment of installation. This justifies documenting artist intent as near to the moment of acquisition as possible. This also stands in line with the views of some of the members of the Filmwerkplaats, since as Li Chun Tseng, a member of the Filmwerkplaats, explains, The interview is really important to understand artists' ideas. The interview is helpful to get to know the process, how the process went and what the original idea was. And, also, to compare what the artist wanted to what is still on the print or on the negative and what could be done differently with modern technologies close to what the artist originally wanted.8 insightful overview of the collaboration between artists and institutions in the preservation of complex works of art, see Huys (2011: 105-118) 7
For an account of the allographic nature of the film screenings of the artist-run film lab L’Abominable in Paris, see Fave et al. (2013), especially the section A tool/the processes 8 Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017.
3. OUTCOMES OF FILMWERKPLAATS MEMBERS The Filmwerkplaats The Filmwerkplaats was founded in 1999. As Esther Urlus, one of its co-founders, recalls, it stems from a similar background as other artist-run film labs, with the desire “to start a sort of foundation that we could use as an atelier for us, artists, but also that we could use to reach out to other people in the same situation.”9 Currently, the Filmwerkplaats is thoroughly equipped10 and it has around 15 artists11 as members of the lab. The Filmwerkplaats has initiated several projects inhouse12 and it is also an active member of the international network of artist-run labs, filmlabs.org.13 The network organises regular meetings to share knowledge between labs and it has launched collaborative projects like the recent REMI – Re-Engineering the Moving Image.14 To contextualise this initiative, I look back at the history of artistrun film labs. Artist-run labs Nicolas Rey, a French experimental filmmaker and co-founder of the artist-run lab L'Abominable in Paris, traces the ethos of artist-run labs to the very origins of cinema, The absence of industrial labs meant that the filmmaker had to work on all stages of film production, including chemical development and printing. (Rey) However, Rey goes on to note that the increasing need for standardisation of results and the rise of the laboratory expert led to exclusion of filmmakers from the various laboratory stages of film production (Rey). In his historical perspective on artist-run labs, Rey contends that, throughout the 20th century, despite the increased demand for standardisation and the consequent reliance on commercial laboratories, filmmakers have not evaded their involvement in chemical film development and film printing
Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017. For a detailed overview of the photochemical film equipment of the Filwerkplaats, see https://filmwerkplaats.hotglue.me/?lab 11 For the list of the current members of the Filmwerkplaats, see https://filmwerkplaats.hotglue.me/?artists 12 For more information on the Filmwerkplaats’ past and present projects, see https://filmwerkplaats.hotglue.me/?projects 13 See, http://www.filmlabs.org/index.php/site/home/, especially the Meetings section, for insight on the initiatives of the filmlabs.org network 14 RE MI – Re-Engineering the Moving Image was a two-year project jointly organized by three European artist-run labs – Mire (Nantes, FR), WORM.Filmwerkplaats (Rotterdam, NL) and LaborBerlin (Berlin, DE) – “focused on the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge of analogue film in order to support its use as a creative medium” (REMI). See, http://www.re-mi.eu/about/ 10
processes altogether. Rey charts the examples of filmmakers who were also lab technicians, like Robert Flaherty in the 1920s, and sometime later, from the 1950s onwards, with the burgeoning of experimental cinema in the context of filmmakers’ cooperatives, that aimed at distributing experimental cinema across the United States and Europe. The establishment in 1966 of the London Filmmakers’ Cooperative, in London, opened a novel chapter in the history of filmmakers’ cooperatives. Although the London Film-Makers’ Cooperative (LFMC) was inspired by the more established New York Film-Makers’ Cooperative (NYFMC) it outgrew the scope of its founding model: the LFMC aimed at being not only a distribution resource for experimental cinema, but, more importantly, a space of production for experimental filmmakers. In this regard, the LFMC set the founding example for what would become the model for artist-run labs all across Europe. Its goal was “to be not only a distribution and broadcasting tool for experimental cinema, but also a tool of production” (Rey). In the decade after the establishment of the LFMC, it was a common practice for many filmmakers to visit London to use the production facilities of the LFMC. However, after some aborted attempts,15 it would take another two decades for artist-run labs to gain enough momentum all across Europe. This was partly catalysed by the development of video technology. In the 1990s, as Nicolas Rey recalls, Three students from the Arnhem School of Art in the Netherlands refused to accept that their school had got rid of all the film equipment to buy video equipment instead. They wanted to film on Super 8. They rescued the machines from a lab which had just shut down and started up “Studio Een”. (Rey) In this statement, it is clear how many artist-run labs were born of a common reaction to the planned dismantling of the industry of photochemical film production. Accordingly, Kim Knowles, experimental programmer at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Lecturer in Film Studies at Aberystwyth University, characterises artist-run labs precisely by their defining relation to technological obsolescence, as spaces, Where an economy of recuperation, re-use, and recycling of old materials represents a stark alternative to ‘an economy utterly dependent on disposability’ and a throwaway culture of constant upgrades and relentlessly ‘new’ electronic goods. (447) 15
Like for example, in 1978, when the Centre National du Cinema attempted to launch an independent workshop for filmmakers in Lyon. See, Rey (2009: paragraph 10).
If as Raymond Borde has stated “les cinematheques s’emploient à conserve ce que l’industrie du film s’emploie à détruire” (qtd. in Gracy 45) [my emphasis, S.P.] it can be argued that artist-run labs are conversely engaged in using what the industry of film was in the processing of destroying. Whereas film museums are proficient in conserving material artefacts that were deemed useless by the film industry, artist-run labs are, on the other hand, based on using the processes, techniques and machines that were deemed not only anachronistic by the film industry but largely protected from use by film museums. As I will argue further on, it is from the interplay between these two distinct cultures of reaction to the planned obsolescence of the industry of film production that an interesting collaboration can take form. The end of the 1990s, saw an international resurfacing of artist-run labs at a moment when the development of a new technology and the gradual move from photochemical to digital enabled several artist-run labs to recuperate and recycle artefacts that the industry of film was discarding. This moment also signalled the establishment L’Abo, the first iteration of the international network of artist-run labs, and of the L’Ebouillanté a newsletter that shared knowledge and advice between the labs at a nascent moment when, necessarily, “exchanges were intense between all the organisations” (Rey). Often, the solidity of such organisations is highly dependent on “the availability, commitment and technical proficiency of those who managed them, as well as the equipment they could get their hands on” (Rey) . One of the reasons why it is hard to produce a totalising narrative on the collective history of artist-run labs is that they often emerged erratically, often serendipitously, based on the specific local economies in which they arose. This determined different paths of simultaneous development. Nowadays, as Li Chun Tseng, a member of the Filmwerkplaats, reasons “because commercial labs are shutting down everywhere and the production of film stock is being discontinued, artist-run labs are actually blooming.”16 This burgeoning is occurring in a European network increasingly active in its organisation of meetings, screenings, projects and workshops. As Nicolas Rey reasserts, in conclusion to his text, “as the moving picture industry gradually abandons the film medium, the equipment, the knowledge, the practices migrate into artists’ hands” (Rey).
Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017.
“DIY in approach and anarchistic in spirit”17 In introducing their lab, the Filmwerkplaats frames the decline of photochemical film, as chief commercial exhibition and production medium, around the possibility to experiment with the receding medium’s stubborn materiality.18 It is worth going into more depth about the interaction between industrial decline and experimentation. This requires analysing how this manifests in filmmaking practices of artist-run labs. Kim Knowles offers a detailed picture of the main characteristics of contemporary artist-run labs, in the latest issue of the REMI: Re-Engineering The Moving Image Magazine (2017), On the margins of mainstream production, […] a vibrant community of artists – globally dispersed but united through a shared passion – is fighting for the continuation of an art form whose material properties and distinct mechanical processes cannot be replicated by digital means. […] DIY in approach and anarchistic in spirit, this ever-expanding community represents a politics of resistance – a devoted and forceful opposition to the capitalist narrative of progress that tells us film is dead. […] Driving the photochemical film movement today is a desire to re-invent and rediscover, to explore what film is and can be. (3) In this portrait of the contemporary face of artist-run labs, the main characteristics of film production and distribution as well as the cultural and political tenets that guide these communities are certainly apparent. In what follows, I will look at each of these aspects separately to help define the specific context of the Filmwerkplaats in regard to its filmmaking practices as well as to its cultural ethos as an independently-run organisation. Outcomes The testimonies gathered here are by no means broadly definitive and represent only a specific group of views. The scope of my interviewees was determined, to a great extent, by the members of the Filmwerkplaats most inclined to discuss such matters and willing to propel academic research. In early interviews I employed a somewhat
This is how Kim Knowles describes the ethos of artist-run labs in the latest issue of REMI: ReEngineering The Moving Image Magazine (2017), a self-published magazine that shares some of the outcomes of the two-year project, see http://underbelly.nu/product/issue-1-re-engineering-moving-image/. I use it as a heading because it aptly encapsulates the character of the Filmwerkplaats as an artist-run lab. See, Knowles (2017: 3). 18 See, https://filmwerkplaats.hotglue.me/about,especially paragraph two.
standardised script19 for all interviewees centred on questions related to their artistic practice, their background in the Filmwerkplaats, their relation with institutions such as museums and galleries, and, ultimately, their views on film preservation. However, it soon became clear that asking about preservation came across as somewhat loaded, as most of replies in this direction seemed evasive. Because of this, I was forced to adapt my basic-script to elicit more oblique answers as to what is deemed important in the relationship between living filmmakers and film museums. So I targeted questions more specifically to filmmaking practices and artistic activity within the context of the lab and to specificities of techniques and processes. During the course of this research, and after numerous interviews with the current members of the Filmwerkplaats, I began to trace this evasiveness to three main issues. First, filmmakers working within the context of artist-run labs, have their own modes of distribution. Closed circuits of distribution of films produced in this context tend to be confined to similar environments, namely, other artist-run labs, filmmakersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; coops, small and underground festivals, as part of independent cultural organisations or niche distribution labels such as Light Cone. This situates these bodies of work along a certain margin relative to more conventional modes of distribution of independent and arthouse cinema such as film festivals and specialised arthouse distributors or cinemas. Thus, independent modes of distribution have removed, to a certain extent, artists from artist-run labs from prolonged interaction with both institutions and filmmakers who produce and distribute their films within more conventional distribution modalities. Secondly, the do-it-yourself character of the filmmaking practices of artists from artist-run
independent/arthouse cinema in two essential aspects. Firstly, a high degree of material specific is almost a given since the process of material experimentation and trial and error marks these films. Furthermore, do-it-yourself filmmaking practices within the context of artist-run labs tend to be based on a process of practice-based research, that
This script was written using the guidelines recommended in the first section of The Artist Interview. For conservation and presentation of contemporary art. Guidelines and practice. (Beerkens et al. 2012). However valuable these generic insight proved to be, it quickly became clear that the target and the context of the interviews in this publication (mostly, made in an institutional context, at the moment of acquisition of a work by a museum, and addressing only somewhat established artists) was too distant from the context of my case study (made in a non-institutional environment and not in view of acquiring, collecting and presenting work) and so I was forced to transcend these guidelines to more appropriately fit my case-study.
takes place in the present and is more concerned with the process, generating new knowledge and sharing of results, than would be the case for careerist filmmakers. The close connection of the Filmwerkplaats to WORM,20 an independently run cultural venue whose main tenets have their roots in the punk movement,21 suggests a certain distance from market-dependent institutions. If as Karen Gracy claims, “institutions sustain themselves and the status quo of power relations in society by controlling access to a valuable resource: our collective memory” (61), this explains why the Filmwerkplaats would prefer to keep a certain distance from institutions, a category where film museums are of course included. In this context, preservation is understood as an institutionally oriented endeavour that contributes first of all to institutionalise works that were originally made in the context of an organisation whose main ethos was rooted in rebellion against institutional status-quo. And secondly preservation is regarded as an endeavour whose ultimate goal is to protect objects against change, fundamentally contradicting experimentation and new research, dependent on change, variability and chance, of the works produced in the context of artist-run labs. As Guy Edmonds, film restorer, archivist, PhD researcher and member of the Filmwerkplaats, encapsulates, As an archivist, you want to put the film in the can, on the shelf, and come back to it in 10 years and find nothing changed at all. Whereas as an artist you would be really happy if you came back to it and it had changed.22 20
Esther Urlus is the co-founder of both the Filmwerkplaats and WORM. As Esther clarified, during our personal interview, the Filmwerkplaats actually predated the establishment of WORM, since WORM was the outcome of the merging of 3 independently run venues, one of which was the budding Filmwerkplaats. In the 1990s, these three cultural organizations were actively producing and presenting screenings, performances, experimental music and other events with sound and film, in Rotterdam, which resulted in an overlap of activities. It was this overlap that lead to the creation of WORM, an umbrellaorganization that served the convergence of these previously separated bodies. Currently, the Filmwerkplaats is part of WORM, and in terms of funding, maintenance and projects they are a sole organization. 21 WORM explicitly defines itself as such in its mission statement as an organization “born under the stars of punk , Dada, Fluxus and hacktivism, WORM is the blue-blooded bastard child of an impossible love between avant-garde recreation, DIY and sustainability” (WORM / #AVANTARGISTISCHESTAD), see https://worm.org/about/organisatie/. The reference to these distinct cultural movements can be related to the fact that experimentation, individual emancipation via practice, subversion of the status-quo and, independent modes of production and distribution are key defining characteristics shared by all these movements, and, of course, by WORM as well. On the revival of punk in the music scene of the 1990s, see Heller’s analysis of the decade (Fear of a Punk Decade). On the origins of the Dada movement, see MoMA’s entry on the topic (Dada). On the artistic tenets of Fluxus, see Tate’s webpage on the subject (FLUXUS). Hacktivism was a term coined in 1994 by Omega, a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow, an underground computer hacker organization, see http://w3.cultdeadcow.com/cms/about.html. On Hacktivism, see Ruffin’s, a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow, insightful account of the origins of the term ( Hacktivism, From Here to There). 22 Skype interview with Guy Edmonds, 13 April 2017.
This irreconcilable tension is aptly put. But over the course of my research I was able to identify recurrent aspects of practice of many members of Filmwerkplaats central both to the working environment of the artist-run lab and to the development of artistic practices. I consider these symptomatic of salient priorities in relation to living filmmakers and film museums. Therefore I structured this section according to the issues that repeatedly arose during conversation that I deemed suggestive of crucial importance to any relation between living filmmakers and film museums.
3.1 Technique Technique23 is central to filmmaking. However, in artist-run labs where artists themselves run the lab and are involved in all stages of film production as well as in the maintenance in working condition of the machines and tools necessary to the development of their artistic practices, technical expertise is a determinant of practice not only for the individual artist but for the community of the lab as a whole. In the case of the Filmwerkplaats, all new members are required to attend an introductory workshop where the processes of photochemical film production, development and processing are explained. In these workshops, the teaching of techniques necessary to work independently in the laboratory is done by older members according to areas of expertise. However, as Esther Urlus differentiates, the main goal of â&#x20AC;&#x153;the introduction workshop is actually only to tell them about the fragility of certain equipment.â&#x20AC;?24 If autonomy is central to the functioning of the artist-run lab, knowledge of technique is the chief vehicle through which artists are able to work independently. Workshops, independent research and exchange of knowledge between members or visiting artists are the main sources through which technical expertise is gathered. Esther gave several examples of the type of literature sources she looks for when approaching a new project. Interestingly, these books are predominantly written by former technicians of the processes of film development, processing and chemical treatments. To Esther this is related to the fact that, in artist-run labs, artists are more interested in knowing how things are done than in the historical context. Guy Edmonds 23
Technique is a broad term. Over the course of this text, I use it to designate the production process of making films, encompassing, in the case of artist-run labs, often the creation of film emulsions as well as the exposure, processing, development, editing and post-production of photochemical film. In the case of artist-run film labs, technique is also involved in the screening of the films since, frequently, screenings involve live acts, performances, installations, multiple-screens, looping systems and simultaneous projections which likewise demand a second stage of production, that is, technical creation, of the film. 24 Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017.
has echoed this, noting, “all the artists at the Filmwerkplaats are somehow fascinated by processes.”25 Wanting to know how things are done is also one of the main interests behind the projects initiated jointly by the network of artist-run labs. The network does not work only on collaborative projects but also organises regular meetings with the goal of sharing knowledge and experience. Recently, the network organised the meeting Bains Argentiques26 at the artist-run lab MIRE in Nantes, France. It was at this meeting that one of the members of the Filmwerkplaats, Li Chun Tseng, met one of the members of the preservation laboratory of the ANIM, the Conservation Centre of the Portuguese Cinematheque, Tiago Ganhão. This encounter resulted in a 9-months internship for Li Chun Tseng at the Portuguese lab. Because of the financial constraints of the laboratory in Portugal, the idea behind the internship was to invite an artist already experienced in laboratory work to share some of the work of the archival lab in return offering the artist the possibility to produce a film using the facilities of the preservation lab. Li Chun Tseng has framed her interest in this experience as a possibility to compare and contrast workflows and practices in order to gather a baseline reference against which to compare the practices of the Filmwerkplaats. 27
3.2 Intangible knowledge However, knowledge and practise of technique are highly dependent on access to sources of intangible knowledge. This is the knowledge that exists only in the living practices of the technicians who built, operated and repaired the machines of photochemical film production. Only with access to these sources of technical knowledge are artist-run labs able to assure the continued maintenance and functionality of obsolete machinery and tools on which the lab so fundamentally depends. Furthermore, it is only through the preservation of intangible technical knowledge that artist-run labs are able to maintain self-sufficiency. During my interview with Esther Urlus, it also became clear how access and maintenance of this intangible knowledge is one of the key concerns for contemporary artist-run labs. Since this knowledge is rapidly disappearing as former technicians either retire or pass away, Esther wondered, “Where is this knowledge going? Where is the 25
Skype interview with Guy Edmonds, 13 April 2017. The meeting took place at the artist-run lab MIRE in Nantes, France, from the 4 th to 9th of July of 2016. For more information, see http://www.mire-exp.org/bains-argentiques/ 27 Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. 26
knowledge of repairing?”.28 Urlus noted this as one of the key concerns shared amongst film museums and artist-run labs. Esther went so far as to hypothesise on the impact of this loss of technical knowledge to both environments, concluding that to the film museum the prospects are more frightening. To her this is related to the fact that film museums are less flexible, “whereas the artists are very flexible because they are not bounded by what was done before and they have no boundaries of commercial act.”29 Esther concluded by relating this flexibility to the difference that for artists “it's not about making an exact copy but just do whatever we want.”30 I relate to Esther’s argument and concur that film museums ought to engage in alternative and expanded practices of preservation in order to safeguard forms of technical knowledge and practices related to obsolete technologies. However, the obligation of film museums to preserve the integrity of tangible and intangible artefacts collected should not be mingled lasciviously with artistic practice. Nonetheless, I do see instances, as I will further argue, where the expertise of the film museum and the freedom of the artist-run lab can comingle, to the mutual benefit of the distinct missions of each. Li Chun Tseng has also shared her personal experience of this divergence during her internship at ANIM, but framed it primarily in terms of precision and protocol, noting that at the preservation laboratory because “they are duplicating the film they have to be very precise.”31 Finally, Esther concluded by explaining that even if there are some technicians who are willing to frequently come to the artist-run lab and repair some of the machines, access to intangible forms of knowledge is substantially impeded because companies still covetously cling to trade secrets. So artist-run labs have to devise alternative ways to re-invent instructions and sources of technical knowledge to which they otherwise would have no access.32
Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017. Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. 32 Esther as exemplified this in relation to the Oxberry Optical Printer, acquired through crowd-funding by the Filmwerkplaats, to which the artists had to devise an alternative user’s manual to operate the machine because access to the original instructions was hindered. 29
3.3 Useless/usable Artist-run labs emerge out of technological obsolescence itself and indecision as to useless and usable characterises their working environment. Machinery and tools can only be used by artist-labs in the first place because they were previously discarded by the industry. As has become visible from Nicolas Rey’s historical perspective on artistrun labs, it is often right at the juncture of a new technological development that artistrun labs thrive, integrating freshly obsolete technologies into their facilities. Thus, obsolescence is a sanction for the artist-run lab and determines essential elements of their practices. Obsolescence is always regarded as a possibility: to subvert, to experiment, to find alternatives.33 As Li Chun Tseng has also remarked “we are used to the alternative way of thinking.”34 The alternative way of thinking means, in this context, looking for ingenious and practical solutions in line with a do-it-yourself attitude. Whereas usually mainstream film follows technological obsolescence at the pace it is driven by market forces, artist-run labs look for alternative ways to continue to be able to use the technologies on which their artistic practices so fundamentally depend, even when deemed irrelevant by others whose agendas are entirely extraneous to their own artistic practices. Looking for alternatives to carry on their artistic practice regardless of the industry of film technology production’s agenda is what makes these spaces sites of political and cultural resistance. It is actually quite telling the extent to which obsolescence and the consequent productive tension between uselessness and usability determine and construct the very nature of the artist-run lab. Interestingly, the members of the Filmwerkplaats never address this issue explicitly even if it is latently underpinning all the concerns discussed. Perhaps this is just another sign of how when the industry declares some technology useless, this represents nothing more than, in the alternative economy of the artist-run lab, the very precondition of possibility and experience. In conclusion, obsolescence appears to be seen by artist-run labs as an industry-prescribed invitation to explore
This is not necessarily unique to artist-run film labs. Although outside the scope of this thesis, in his study of zines and the politics of alternative culture, Stephen Duncombe has precisely related the underground with the experience of possibility, writing that “zines and underground culture constitute a free space where people can experiment with possibility” (186). 34 Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017.
alternative ways in which a “useless” technology may be re-activated. The artist-run lab can therefore be seen as a playground of reaction to mainstream industrial practices.
3.4 Accident vs. Standard The need to understand techniques is reified via practice and experimentation. When characterising artist-run labs, Knowles defines them precisely in relation to this artisanal practice of experimentation, as, Interconnected hubs of artistic experimentation foster an artisanal do-it-yourself ethos that bypasses traditional industrial processes in favour of individual handson experimentation. (2013: 447) Esther argues “in experimental film I think materialist experiments were always quite important.”35 Likewise, individual hands-on experimentation is the key mode of film practice for artists from artist-run labs. Materialist experiments are in fact the very means through which technique is approached, studied, practised and incorporated into the autonomous workflows of each artist-technician. Experimentation is seen as a process of approaching, testing and assimilating knowledge, via trial and error and backtracking of mistakes. Experimentation is carried out in an alternative space of possibility somewhere between artistic subversion, an anarchistic archaeology of past inventions and a DIY historical research into past techniques and processes. It is exemplified not only by the formal characteristics of the films themselves but also by the fact that many of the artists make their own emulsions, experimenting with the entire process of film production, both artistically and technically. The process of experimentation is also intrinsically tied to the process of learning by retracing mistakes. In fact, Esther sees this process of retracing findings not only as a learning process that takes place within each artist’s practice but also as a process that artists carry out individually amidst the technical findings of the past. In the introduction to her book, Re:Inventing the Pioneers: Film Experiments on Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion and Color Methods (2013), Urlus expands on her expectations in regard to the process of experimentation, I actually hope that through trial & error and the allowing of “happy” mistakes that it’s possible to develop film material that in itself lends special cinematic effects. (2) 35
Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017.
The fact that the outcomes of this process are coined “happy mistakes” explains how the process of retracing experiments is an intrinsic mode of learning in artist-run labs. This attachment to process, not only carrying it through but also by tracing it back, is also related to the expectation of achieving mistakes. As Guy Edmonds relates, “one reason artists are looking at very complicated things is because they want something to happen, outside of their own intentions.”36 Li Chun Tseng, during her internship at ANIM, had the opportunity to have a comparative perspective on the experimental processes of artist-run labs and the standard procedures of film preservation laboratories. The main difference between the two environments comes across in the terminology Li Chun Tseng uses to describe them, “the exchange is actually very interesting.... It's always an interaction between the alternative and the official.”37 The DIY way of working, which is the privileged mode of practice in the context of artist-run labs, is defined by its relation to the tenets of the punk movement. Fabien Hein has summarised the original pillars of the punk movement as the refusal of consumerism, the rebellion against the established order and individual and collective emancipation (152) [my translation, S.P.]. It is the adamant rejection of consumerism as one of the driving forces of the punk movement that explains why DIY is its privileged mode of practice, production and distribution. As Amy Spencer expands, Counterculture has always been concerned with capitalism, attempting to escape or subvert it, trying to disrupt or shift its power. Punk was no different in its opposition to commercialism. (253) Consumerism, as the salient mode of production, distribution and consumption within capitalism, represents the status-quo against which artist-run labs are inevitably reacting, through their alternative methods of working that subvert and re-invent standard and official practices. Ryan Moore in his article Postmodernism and Punk Subculture: Cultures of Authenticity and Deconstruction (2004) has distinguished the two different ways in which the punk movement has responded to “the condition of postmodernity.” The first type of reaction is defined as a self-reflexive and ironic practice of deconstruction, and the second type is described as a pursuit of authenticity and autonomy by going underground and renouncing the dominant culture (307). I
Skype interview with Guy Edmonds, 13 April 2017. Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. [my emphasis, S.P.]
would argue that the Filmwerkplaats reacted to “the condition of postmodernity” in the second of these forms and this explains why the DIY and the alternative way of thinking are their main modes of practice. As Moore distinguishes, in the pursuit of authenticity, Within punk subcultures, the process of creating independent media and interpersonal networks in opposition to the corporate media is referred to as the “do-it-yourself,” or DIY, ethic. (307-08) Here, doing-it-yourself is the very practice by which independence from the prevailing culture is assured. Nonetheless, the DIY ethic is also defined in relation to other tenets of the punk movement, both as the practice of the critique of the status-quo as well as the practice of individual and collective emancipation by subverting the conventional division of production and distribution of consumerism. Whereas Stephen Duncombe defines DIY according to the former, Doing-it-yourself is at once a critique of the dominant mode of passive consumer culture and something far more important: the active creation of an alternative culture. DIY is not just complaining about what is, but actually doing something different. (124) Amy Spencer defines it according to the latter, The DIY movement is about using anything you can get your hands on to shape your own cultural entity: your own version of whatever you think is missing in mainstream culture. You can produce your own zine, record an album, publish your own book – the enduring appeal of this movement is that anyone can be an artist or creator. The point is to get involved. (i) As cultural organisations both the Filmwerkplaats and WORM work in an alternative space within the cultural landscape. Likewise, they have assured their independence from the prevailing culture by going underground and creating their own independent networks and channels of production and distribution. Doing-it-yourself, as a practice of autonomy via subversion, is the chief mode of practice of the Filmwerkplaats. It is this mode of practice that problematises the interaction between the ‘official’ and the ‘alternative’ ways of thinking as well as their corresponding ‘standard’ and happily ‘accidental’ results. Li Chun Tseng, still reflecting on the outcomes of her exchange with the ‘standard’ way of working at ANIM, envisioned the challenges the alternative modes of film practice of artist-run labs may pose to whichever archivists may find themselves responsible for preserving these films, in the future,
Artists don’t work in a standard way. So, I was always thinking ‘I don’t know how these film preservation professionals will handle artists’ film in the future.38 In my interview with Guy Edmonds, from his middle position as a film archivist and member of the Filmwerkplaats, he has intelligibly phrased the main contradiction between the modes of film practice of the Filmwerkplaats and the ultimate goal of film preservation, One thing stands out in particular and that's basically the operation chance. So, what most of us at the Filmwerkplaats are kind of hoping for is a happy accident.[…] We are hoping for something to go wrong but to go wrong in a really good way. […] And I think that is pretty much opposed to any kind of philosophy of archiving. As an archivist, you want to put the film in the can, on the shelf, and come back to it in 10 years and find nothing changed at all.39 There is indeed a stark opposition between the two environments based on the outcomes of the distinct operation of chance.
3.5 The lab If experimentation is a key activity of artist-run labs, then the physical space of the laboratory is the vital node, where machines, processes and techniques constructively collide. The lab is the space where practice-based research is reified. In the case of the Filmwerkplaats, the lab too is understood in an expanded sense. Thus, by calling the lab the Filmwerkplaats, literally the film workshop, the artists are already foregrounding their understanding of the lab as an expanded workshop dedicated to practice and experiment. It is to the lab that the obsolete technologies are brought when they are deemed useless by the industry of film production and it is in the space of the lab that they are transformed into usable tools via alternative practices and artistic subversion. What is more, the lab is the most familiar space both to artists and to archivists. As Bernardo Zanotta, another member of the Filmwerkplaats, points out, I believe that as a filmmaker working in an artist-run lab you do develop many practices which are similar, if not the same, as in a preservation/archiving context... such as printing, processing, operating machines, etc... except for the fact that we are not worried at all in preserving for posterity... but more in how to approach this technicality in an artistic way.40
Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. Skype interview with Guy Edmonds, 13 April 2017. 40 Email interview with Bernardo Zanotta, 09 March 2017 39
Li Chun Tseng has also reflected on this similarity after her experience at the preservation laboratory of ANIM, “I’m also working in a lab, so nothing is that far away from what I have experienced.”41 However, the two things that stand out most strikingly between preservation labs and artist-run labs are the precision of the lab work and the outcomes of the process. Yet, a more striking distinction tends to be made between commercial labs and artist-run labs. Actually, several of the publications on handmade emulsions and DIY films define their practice in opposition to practices of commercial labs.42 Esther has clarified that the reason why artist-run labs do not work with the same precision and rigour of professional film labs is not only related to their limitation of means but above all is an artistic choice, “we cannot do the job these professional labs do. We're not interested in doing that.”43 Moreover, to Esther it is also problematic that an institution like the EYE Filmmuseum does not have its own in-house professional laboratory. Esther has even articulated her views on several occasions to the EYE Filmmuseum’s personnel since she is of the opinion that “the [EYE] Filmmuseum should buy its own lab.”44 Urlus reasons that in the case that professional labs disappear completely, film museums will encounter an alarming problem since, contrary to artist-run labs, they are “not flexible, they cannot use a homemade emulsion to recreate certain film stock.”4546 Regardless of the differences in approach and the heterogeneity of results, oftentimes the expertise of both sides in laboratory work can yield interesting rapports. Li Chun Tseng reflects on how this was the case when she was working on her own film in the facilities of ANIM, It was an exchange actually, because of course I got a lot of advice from them on how to do certain things but then some of the official advice wouldn't apply to my case so I had to think of alternatives. And when I had these alternative
Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. See for example the opening quote, by Robert Schaller’s, on Esther Urlus’ book on handmade emulsion Re:Inventing the Pioneers: Film Experiments on Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion and Color Methods (2013: 2) 43 Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. 46 This suggests that artist-run film labs might indeed play an unexpected key role in preserving film legacy for posterity, especially in the form of processes and practices. I will address this issue further in my discussion of the application of the living film collection framework, see chapter 5. Discussion. 42
thoughts I would discuss them with them and they would say like 'ah! Yes, that could work!'47 The lab is then the space where the ‘standard’ and the ‘alternative’ ways of working can more easily come together, via the shared familiarity of processes and techniques.
3.6 Sharing openly In artist-run labs like the Filmwerkplaats, utmost importance is given to openly sharing knowledge and experience. This is one of the tenets that guides frequent initiatives of individual labs and also of networks of labs and workshops, research projects and meetings. Two main factors appear to determine this fundamental concern with sharing knowledge. The first is related to the spirit of the beginnings of cinema, where inventors would share knowledge and inventions freely because these were not yet rigorous patents and the profit-motive was yet to truly take hold pervasively. The second factor is connected to the ethos of the lab itself. In the spirit of punk, free circulation of knowledge is crucial to ascertain independence from mainstream modes of production and distribution by transforming communities into sites of productions as opposed to debilitating consumption. Esther Urlus added a third aspect, during our interview, by noting that “in experimental film there's not really money involved so we're quite easy to share knowledge because we know that nobody is going to earn anything and we prefer it.”48 49 Sharing experience is one of the chief goals behind the projects of artist-run labs. For example, the idea of Li Chun Tseng’s internship at ANIM was also to share knowledge with other members of the Filmwerkplaats.50 Moreover, one of the main goals of the REMI – Re-Engineering the Moving Image projects was the “creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge of analogue film in order to support its use as a creative medium” (REMI) [my emphasis, S.P.]. Some of the interviewees have also mentioned the importance of this knowledge sharing not only amongst the network of artist-run labs but also for the network of film museums. They point to some extent to the necessity of building bridges between two 47
Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017. 49 For accounts of the alternative economy of experimental film, in the context of independently-run organizations, see Balsom (2013: 104), Cardullo (2011: 1), Wall (2008: 186-87). For a theoretical framing of the two main threads of avant-garde film, see Wollen (2008: 172-181). 50 Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017. 48
currently separated networks, comfortable sharing knowledge only with their own communities. Li Chun Tseng has noted that this could be easily achieved since both film museums and artist-run labs are very connected within their own separate networks. Tseng continues to explain that what in her opinion determines the gap between the two networks is a lack of communication. 51 Nonetheless, Tseng feels that currently this is slowly changing and her internship might have been just the first of several collaborations yet to be established between the two networks.
By focusing on the defining aspects of the working context of the Filmwerkplaats, this chapter has ascertained what tends to account for the gulf between artists operating in non-institutional environments and institutions such as film museums. Furthermore, the outcomes of the interviews with some of the artists of the Filmwerkplaats were crucial to underpinning the key aspects to bear in mind when striking a relationship between living filmmakers and film museums. This chapter has also demonstrated the ways in which the artists interviewed can contribute to an expanded understanding of preservation. They have contributed to an expanded understanding of preservation in three essential ways. Firstly, they have contributed to a definition of preservation focused not exclusively on the preservation of material artefacts â&#x20AC;&#x201C; in the form of artistic oeuvres, individual works or individual bodies of work â&#x20AC;&#x201C; but, especially, on the preservation of tangible and intangible knowledge, practices and working functions. Secondly, in doing so, they have called for an expanded definition of preservation, in the context of film museums, which would include both formal and informal social memory - concepts I will further elaborate on in the next section. For now suffice it to say that key aspects of informal social memory to be preserved in line with their main concern of preserving and circulating technical knowledge related to photochemical film practices were identified as: the preservation of the working function of machines, processes and techniques and the preservation of the working environment as a self-sufficient whole. Thirdly, they have pointed to a notion of preservation that exists only as inextricably connected to the act of circulating and sharing this knowledge within a community.
Personal interview with Li Chun Tseng, Filmwerkplaats, 12 April 2017.
This chapter has also shown how living filmmakers can serve as a source of insight for the preservation of living (as opposed to dead) film collections. This came across as artists from artist-run labs serving as a source of insight into: -
Alternative practices and processes;
Alternative sources of technical knowledge;
Alternative forms of expertise grounded and substantiated in practice-based research as opposed to theory.
Finally this chapter has been relevant to identify new forms that a collaboration between living filmmakers and film museums might take. Based on the specific context of an artist-run photochemical film lab, I conclude that a relevant collaboration to this context would have to be based on three main aspects: 1- Their own expanded understanding of preservation as a process that intends to prolong the existence into the indefinite future of not only material artefacts but more importantly knowledge, practices and working functions necessary to maintain the autonomy and independence of the artist-run lab by preserving both the working function of machines, processes and techniques as well as the selfsufficient working function of the creative working environment as a whole; 2- Their own interests and main concerns as voiced in: -
The interviews carried out in the course of this study;
Their own statements and publications, as artists;
The publications and documents produced in the context of their projects, initiatives and collaborations as an artist-run lab or within the network of artistrun labs.
3- What have been the main focuses and concerns of their previous projects and initiatives. In the following chapter, I will share what I have learned from the contrast of these different perspectives in order to identify how the inclusion of the filmmaker in a collaboration with the film museum is possible in processes of preservation and what forms this may take. By overcoming the estrangement between the spheres of filmmaking practice and film archival practice, I will show how film museums can start to apply distinct praxes to preserve their collections in an expanded sense, within the framework of the living film collection, in collaboration with artists from artist-run labs, like the Filmwerkplaats. 40
4. DISCUSSION I argue that for collaboration to be relevant to the artist-run lab it has to be based on a native understanding of preservation, in tune with the interests and main concerns of artists, based on what have been the expressed focuses and concerns of their previous projects and initiatives. By analysing these sources, I conclude that their main interest, as positively phrased in the first issue of the magazine that presents results of the twoyear collaborative research project Re-Engineering the Moving Image (REMI), is, The creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge of analogue film in order to support its use as a creative medium. (REMI) This aligns with their expanded understanding of preservation as a holistic and living process that prioritises the preservation of knowledge, practices and processes over the preservation of material artefacts. This formulation also points to the second aspect of the artist-run labâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s expanded understanding of preservation as a process that cannot be carried out separately from the act of sharing and circulating results. That is why I attempted to hypothesise a framework that would address this by articulating the preestablished and superior proficiency of film museums in the preservation of material artefacts with the preservation of intangible forms of practice specific to the technical knowledge of photochemical film, as problematised by artist-run labs.
4.1. The Living Film Collection The living film collection is a collaborative framework, designed to, in the context of film museums, produce an expanded practice of preservation aimed at articulating the preservation of tangible artefacts as well as intangible forms of knowledge, in collaboration with filmmakers. Ideally, the outcome of this collaboration would be a living form of film legacy passed on into the indefinite future in the form of practices and processes. The main goals of the living film collection are: -
To bring together formal social memory and informal social memory in order to preserve knowledge and practices specific to obsolete technologies, in the context of film museums;
To carry out an expanded practice of preservation, in the context of film museums, that articulates the preservation of material artefacts with the preservation of working functions and technical knowledge in the form of practice;
To produce living forms of film legacy to be passed on into the future via the living practice of both film archivists and filmmakers.
The living film collection is characterised by: -
Bringing film archivists and filmmakers together in an expanded practice of preservation, focused on intangible forms of knowledge;
Practising an expanded understanding of preservation by 1) researching and documenting, 2) testing and experimenting, 3) sharing and circulating intangible forms of knowledge related to obsolete technologies;
Function as an interdisciplinary framework that articulates not only formal and informal aspects of social memory, but also institutional and non-institutional environments and expertise;
Relying on canonical as well as on alternative sources of knowledge and unifying them in practice;
Circulating the resultant body of knowledge, via practice, community sharing and open-access, with both institutional and non-institutional networks as well as with younger generations.
As a product of my research project, the living film collection framework is heavily influenced by the specific contexts discussed throughout. This has resulted, naturally, in certain limitations to the general application of this framework. Currently, two main limitations inhibit the general application of the framework. Firstly, the focus on â&#x20AC;&#x153;the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge of analogue filmâ&#x20AC;? (REMI) leads the framework to address almost exclusively photochemical film practices, while evading the discussion and problematisation of its use to tackle the obsolescence of other technologies, i.e, video technologies. Secondly, the collaborative nature of the framework is still very much tied to the specific context of the artist-run lab the Filmwerkplaats and of film museums. If one of the main concerns of the framework is the collaboration between film archivists and filmmakers in an expanded practice of preservation, the framework fails to discuss collaboration with film archivists from 42
contexts other than the film museum as well as the collaboration with living filmmakers from contexts other than artist-run labs. This is simply the methodological bias with which I am operating, one that can hopefully be rectified by future research. Despite current limitations, I believe that this framework has the potential to be generally applied to other contexts and film practices while remaining aligned with its primary goal of practising an expanded understanding of preservation, one that articulates formal and informal social memory, in the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge. For example, this framework can be easily adapted to the expanded and living preservation of other already obsolete technologies as well as other to be obsolete technologies, as will inevitably one day be the case for digital filmmaking. In short, as long as one of the two contexts of this collaboration is proficient in the living practice of technologies and processes, the living film collection framework can be generally adapted to tackle the preservation of technical knowledge and practices in face of technological obsolescence. Now, I would like to detail the specifics of the application of the living film collection framework to some contexts discussed in the course of this research. As a result, the discussion of the application of the living film collection will henceforth be focused on the applied context of collaboration between a film museum and an artistrun lab in Europe, using the Filmwerkplaats as representative. Moreover, against this specific background, the main concern of the framework here is to create, preserve and circulate technical knowledge related exclusively to photochemical film. Thus, in what follows, I will start by describing the two-fold application of this framework and then I will outline the advantages and disadvantages of the application of this framework to both collaborating parties.
4.2 The Application of the Living Film Collection My research has lead me to a twofold characterisation of the living film collection. In the context of a collaboration between a film museum and an artist-run lab, I refer to a framework for an expanded practice of preservation that takes into account and documents, when applicable, the filmmakerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s insight, intent and use of materials, by way of an artist interview at the moment of acquisition of the work. And which produces and cultivates, in a form that is experienceable and transmissible, the ongoing 43
activation of practices necessary to safeguard into the indefinite future the working function and the intangible knowledge inherent to the operativity, performativity and functionality of material artefacts. For the first part of this framework, I propose that film museums adopt, when applicable, the approach already established in the context of time-based media collections residing in art museums. I suggest that film museums continue to apply their current modes of preservation while at the same time expand their current practices to include an artist’s interview at the moment of acquisition, as a means of recording the artists’ intent, use of materials and views on the future decay and alterations to the work. Although this is not a practice that makes sense to every new object by a living filmmaker that enters the film museum collection, it is especially applicable to the films of the Filmwerkplaats and other sub-collections such as experimental and expanded cinema because the authenticity of the experience of these works often depends on their performativity and on their installed state. I argue that when applicable, that is, when the practices of the living filmmakers demand this sort of documentation, film museums should replicate the approach devised for the preservation of time-based media collections in the context of art museums and document the artist’s intent and use of materials via an artist interview at the moment of the integration of the work into the collection. The second part of the living film collection framework is focused on the actual collaboration between the film museum and the artist from the artist-run lab in the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film practice. Ideally, this collaboration would be structured on the moulds of an artistic residency. This residency would be long-term – anything from a couple of months to one year – and would occur on a regular basis – every week, every fortnight. This collaboration could take place either exclusively in the space of the film museum or it could take place either simultaneously or interchangeably between the space of the film museum and the space of the Filmwerkplaats. According to the Policy Handbook on Artists’ Residencies (2011 – 2014), artists’ residencies Typically offer accommodation, artistic coaching, production support and/or presentation facilities. […] Artists’ residencies may ask for a tangible outcome, like an art production, an exhibition, a project, a workshop, a collaboration or 44
may state that there are no prescribed outcomes. (Open Method Coordination Working Group of EU Member States Experts on Artists' Residencies 9) Likewise, the main idea would be that the artist would be given an extended period of time to work freely and experiment at will in producing a film in the space of the film museum, using its facilities, technology, available expertise and processes and, if applicable, some of its collections. In the context of a prolonged artistic residency at a film museum, artists would have space and time to engage exclusively or simultaneously in any of these types of activities: namely, producing a film either with stagnant or difficult collections of the holdings of the film museum or with the standard machines and processes of the laboratory of the film museum – as was the case with Li Chun Tseng at the laboratory of the Conservation Centre of the Portuguese Cinematheque. Thus, by being granted the possibility to work within the space of the film museum, resident-artists would be prompted to leave a ‘tangible outcome’ to the film museum or to the broader community. The outcomes of the artistic residency to the film museum could be multitudinous and diverse. However, for the sake of argument, I group them hypothetically into three categories: educational, exchange and research projects. In the first category, educational projects, I envision labs, workshops and studios of experimentation organised on a regular basis as a sort of parallel training programme addressed either to film students, art students, professionals in the field or simply amateurs. The second category, exchange projects, would be focused on making both artists and archivists experience the other’s context, namely, by engaging in regular exchanges of working space. This exchange could take in many forms but one defining characteristic would have to be regularity. In order for a true exchange of knowledge and practices to occur and be of consequence to both environments, it is of utmost importance that the exchange happens on a prolonged and regular basis between the same artist and the same archivist. As a preliminary example, whereas artists would spend one day of their artistic residency every fortnight or every month working in a specific project either in the conservation, the educational or the curatorial department of the film museum, archivists would spend one day every fortnight or every month working on a specific project in the context of the artist-run lab. 45
The third category, devised very much in line with REMI, would focus on specific issues and concerns faced by both film museums and artist-run labs and would engage both artists and archivists in a continuous research project on one specific issue and its possible solutions. These research projects would be mostly focused on topics and solutions related to the informal social memories of photochemical film practices, machines and processes. They would be projects designed and crafted, according to the contingencies of both environments, around the overriding goal of preserving informal knowledge intrinsic to preservation of the working function of a given material artefact, process or machine. The central topic of these collaborative research projects would be, much like the REMI project, the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film practice and the privileged modes of experience would be oral history, re-engineering, re-designing, emulating and simulating processes, techniques, practices, machines or parts of machines and materials. The main advantage, to which all other advantages are directly related, is the relevant exchange of knowledge across both environments. As I have demonstrated exchange and circulation of technical knowledge is one of the key concerns of artist-run labs. But it also to some extent characterises the community of film museums, for decades organised in professional associations with regular agendas of meetings and seminars. The advantage of this type of collaboration, both to artists and to archivists, consists most saliently in repeated exchange of knowledge between the two alien environments. In summary, for the artist-run lab, potential further advantages include: -
Tackling the same challenge, namely, technological obsolescence, in collaboration with an institution;
Gathering insight into other processes and machines as they are operated from the official, codified points of view;
Increased access to the film museum and consequently its collections, machines, facilities and, thus, possibilities for film production;
The possibilities to produce new work in the context of the film museum, with its standardised practices;
Expansion of their current technical knowledge and access to other sources (books, archivists, trade publications) of knowledge currently outside of their reach;
Understanding, via contact, experience and practice, the archival side (namely, its deontology, practices and concerns). The knowledge and experience gained from this interchange can then be applied if not to the preservation of their own films, then to the routine maintenance of the artist-run lab.
From the film museum perspective, further advantages include: -
Tackling the same challenge, namely, technological obsolescence, in collaboration with an independently-run organisation;
Gathering insight into other processes and machines as they are operated from the amateur/DIY perspective. This body of knowledge is likely to become especially relevant at a moment when film museums and other cultural institutions are receiving smaller budgets and are expected to create their own sources of income;
Gathering and documenting insight into creative practice, artistsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; intent and use of materials, in close proximity with artists;
Insight into preservation and circulation of intangible knowledge related to the technical aspects of photochemical filmmaking from sources other than canonical ones relied on by film museums;
Access to outsider sources of knowledge and preservation practices;
Contact, access to and networking with an international network of knowledge and practitioners that may have other original, ad-hoc solutions to share in face of the similar concerns;
Help and insight into preservation, presentation and activation forms of troubling or stagnant collections;
Insight into DIY uses of state of the art technologies (for instance, 3D printing) to counter issues related to technological obsolescence;
Enticing artistic involvement, and consequently possibility to document artistic intent and creative practice, in the process of preservation by offering artists the context in which to produce new films, avoiding the dilemma between preserving past work or focusing on the development of present work that removes artists from preservation efforts; 47
Possibility to, in practice, better understand the context and contingencies of artist-run labs and, in return, explain their functionality and predicaments to other actors in film heritage, thereby bridging the gulf between film archival practice and of filmmaking practice;
Possibility to engage in collaborative research projects that may originate novel insights and solutions.
As it is common in projects related to the arts and humanities, the main disadvantages pertain to limitations of means. Collaborative projects tend to consume large amounts of time to implement and funding such initiatives is not always easy. The specific disadvantages to the two parties involved seem to be related in general to the distinct, and at times conflicting, ethos and practices of the two organisations. Artists from artist-run labs may find the following problematic, -
Standardising results – as close as possible to the original – and experimentation;
Their own way of working, based on experimentation and trial and error, and the deontological principles that guide the archivist’s practice;
Understanding the value of this collaboration – because of the time it requires to plan and implement – when they are already able to work independently and self-sufficiently, with less planning and administrative effort, in their lab;
The relevance of conducting workshops and training courses in the context of the film museum when this is something they already do independently in their own labs and within their own network;
The restrictions and implicit prescriptions of use and modification to machines, artefacts and tools in the context of film museums, institutions, as opposed to artist-run labs, proficient in preserving material artefacts against change and thus against use. Whereas film museums may voice difficulties with,
The dimension of time and human resources involved in planning and implementing an initiative such as this one, and the aggravating instance of – because of regularity of the project – having to do so anew, every year;
Arguing for the relevance of this type of collaboration in terms of planning, funding, budgeting and collection policy at an institutional level, from the perspective of an institution with a public and national mandate;
Likewise, communicating and presenting to the broader public, the impact and outcomes of this initiative whose products are not tangible and thus are not easily exhibited as objects, artworks, installations, exhibitions or film programmes;
The institutional demand at all levels: time, money, staff, chemistry, supplies, materials, etc,..;
Confrontation in daily practices between their professionalised deontology and the DIY and alternative mode of experimentation of artist-run labs;
Problems with the use of machines and the archival side of the film museum becoming a space of production, prominently, problems with interventions, modifications and DIY alterations to machines and tools which are also part of the material artefacts that film museums are expected to preserve and thus, preserve against use and, above all, misuse.
If the interest of the artist-run lab in creating, preserving and circulating technical knowledge related to photochemical film practice has already been sufficiently motivated, the interest of the film museum in a collaboration of this kind has still to be demonstrated. At this moment, it seems rational to ask: how relevant is the living film collection framework for the film museum? Only a proposal crafted with the shared concerns of each side in mind can actually remain relevant, in practice, to both. In what follows, I will show how this framework is also relevant to the film museum, referencing pertinent literature on the topic. In doing so, I seek to demonstrate how the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge is also a challenge faced by film museums and how they could benefit from long-term and regular exchange of knowledge with an independently organised community with alternative practices and sources to the preservation and circulation of technical knowledge.
4.3. The Relevance of the Living Film Collection to the Film Museum In my interview with Esther Urlus she phrased how the concern for the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film is shared by artist-run labs and film museums. The fact that a preservation specialist of the 49
film laboratory of the Conservation Centre of the Portuguese Cinematheque was present at the latest artist-run labs’ meeting in Nantes52 to share his concerns about the disappearance of technical knowledge was to Esther suggestive of this common concern. However, the presence of film museum’s staff and audio-visual archival personnel in artist-run lab network meetings is by no means a common occurrence. So, of course, it is necessary to look beyond the outlook of one single member of the Portuguese Cinematheque to verify if this is indeed a concern shared by film museums in a more meaningfully pervasive manner. However, I believe that it is even more pressing to verify the existence of this shared concern by analysing the aspects that actually constitute the underlying problem behind the need to create, preserve and circulate technical knowledge in both environments. In what follows, I look at the reliance of film, as a temporal experience, on playback technology in order to discuss more specifically the issue of technological obsolescence. Finally, I will show how the problem of technological obsolescence drives shared concerns of both environments with the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to practices and processes of photochemical film production, development and processing. When discussing what distinguished film from other art forms, according to Paolo Cherchi Usai, it is the distinguishing characteristic of film to be dependent on an apparatus – that is, a technology –without whose presence it cannot be experienced as it was intended (The Conservation of Moving Images 251). Horwarth (2012) builds on this dependence of film on a screening device to be experienced, to reinforce that the experience of time as it unfolds in the context of the cinema auditorium is the defining characteristic of the film museum. It is this fact, that film “is not an object but an event in time,” (Horwath 24) which determines its dependence on technology, not simply for production, but for its experience as a discrete event in time, that demands consideration as the salient intentional aspect of the art. Thus, to Horwath, in the context of a film museum, “film, like many other historically influential art practices, [should] be preserved and kept visible as such and not only as a digital version of itself” (25). MarkPaul Meyer further argues that the recreation of the appreciation of cinema as it was intended is one of the main museological functions of a film museum (18). But what 52
For a detailed overview of the program, see Re-Engineering the Moving Image. the artist-run film lab makers manual (REMI 20). Specifically on the topic of Tiago Ganhão’s talk, see Discussions: Film Labs Network and The Archival World (REMI 20).
does it mean exactly to experience cinema ‘as such’ and appreciate it ‘as it was intended’? Meyer links this appreciation to the very ontology of film, Film is essentially a series of photographs (or animated pictures, if you want) that have a direct reference to the filmed object. And these series of photographs create an illusion of movement in projection. The projection is essential in bringing film to life. It is the projection that constitutes the perception. (17) Thus, to Meyer, as to Usai and to Horwath, it is the experience of film projection that constitutes the perception and appreciation of film as it was intended. Essentially, underlying these statements is the recognition that film can only be experienced as an event in time if the technologies to screen it are preserved both in their tangible (i.e., in the actual material artefacts) and intangible forms (i.e., in the knowledge necessary to operate and repair the material artefacts, not only films but essential practices, processes, techniques and machines). I argue that it is the dependence of film museums and artist-run labs on obsolete technologies that drives the shared concern for the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film both in tangible and in intangible forms. Dependence on playback technology is also one of the defining characteristics of time-based media collections in the context of art museums (Laurenson 1) (Cyr 10). The existence of film and time-based media collections as experiences of time only reified as such by the use of a technological apparatus points to the key role of technology in the experience of these works. However, as Joshua Ranger points out, One issue with audiovisual preservation is that our media of choice is a product of commerce. It was originally created to be marketed and sold, and the marketing and selling of media drives its continued or discontinued manufacture. At some point, art adopted commerce, adopted the medium as a form of expression. This did not change the commercial nature of the product, but added a use for which the argument of preservation is at odds with the commercial venture. (Ranger) The triad of, at times, conflicting agendas between the arguments of art, commerce and preservation is most prominent in the case of film and time-based media collections because of their dependence on playback technology to be experienced as events over time and thus to be experienced as they were intended. The dependence of film on technology for its projection and experience as such places technological obsolescence and the disappearance of intangible forms of technical knowledge related to the working function of these technologies as pressing issues to both the film 51
museum and the artist-run lab. I maintain that film museums and artist-run labs are to some extent prone to the same culture of reaction to industrial trends in the technology of film production, in particular decisions to continue and discontinue manufacture of machinery. However, whereas, as Raymonde Borde argues, “les cinematheques s’emploient à conserve ce que l’industrie du film s’emploie à détruire” (qtd. in Gracy 45) [my emphasis, S.P.], I believe that artist-run labs are conversely engaged in using what the industry of film is engaged with destroying. Artist-run labs work precisely at the interstice of this dialectic space between obsolescence, production and experimental re-use and that is why their input is of relevance in the context of the living film collection framework, something Venturini (202) identifies as a distinguishing characteristic of the production environment of contexts of experimentation such as the Filmwerkplaats. In the space of artist-run labs, obsolescence engenders possibility. Possibilities of creation, experimentation and reengineering that, above all, liberate technological forms and processes from the sphere of commodity production, something that Esther Urlus has also pointed to in our interview.53 Rosalind Krauss, following Walter Benjamin, expands on the ambivalent productive tension present at the moment of obsolescence: Benjamin believed that at the birth of a given social form or technological process the utopian dimension was present and, furthermore, that it is precisely at the moment of the obsolescence of that technology that it once more releases this dimension, like the last gleam of a dying star. For obsolescence, the very law of commodity production, both frees the outmoded object from the grip of utility and reveals the hollow promise of that law. (41) Thus, it is when technologies and objects are freed from the ‘law of commodity production’ and ‘from the grip of utility’ that they enter the artist-run lab and also the film museum. By showing how the experience of film as an “event over time” (Horwath 24) is exclusively dependent on its projection via a technological apparatus, prone to obsolesce, and by framing the experimental filmmaking practices of the members of the Filmwerkplaats as contingent and determined by obsolescence itself, the shared concern of film museums and artist-run labs to preserve the technical knowledge vital to safeguard, in a living and experiential form of legacy, the working function of the technologies they use, becomes manifest. 53
During our personal interview, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017, Esther articulated that “artists are very flexible because they are not bounded by what was done before and they have no boundaries of commercial act.”
4.4. Informal Social Memories and the Living Film Collection Now, I would like to focus on the different arguments presented in the past by the film museum community in the interest of devising approaches to preserving and circulating intangible technical knowledge specific to the processes and practices of film production, development, processing, repair and projection. I would like to call attention to an example that Caroline Frick discusses in her discussion of alternative approaches to Western preservation traditions because it is illustrative of the direction in which I am arguing. Frick describes the temple of Ise Shrine in Japan in order to exemplify an approach focused on preserving living heritage, instead of focusing solely in the preservation of material artefacts, The Ise Shrine temple, considered one of the most holy and valued areas in the country, is torn down every twenty years to be replaced with a replica built by new craftsmen trained in traditional methodsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;thus ensuring that the living heritage (the knowledge of how to build such a structure, and so on) endures. (161-162) The concept of the living preservation of intangible heritages in the form of practices and knowledge as it is presented in this example is rather applicable to the framework of the living film collection. However, it seems pertinent at this moment to expand further on the discussion of such notions as intangible and tangible heritage, in view of distinguishing the types of heritage and artefacts these formulations are referring to. UNESCO describes intangible cultural heritage as Oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. (UNESCO) Marilena Alivisatou builds on the distinction between tangible and intangible heritage by explaining that, What emerges is the distinction between heritage as a form, embodied in the preservation of objects, buildings, and sites, and heritage as a performance or process, embodied in the transmission of broader cultural practices and beliefs. (46) Richard Rinehart, however, instead of using the terminology of tangible and intangible, prefers to distinguish between formal and informal social memory. The author defines social memory as, How and what societies rememberâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the long-term memory of civilisations. It is how civilisations carry forward their social traditions, commercial arrangements, 53
and political operations from moment to moment, year to year, and (if they are lucky) century to century. It allows a civilisation to persist beyond the life-time of one individual or generation. (14) He distinguishes formal social memory from informal social memory as, Formal social memory is “canonical” and is often stewarded by institutions such as museums, libraries, and archives (referred to collectively as the “cultural heritage sector”). […] Informal social memory, on the other hand, often emphasises updating or recreating the cultural object as a way of keeping it alive (migration, emulation, and reinterpretation). One might say that the formal strategy privileges the form of the object of preservation, while the informal strategy preserves the working function of the object (this is a bit of an oversimplification as we’ll see, but it’s useful to exaggerate the differences in order to see them more clearly). (14) When referring to the preservation of practices and processes related to the technical knowledge of photochemical film, within the framework of the living film collection, the thesis will henceforth designate them as informal social memories. Three arguments have led me to choose the designation of informal rather than intangible when addressing the ‘working functions’ of the expanded definition of preservation as it is applied within the framework of the living film collection. Firstly, as I have concluded from my visits to the Filmwerkplaats, the outcomes of the implementation and practice of informal social memory are in fact quite tangible, at times, as is the case with DIY alterations and modifications of machinery, tools and technologies. Secondly, and more importantly, because ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ are attributes applied primarily to artefacts, they still chiefly refer to the formal and canonical material forms of social memory - whereas ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ are attributes that can be applied to attitudes, practices or contexts. Thirdly, informal, rather than intangible, seems to be one of the most applicable adjectives to characterise the working environment of the artist-run lab, based on a DIY attitude, culture of experimentation and alternative practices. Finally, in deciding to apply this formulation in the plural form as in ‘informal social memories,’ as I will explain further on, an expanded understanding of preservation focused on informal aspects of photochemical film practice produced with the Filmwerkplaats context in mind entails that there is not one sole canonical form of memory, but rather several parallel and alternative modes of praxes. The living film collection framework is focused on the informal aspects of the expanded understanding of preservation, as identified by the Filmwerkplaats members, in the context of film museums. However, as demonstrated earlier, the creation, 54
preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film practices is a pressing issue to both cultures, and I argue that currently film museums and artist-run labs tackle this issue at cross-purposes. While film museums and artistrun labs are both interested in preserving, for different motivations, this aspect of informal knowledge specific to the “working function” of techniques and processes of photochemical film production, repairing, processing and development their expertise is distinct. Whereas film museums have been traditionally more proficient in the preservation of formal social memories, in the form of material artefacts, artist-run labs are more practised in the creation and preservation of informal social memories, in the form of practices and processes. Recalling Rinehart’s distinction, discussed in section 2.1, between libraries, museums and archives according to their documentation practices, and noting the historical contingency that film museums have been interchangeably placed a the nexus of these three different traditions, the established expertise of the film museum in preserving almost exclusively material artefacts and thereby thoroughly describing what an object is about (the thing unto itself) as well as the relations of provenance and ownership (Rinehart 94), seems justified. This stands at odds with the practice-based knowledge created and shared in the context of the Filmwerkplaats, and the preference in these environments to “want to know how it is done”54 rather than to know the historical or art-historical context of the object or technology. Artist-run labs have, then, in their DIY and self-skilled fashion, specialised in preserving the ‘working function’, via continued practice, of the obsolete processes and practices used in the context of their artistic research. To summarize, I argue that instead of maintaining this division, the film museum as a hybrid tradition, is an ideally situated setting to provide historical and art-historical context while at the same time showing how a certain process, practice or technique ‘is done’. By merging formal and informal social memories, within the framework of the living film collection, this convergence is enabled.
Personal interview with Esther Urlus, Filmwerkplaats, 03 March 2017.
4.5. Producing the Living Film Collection Horwath has emphasised the necessity to preserve both forms of memory, in the context of film museums, by arguing that Public cultural budgets and political energies need to be activated in order to ensure the continued production of film stocks and printing and projection machinery as well as the perpetuation of all related professions and systems of training. (24) Horwath argues not only for the enmeshing of formal and informal social memories but also points to the importance of film museums becoming the space where alternative forms of experience are produced - “alternative to whatever is hegemonic at any moment” (25). Recalling the ethos of the Filmwerkplaats, where individual and collective emancipation against the established order via alternative and self-skilled modes of production takes place, the artist-run lab seems like a sensible context from which to derive alternative forms of experience to apply in the context of film museums. Yet, the call for alternative praxes and alternative forms of thinking and practising (film) collections is not exclusive to film museums. Rudolph Frieling argues in the same direction in his article The Museum as Producer: Processing Art and Performing a Collection (2014). Although the scope of his discussion is centred on the specific context of the San Francisico Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) collection, his conclusions are applicable to my argument. Frieling argues that defining the museum as a producer in our current historical setting means defining the museum “as an agent of complex narratives, based in the production not of commodities, but of "wrong places," to pick up Miwon Kwon 's term” (156). Frieling’s conclusion is relevant to my proposal because it establishes a germane parallel with the political context of the Filmwerkplaats. One of the driving motivations behind the experimentation and research that takes place in the context of artist-run labs is precisely that of subverting the commercial production of film commodities via the use of DIY methods, into ‘wrong places’ of the cinematic landscape, where alternative films, alternative discourses, and alternative practices and uses of materials oppose the hegemony of the actual moment and act as ‘agents of complex narratives’. Accordingly, Frieling expands on the conclusion to the first iteration of his article in 2008, by theorising the museum not only as a producer, but as a producer of ‘wrong places’, The museum potentially provides a discursive space with the inclusion of and confrontation with "wrong" places, forgotten visions, rejected, marginal, and 56
obsolete practices as well as temporary objects/things that are "productive" in their different and unexpected agency. (156) [my emphasis, S.P.] The production of heterogeneous places in the space of the museum is in line with Horwath’s call for a film museum model that strives to disturb, in its praxes and in the possibility of the social space it can yet be, whatever is hegemonic at the moment. However, a second parallel brings Frieling and Horwath’s proposals together. That is the idea of the museum as a living entity. Whereas Frieling names it a ‘producer’, Horwath titles it a ‘laboratory’. In 1947, as Frieling recalls, Alexander Dorner offered a definition of a living museum. In his words, The next type of art museum must be not only not an "art" museum in the traditional, static sense, but, strictly speaking, not a "museum" at all. A museum conserves supposedly eternal values and truths. But the new type would be a kind of powerhouse, a producer of new energies. (qtd. in Frieling 135) From Dorner’s proposal, I would like to use the idea of the museum as “a kind of powerhouse, a producer of new energies” (qtd. in Frieling 135) as the conceptual backbone of the living film collection framework. As Frieling continues, Performing the collection then includes a series of acts such as the temporary configuration of media, embracing change and process in the gallery, including staff and the public to contribute, and engaging in a critical dialog with the artist on the manufacturing of experiences. (153) ‘Manufacturing experiences’ is indeed precisely what goes on most of the time in film workshops, like the Filmwerkplaats. When concluding his definition of the film museum model, Alexander Horwath points to the need to redefine the terms by which film museums designate themselves. Not surprisingly, Horwath chooses ‘the laboratory’ as a metaphor for his idea of what film museums may strive to become, I would then go on and suggest that the term “laboratory” is actually a great metaphor in the wider sense of what film museums and participatory archives may strive to become. And I would have expressed my hope that in such a laboratory in the digital era, a film museum can produce new kinds of “friction” between its collections, its audiences, and the sounds and images of today, making those things and relations strange and beautiful, rather than cute and familiar. (27) Horwath actually uses the verb ‘to produce’ to refer to the practices of this model of the film museum that would ideally produce ‘new kinds of friction’ that unsettle the dominant discourse. As Frieling notes, it is only through the production and activation of experiences and of ‘wrong places’ that museums, as experimental laboratories and workshops, can become spaces where dominant narratives are 57
disturbed by giving a space to other alternatives. Conversely, in artist-run labs, it is in the laboratory of the film workshop that the manufacturing of experiences is enacted, through experimentation, in an independent and self-skilled attitude altogether unsettling of the main discourses and modes of production that characterise contemporary film practice. Finally, to sum up, if, as Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito conclude at the end of their proposal for a framework for the Open Museum devised within the context of New Media Art collections in mind, Despite their sometimes worn and rigid practices, cultural heritage institutions remain charged with practicing canonical social memory, and collectively they command vast resources toward that goal (114) I argue that film museums should remain invested with the canonical practice of preserving formal social memory while at the same time expanding their understanding of preservation to include practices of informal social memories from a context that has valuable insight to exchange based in hands-on experimental research, as embodied in the artist-run lab. Essentially, I argue that for an expanded understanding of preservation in the framework of the living film collection both formal and informal social memories should be preserved and the distinct expertise of the film museum and the artist-run lab should be applied to the best effect in this direction. I believe this outline was necessary in order to identify some of the limitations and contingencies that should be taken into consideration when attempting to apply this specific framework to the real context of collaboration between a film museum and an artist-run lab. This proposal has revealed to me how the estrangement between the film archival practice and filmmaking practice can begin to be bridged by building collaborations centred on the shared concern of creating, preserving and circulating technical knowledge in face of mechanical obsolescence. This framework has pointed to the manifold ways in which it is possible for film museums to become spaces of production, experimentation and living film practices. In doing so, film museums and living filmmakers may reciprocally exchange and expand valuable expertise in the alternative space of the living film collection, where they will be able to work jointly towards the creation of ‘elsewheres’ and ‘wrong places’ so crucial to enlivening informal social memories. When the living film collection in the context of film museums is applied as a workshop for the production of living film memories, the 58
metaphor of the film museum as a laboratory, as Horwath has so poignantly envisioned, will take more meaningful shape. So, I suggest allowing the future of the living film collection to reside in the hands of The film equipment hoarding do-it-yourselfers, the home-experimenters and self-skilled film artists. Those inspired by the pioneers, the professionals and the future, from which we go forth: Back to the Future. (Urlus, Editorial 2) And let them, together with film museums, “re-engineer the industry” (REMI 32) and “re-explore the unexplored paths” (REMI 4) of a living medium that cannot become obsolete as long as it is being performed. So, let it be performed in the workshop of the living film collection; let it re-emerge for decades through the living practices of younger generations, and let it be experienced via practice and experimentation.
5. CONCLUSION This research project began with the intention of looking at film archival practice from the point of view of living filmmakers. Underlying this primary research objective was an assumption that predated the research itself. This assumption was grounded in my own experience, as a filmmaking and a film preservation student, of an acute estrangement between the sphere of filmmaking practice and the sphere of film archival practice. This lead me to view this research project as an opportunity to understand, in the first instance, the issues that determine the apparent estrangement between living filmmakers and film museums. Stemming from this primary goal, three other research objectives have driven this project. The first one aimed at ascertaining what filmmakers could contribute to an understanding of what preservation may come to mean. Secondly, I intended to discover how living filmmakers could serve as a source of insight for the preservation of living, as opposed to dead, film collections. The third objective proposed to identify what sort of collaborations could be possible between living filmmakers and film museums and the forms these could take. In order to distinguish the apparent estrangement between living filmmakers and film museums, the thesis looked at this question, in a first instance, from the institutional perspective. Therefore, I analysed the different preservation practices of the film and the art museums in order to understand why the collaboration with the artist in processes of preservation is more established in the context of the art museum. Since time-based media collections share two defining characteristics with film, namely having time as a duration and depending on playback technology, I relied on the literature referent to this sub-collections in the context of the art museum to ascertain how the guidelines applied to the preservation of time-based media collections could be replicated in the context of film museums. I then examined the same issue from a non-institutional perspective, represented by the context of the artist-run lab the Filmwerkplaats. After concluding, upon initial visits and contact with the Filmwerkplaats, that the artists of the artist-run lab were neither interested nor involved in the preservation of their own works, I chose to focus on identifying the key characteristics and concerns of the Filmwerkplaats in order to understand how these could point to some premonitions of potential collaboration. It turned out that although the preservation of their own works was not something with which the artists of the Filmwerkplaats were especially involved, the preservation of the 60
working function of the obsolete technologies necessary to run the lab independently, self-sufficiently and autonomously, proved to be of crucial importance to the members and to the artist-run lab as a whole. Therefore the results of my interviews with some of the current members of the Filmwerkplaats contributed to an expanded understanding of preservation in three fundamental aspects. Firstly, they have contributed to a practice of preservation not focused exclusively on the preservation of material artefacts but, more importantly, on the preservation of knowledge, practices and working functions. Secondly, in doing so, they have called for an expanded definition of preservation, in the context of film museums, that would include both formal and informal social memories. Thirdly, they have pointed to a notion of preservation that exists only connected to the act of circulating and sharing this knowledge within a community. A propos of this, my conclusion suggests that this expanded understanding of preservation can serve as a source of insight for the preservation of living, as opposed to dead, film collections in the context of film museums. Thus, based on the body of statements and publications produced by the artists, the individual labs and the network of artist-run labs, I concluded that, in line with this expanded understanding of preservation, one of the primary concerns of artist-run labs was the creation, preservation, and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film. By determining that the preservation and circulation of technical knowledge was of key concern, preservation-wise, for the artist-run lab, I relied on findings from the casestudy to hypothesise a framework that would address this expanded understanding of preservation. This research ultimately indicates that the estrangement between the sphere of film archival practice and the sphere of filmmaking practice, in the context of a collaboration between film museums and artist-run labs, such as the Filmwerkplaats, can only be bridged on the basis of an expanded definition of preservation, imbued with the concerns of both cultures in mind. Following from this, I hypothesised a framework that would facilitate the practical application of an expanded practice of preservation in a collaboration between film museums and artist-run labs focused on the creation, preservation and circulation of technical knowledge related to photochemical film. The framework of the living film collection stands as an argument for the documentation and preservation, when applicable, of the artistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s intent and use of 61
materials at the moment of acquisition of a work by film museums. It also stipulates the requisite preservation of technical knowledge in the form of informal social memories related to the maintenance, operativity and repair of machines, practices, processes and tools necessary to prolong their uses into the indefinite future by keeping them alive that is, transmissible, experiential, teachable, and practicable - through practice and experimentation. The thesis has showed me that the development of frameworks that serve as a general frame of reference but that can be individually fine-tuned and adjusted to specific contexts of archival and filmmaking practice is one of the relevant ways in which novel hypothesis may be theorised in a form that can be easily applied and tested against the background of specific working environments. The focus of the framework on the issue of technological obsolescence makes it conceptually pliable and easily adapted as a general frame of reference for the living preservation of other already obsolete technologies, like video, and other to be obsolete technologies, like in the eventual case of digital film works. Also, this framework shows how the estrangement between the sphere of filmmaking practice and the sphere of film archival practice might begin to be bridged by focusing on shared concerns. Moreover, this framework represents but one attempt to develop more regular and thorough collaborations between artists and institutions and it can be easily adapted to other issues equally pressing to the film preservation field or even to other contexts in neighbouring fields. Finally, I believe this framework represents a relevant input to the field of film preservation because it hypothesises a way in which, in the interface of a collaboration between filmmakers and film museums, the latter might meaningfully emerge as workshops of film production, both by producing new films and by performing living film legacies. One of the shortcomings of this framework is its core focus on photochemical film practices and the specific context of the artist-run lab. As a result, I was unable to address issues related to digital and born-digital film practices; contexts other than the artist-run lab; and contexts other than the ‘canonical’ film museum. The thesis also failed to address the forms of other possible collaborations based on other shared concerns and other geo-political contexts outside of the Netherlands. For this reason, there is interest in follow-up research that would reflect on some of the topics my own research was unable to address. For example, even if the thesis was successful in developing a framework of ‘living film collections’ to tackle the shared concern by film 62
museums and artist-run labs of preserving and circulating technical knowledge related to obsolete film technologies, other frameworks can be envisioned both in the field of film preservation and in allied fields. I likewise hope that this thesis prompts further research wherein this general framework may be tested and reflected upon in real working environments. To conclude, Nicolas Reyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s offers a quote from Robert Flaherty that seems altogether emblematic of the autonomy that comes from controlling oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own film processes and of the importance of collaboration to establish enduring rapports. It is on the following note that I would like to bring this discussion to a close: It has always been very important for me to see my rushes. It is the only way I can make a film. But another reason to develop the film in the North was to project it for the Eskimos so that they could acknowledge and understand what I was doing and to work in collaboration with me. Robert Flaherty (qtd. in Rey) [my emphasis, S.P.]
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Personal, Skype and email interviews were edited for readability. All websites referenced in this research were current at 23 June 2017.
7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I wish to express my immense gratitude to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, Portugal, whose generous support has been instrumental in making my study, and this research, feasible. I want to thank my colleagues, my family, my friends, my teachers and all the other collateral witnesses of this process, for being present. I want to acknowledge all those who were willing to collaborate in making this research possible: Anna Abrahams, Bernardo Zanotta, Esther Urlus, Guy Edmonds, Li Chung Tseng, Rachel Sommers Miles, Simona Monizza, Tiago GanhĂŁo. Thank you. I want to thank WORM.Filmwerkplaats for being open, curious and passionate. I want to thank to Dr. Annet Dekker, my supervisor, for always giving me time to come to my own conclusions. I want to thank Dr. Eef Masson for all the side notes. I want to thank Nicholas Avedisian-Cohen for his native insight.
And, finally, I want to express my most sincere gratitude to Maximino Santos, head of the projection booth at the Portuguese Cinematheque, for sharing with me all of his intangible knowledge and for teaching me how to treasure the half black I saw in every film I loved at the Cinematheque.