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Creating Dialogues around Moving Image

We spoke to Steven Cairns, Associate Curator of Artists' Moving Image at the ICA, who has been instrumental in putting together the LUX / ICA Biennial of Moving Images. Speaking to him on the launch day of the festival, we wanted to understand more around where the biennial took its inspiration, what it stood for, and also what sorts of plans the organisations have for this inaugural Biennial celebrating artist film & video.

Following this inaugural, and relatively unique biennial, particularly impressive was the sheer selection and variety of screenings available in what is arguably a short period of time, and the scarcity of much of the work on show. A rare introspective into the work of Luther Price - the experimental US filmmaker and Saul Levine classmate - marked UK firsts in screening these fragile, hand-painted and collaged 16mm films in public, and a central part to the Biennial. With the majority of screenings surrounded by performance and discourse, the festival recontextualises these often gallery-bound pieces into social events. This serves to break down barriers to entry and create a channel for enthusiasts and spectators alike to access artists' work that habitually sits behind closed doors. Similarly, continuous documentation throughout the festival has given context to the Biennial itself, and broadcast discourse between curators, artists and participants, again opening up and uniting thought around a broad and varied collection of moving image work.

LUX, ICA, and the handful of dedicated collaborators, including Central St. Martin's, excel in bringing moving image away from the screen; whether it's into performance work, or documentation and reportage, or older work positioned next to new and experimental pieces, the festival places moving image work into a social and historical context, and encourages collaboration around what can be perceived as a disparate practise. As an over-riding theme, dialogue seems to be the focus; whether it's encouraging discussion during screenings and performances to bringing together international visitors to the biennial, the Biennial of Moving Image seems focused on consolidating and creating a platform for more work, and better work in this field.

LF: The LUX / ICA collaboration - how did it come about?

ICA: Well, I suppose LUX and the ICA have quite a heritage of working with artists on film and video, LUX, specifically because it's their focus but ICA because it's been an ongoing concern from the very beginning of the ICA, and there have been a number of occasions where the potential for doing a biennial, or some sort of moving image festival has been discussed in the past and it's really now that things have felt right to do it - specifically because we're in London, and I guess, just because the two organisations, our cinemas have been recently renovated here the ICA and the facilities have meant that we could do something really special with it.

LF: Does that represent a renewed focus on moving image, or is this just a continuation of a long-term focus?

ICA: The ICA has always had a focus on moving image, we run regular once or twice monthly artist film club, which is a project that I run which focuses on new work that's being created in London and the UK, and also internationally, where we host an artist, so an artist will come and discuss their work, we'll show their work, we also do group screenings, most recently, a solo presentation we had was Luke Fowler, who has been nominated for the Turner Prize - we showed his film that he'd been nominated for - we showed that.

LF: Are there any particular aims that you have with this initial biennial aside from foregrounding moving image as art form?

ICA: Well the Biennial is an opportunity for people to come and see a huge amount of films, to see talks and also some performances that in general there isn't a huge opportunity for people to see. But beyond that what we hope to happen is for people to come together under the ICA roof and create a dialogue. And the dialogue that's coming from the Biennial is one of the key and important factors. We're facilitating a number of platforms for people to engage in dialogue, we've got an artist's school, and a curating course that runs for two days - and throughout these courses, the people involved in the Biennial - the curators, artists - all have a role to play in this school, so we're generating a dialogue via that platform, and again more publically with the talks programme.

LF: It looks like documentation is a large part of the biennial as well.

ICA: Yes - all of the events are documented - we've got a live journal, which is reporting daily on the events as they happen, so we'll be able to send videos of talks, and performances. They'll also be writing contextual essays and interviews of people who are involved in the Biennial and in specific works throughout the five days of the Biennial.

LF: How has the union of a number of organisations worked in practice? Were there any challenges?

ICA: It's been an opportunity for people to really share their knowledge, and at times when people do come together, and these are organisations, of course LUX and CSM work together on their course, but there are a number of other organisations who we are working with on the performance programme, so Electra, Picture This and we are working with Bridget Crone who is an independent curator, and then there's Tramway from Glasgow, so it's a real opportunity for these organisations to come together and share their knowledge and create something with a really big punch.

LF: What should people come away from the Biennial with?

ICA: I'd hope people would come away with the knowledge that they'd seen a huge amount and hopefully had a few surprises along the way; met a few people that they share interests with, which is more than likely to happen, and hopefully had a great time I'd think.

LF: Are there any pieces that you're particularly excited about showing?

ICA: We've got a number of key works that are either going to be show for the first time in the UK, or there are not very many prints in existence or the prints are hard to find, so we have a solo presentation that premieres on Friday of an American artist called Luther price, who works in 16mm, but his 16mm is collaged and painted on, so all of the prints are exclusive; they only exist as one print, and as they are screened, they degrade, and are destroyed eventually. So, we're screening 9 of his films for the first time in the UK. The opportunity to see those films is a real one off chance, as we play the films, they are slowly degraded in the projector, and the paint has started to come off already while we did the test screenings. We've also got a solo presentation by a French filmmaker called Eric Duvivier, who predominantly made films for medical and psychological institutes, and these films are fantastic surreal narratives; we've had these films subtitled, so it's a real opportunity for people in the UK to see these films for the first time, and understand them in the English language. In general we have a huge amount of stuff that's really amazing.

LF: Showcasing moving image - there's a clear opportunity for artists' work to be shown, but how about social context?

ICA: I think this comes with the cinema screening context - gallery setup is the usual way that these films are seen, and some online. We're really concentrating on the emphasis on what happens when a massive group of people watches these films from start to finish all together in the cinema - I mean, a lot of the time, this isn't really the case with moving image work. We do have a number of older works that we are screening, but that is kind of outweighed by the number of new works that we have, but we think this is really important because artist film & video does have such a heritage that we kind of contextualise a lot of the new work with the old.

LF: From a practice side - do you see this is more an attempt to create communities within the creators - to bring lots of things together here?

ICA: It's not something we're planning on instigating here, but there is the opportunity for something like that to happen, but I think it's a natural draw for people working in the same field to congregate. A lot of the people who are coming to the ICA and London are coming from all over the world, so it's a real opportunity for these people to come together.

LF: For your launch night, you're reviving Little Stabs of Happiness, and screening a gruesome Rossellini film. What should we expect?

ICA: So tonight's going to be really special - we're going to have an audience that attended Little Stabs of Happiness when it was at the ICA during the '90s and early '00s, so there'll be really two audiences, a new one, and then the die-hard fans from its original incarnation. Tonight there'll also be the experimental films and then the feature film (Rossellini's), then we have the dancing, so again there's a focus on the social aspect of moving image, as people will be all together. The environment won't be your typical environment, so people will be free to move around in the space, and seating won't be set up in the traditional manner and it's very much encouraged that people dip in and out and speak with people, and it becomes a bit more of a social event.

The LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving image ran last week over five days and programming details can be found on the Biennial website. To revisit much of the activity during the festival, the Biennial's Journal documents many of the screenings, and puts forward new detail and writing on curatorial process, and captures much of the exhibiting artists' thoughts.

Oliver Spall
16:53 - 28/05/12