Hong Kong: consulates, venues and collaborations

Image from exhibition at K11 Chi Art Space, Hong Kong

As the first port of call and a place of recent collaboration and partnership, I wasn’t expecting to unfold such great opportunities in Hong Kong. Had some great meetings that really contributed to the development of Both Sides Now for 2016, and interesting information on venues/activity, including an educational exchange programme, a residency and super meetings with British Council and Swiss Consulate General.

Erwin Luthi is deputy director of the Swiss Consulate General – we decided to visit him as we’ve previously worked with Connecting Spaces (through Videotage), which is a project of Zurich University of the Arts. Erwin gave us some great advice regarding places we might want to present video work at, or who could be good collaborators, in Hong Kong and Switzerland, here are a few:

- Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival (SW) – Visual Art Center (HK) (Apparently inexpensive to hire.) – Hong Kong International Film Festival (HK) – East Kowloon Flyover / Energising Kowloon East (HK) – PMQ (HK)

At British Council we met with Grace Zhang and Meijing Hei, who (very usefully) let us know that only ODA (official development assistance) countries (those in receipt of development aid) will receive funds from British Council from 2017. Which gives an interesting focus. British Council will be doingshowcase of British work in Korea during 2017, where there is potential for collaboration. And then Tokyo/Japan in 2020. We were encouraged to develop a clear digital strategy if we were wanting to approach British Council to get financial support.

While in Hong Kong we managed to outline a couple of good opportunities with partners, one with Hong Kong Institute of Education – a residency for an individual, to work on a collaborative artists’ film with artists from Hong Kong; the other an educational exchange with K11 Art Foundation, to bring together artists and students from the UK and Hong Kong.

Kisses, picnics and film at Art Basel

PICNIC - Tianzhou Chen

I don’t remember seeing much artists’ moving image at the art fairs during Art Basel Hong Kong, which struck me as a little strange, but I always feel strange at commercial art fairs. The shocking lighting, the mixture of appalling art work with some classic pieces that look like they should be in a museum. All this complemented and in contrast with the revved up, label-slicked, money-gownery striding everywhere with champagne in hand. It feels like a mockery of the art world (all that creativity and unique ideas perverted into another reason to get dressed up and go shopping for the rich), but this is a core part of that world now.

The main pillar of artists’ film at Art Basel was the Art Basel Film programme. This is the second year Art Basel Hong Kong has implemented a film programme, which gives moving image artists represented by galleries at Art Basel a platform to exhibit work that exists away from the bustling mall-like fair.

Curated by Li Zhenhua, Beijing and Zurich-based producer and multimedia artist, screenings were held over four days in Hong Kong Arts Centre’s cinema space. Seven themes were explored over the four days, drawing the films into discrete programmes of work.

As the way is with screenings, it was, for me, a mixture of excellent, fair, and not so great work. The first two films, represented by Star Gallery, were in the great category. PICNIC by Chen Tianzhou is a riotous escapade of sexually charged madness; colourful, blissed out, marvellous and delirious. Drug-induced delirium is suggested at the start, and continues throughout. It is irreverent, gripping, a good antidote to the many banal works in the art fair.

A Thousand Kisses Deep by Song Kun is a slippery, sexual film; architecture intermingles with human bodies and octopus tentacles, striving to get closer to each other, increasing in number as they desperately entangle. The film is a sensual meditation on the rapid growth of cities, and growing numbers of people living in them.

A third film I really appreciated was Lu Yang’s Manga-style animation Uterusman, an overview of a superhero whose superpowers derive from a woman’s genitalia, Uterusman himself being made up of the collective elements of the female reproductive system. Superpowers include: blood energy altitude flying, sanitary pad skateboard, blood chain defence, ovum light wave attack, DNA attack, pelvis chariot, baby weapon, plus more.

The film dynamically mixes in archival film of blood flowing, ovulation, birth and umbilical cord clipping, presenting female reproductive processes as super while everyday. The artist denied that she intended the film to be feminist, but confirmed that she wanted to present a character who combined male and female attributes as a way of expressing everyone is equal. It’s a very funny, challenging film, the insightful contents of which, I believe, the artist is still to become aware of.

Art Basel Film programme was a great opportunity to duck out of the kerfuffle of art fair crazy, and to take some peace in knowing that there is some good art for sale. I look forward to next year’s programme.

Washington DC, Hillyer Art Space, the capital

Cohesion - Daniel Shanken

Cohesion – Daniel Shanken

Hillyer Art Space, 15/05/14

This is my first time in DC and I’m surprised by how much I like it, the low rise buildings and handsome architecture, combined with the unavoidable sense of intrigue, make it feel warm and dynamic at the same time.

Hillyer Art Space is centrally located at Dupont Circle, it sits nestled behind hotels and embassies, right in the middle of the capital. I realise it’s the first contemporary art gallery that I’ve shown the programme at, and it feels very welcome.

The space is managed by two full-time staff, Allie Frazier (Events and Public Programme Coordinator) and Allison Nance (Gallery Director), working alongside interns to deliver the programme, which is a combination of short-term exhibitions, screenings and artist talks.

We sit in the gallery space with iced coffee (it is a warm, muggy day) and talk about the funding situation in Washington DC and the infrastructure for film in the city. It appears the main support structure for showing film in the city is via festivals, including DC Shorts Festival, DC Independent Film Festival and 48 Hour Film Project. A couple of other gallery spaces show artists’ film, but mainly as exhibited work, rather than as screenings, these are: Hamiltonian Gallery and Project 4 Gallery.

We talk about funding for the arts. DC Commission for the Arts sounds like a god-send for the city, which funds individual artists and organisations with non-project funding, received following an application to the commission. Unusually the city has a decent amount of funding, compared to other US cities. Finance is gathered by the commission through the city’s planning gain programme, i.e. by requiring new construction in the city to provide funds towards cultural activity in exchange for being given planning rights.

I have a good conversation with Allie and Allison about the possibility of working together, and I’m hoping there might be a way for us to collaborate in the future. I hope so, because the Hillyer Arts Space team and space are inspiring. And I like Washington DC – a lot.

The screening takes place in the centre of the gallery space in the evening, and has an excellent turn out; helped along, I am sure, by the free, freshly made popcorn. The films are received really well, lots of discussion ensues afterwards and I feel really proud of the programme and the artists who made the work.

Afterwards, the Hillyer guys take me to an amazing dive bar, which I am failing to remember the name of. It sold the most wonderful variety of craft beers, including banana beer, which was surprisingly very good. I’ll update with a name when I have one. Allie, Allison?

And now, home…

New York, Spectacle Theater, Brooklyn

Boys by Piotr Krzymowski on screen at Spectacle Theater

Boys by Piotr Krzymowski on screen at Spectacle Theater

Spectacle Theater, 13/05/14

This is my first time in Brooklyn, and I’m struck by certain similarities it has to Brighton, at least the Williamsburg part that I’m in. Independent bars and stores, cute coffee shops with tech heads working away, and the ‘local’ feeling of a town. It’s very heart-warming after the swarms of Manhattan.

Spectacle Theater is a volunteer-run independent space, set up by a group of individuals who wanted to get more diverse, challenging and foreign language work shown in New York. The space has windows covered in posters from current and previous shows, it looks like the wrong type of exciting might happen inside; it’s stimulating after the shiny, clean downtown spaces.

John Dieringer, one of the programmers and projectionists for the space – who has been amazing in helping me out with showing the work – meets me at Spectacle. We test the films and talk about Spectacle’s work. Incredibly, the volunteer run space does a seven day a week programme, with sometimes three screenings per day. I am stunned by this, in awe. Ten volunteers are on the programme committee and research and deliver a seven day programme, this has been happening for three and a half years. Something to be said for the sustainability of voluntary-led organisations…

We have a small crowd, but they’re ideal; including one of the Selected 4 (2014’s programme) artists, Ian Giles, who brings along some friends. Films are received well, there’s some discussion at the end and we pack up.

I go for a drink with John following the screening and we talk about opportunities for seeing artists’ film as a screening, and, as has been usual, it’s not a common practice, even in New York. Light Industry is probably the most well know, a similar organisation to the Lux in UK. I’m also referred to Union Docs for interesting work going on in the city. There is also New York Film Anthology. I was told by another New York resident that Flux Factory and Silent Barn also do screenings from time to time.

And finally, Washington DC.

LA, Echo Park Film Center, Tom of Finland

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles

Echo Park Film Center, 08/05/14

Echo Park Film Center is jewel of a place, the walls are lined with film canisters, DVDs and information about films and processing films. When I arrive the education coordinator for Echo Park is hand processing some film in readiness for a youth session on film processing. I like this place, it feels rare and rather magical.

Rick Bahto (or Dicky), Echo Park’s curator and programmer, is sparkling with energy and enthusiasm for film, I feel immediately inspired on meeting him. We do a test run of the films and decide to go get a drink together to talk about LA and artists here.

Rick talks to me about some of the other spaces that are receptive to experimental film in LA, these include: Redcat (an interdisciplinary arts centre, with exhibitions, screenings and performances), LA Filmforum (the longest running not-for-profit organisation screening experimental and independent films in Southern California) and Human Resources (a mixed arts space, with screening programmes). Rick also suggests, for inspiration for artists, the New Works Salons, which he curates, and which showcases new work for discussion.

Echo Park’s audience feeds back positively on the films, several questions regarding Naheed Raza’s Silk – a visceral, affective film, which explores the environment of spiders being raised for silk harvesting and the process used to do this – arise. It’s an appreciative audience, and I would really like to work with Echo Park again on other programmes or future work. Rick’s obvious passion and knowledge of artists and the sector is really valuable, and it would be good to work with someone who is so committed to film and video.

After the screening we go to the Tom of Finland House for Tom of Finland’s birthday party, organised by my friend Stuart Sandford who is artist in residence there. My final evening in LA, and I am sad to leave.

Now for a flight to the east coast, and New York. 

 

Tucson, Exploded View Gallery, desert

Exploded View Gallery, Tucson, AZ

Exploded View Gallery, Tucson, AZ

Here I was expecting Tucson to be a hard sell, and the type of town I would feel most alien too. But no, if anything, I felt most comfortable here. Tucsonians are generous, beautiful, creative and friendly people. If you want to feel welcome, come here.

Reception of the Selected 3 programme at Exploded View Gallery was exceptional; applause after each film, whistles, appreciative laughter, sighs – everything in compliment. I was over the moon by the end with a deeply embedded grin on my face.

The screening was followed by interested questions; all the films were talked about, again Sophie Beresford’s Making Adidas Mermaid got attention – loved very much. Lots of curiosity about Cheryl Simmons’ film What are you doing man? They’re cooking my men like sausages. A glorious collage piece that examines reinterpretation and memory.

Exploded View is unique in Tucson; opportunities to show artists’ film and experimental work rely on Rebecca and David’s commitment to the gallery, which is an inspirational example. The University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography is worth checking out (the archive gets shown off to the public every Friday), and, off the arts track, there is also the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, a superb department for those interested in dendrochronology.

Tucson also has an amazing desert surrounding it, with huge Saguaro cacti soaring into the sky, perched on the mountain slopes like armies of headless triffids. I was driven into the desert by Carl Hanni, a devoted Tucsonian, who generously took me on a hike to see the Saguaros, desert sunset and endless mountainous landscape.

I leave Tucson with a heavy heart, but with eyes set on LA for Echo Park Film Center and to see some good friends.

Tucson desert sunset

Tucson desert sunset

Phoenix, No Festival Required, old and new

Cohesion by Daniel Shanken on screen at Space 55 with No Festival Required

Cohesion by Daniel Shanken on screen at Space 55 with No Festival Required

Cloudy LA skies are welcome today following the brilliant, burning desert skies of Phoenix and Tucson for the past week. I even, perversely, imagined British winter chill for a moment in the deep heating sun. Just for a moment.

Model audiences. If you want model artists’ film audiences go to Tucson’s Exploded View Gallery and also arrange a screening with No Festival Required in Phoenix. My enormous thanks to Rebecca and David at Exploded View and to Steve Weiss of No Festival Required (who got me totally drunk in a Tiki bar in Phoenix, so drunk I woke up sideways on the hotel bed with my clothes and shoes still on).

Phoenix, with its mixture of sparkly new cultural venues (Phoenix Art Museum is well worth a visit, a mixture of permanent and temporary, contemporary and historic exhibits in a very nice building) and more raw, established and experimental spaces (Modified/Arts being a classic example), has a rich seam of art and culture running through it. The screening of Selected 3 takes place at one of the latter type of venues, an exciting performing arts space entitled Space 55; its delightful bar space with old couches and memorabilia beckons drinking.

The screening goes well, and the audience receives the work with pleasure; lots of discussion follows, with much interest in Sophie Beresford’s work, Making Adidas Mermaid, which fascinates, and with Nicholas Brook’s Arrastre. I’m deeply appreciative of Steve Weiss’s gathering of such model AMI fans. Other suggested organisations to consider from Steve include: Arizona State University, which has an excellent Intermedia programme; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (where No Festival Required has a regular programme); and, as mentioned, Modified/Arts.

I’m going to update on Tucson in a second post to follow…

 

San Francisco, Artists’ Television Access, gentrification

Making Adidas Mermaid - Sophie Beresford on screen at ATA, San Francisco

Making Adidas Mermaid – Sophie Beresford on screen at ATA, San Francisco

Artists’ Television Access – or ATA is it’s better known – is based in the Mission District of San Francisco, a popular area that is seeing a lot of regeneration and gentrification. The development of the area, the increase in new bars, and the loss of the old neighbourhood comes up frequently in conversations with ATA staff and visitors. ATA’s programmer, Fara Akrami, mentions the change in the area several times, saying much of the character and culture has gone, with rising rents, techies and posh shops taking their place.

It comes as no surprise that ATA is seen as a bastion of cultural hope; it sits on Valencia St, now surrounded by bars and stores that you obviously need cash to visit. ATA sparkles with bright artists’ video on screens in its window, filtered orange, they crackle onto the street. ATA is volunteer run, much like Star and Shadow in Newcastle, or The Cube in Bristol; it is obviously run with passion and love for the alternative culture it nurtures.

The ATA audience is lively, talkative and engaging; most of the audience is made up of volunteers for the space; Fara insists this is the most volunteers that have attended a screening. It seems to go well, there’s a mixed response at the end, some cool responses, but some positive ones. I did get a great question asking if all films like this in the UK are of such great quality, and was told it’s not often that the whole of a film programme is of such a high standard for all the films.

Fara and I talked before the screening, he had several recommendations to check out in San Francisco: San Francisco Cinematheque, which has a prolific programme, including an experimental programme called Crossroads; Pacific Film Archive at University of California, Berkeley shows lots of international film programmes and themed programmes of artists’ film and other cinema; Other Cinema programme, which takes place at ATA, curated by Craig Baldwin; SF Exploratorium has a screening room showing expanded cinema and docs; Black Hole Cinematheque in City of Oakland; and Shapeshifters Cinema, Oakland, showing a monthly programme of expanded cinema.

Now, we move on to Phoenix for Selected with No Festival Required.

25/04/14

 

 

Seattle, traditional audiences and artists’ film…

Miracle Methods by Frances Scott on screen at SIFF

Miracle Methods by Frances Scott on screen at SIFF

Sophie Beresford stretches half-naked on screen to seemingly consider the next act in her film ‘Making Adidas Mermaid’, one of over 50 similar films she made in one day. Adding to the soundtrack is a deep sigh from the back of the theatre, along with a few chuckles. I’m in the company of a traditional film audience, it feels tense and awkward, especially having convinced several of the people waiting outside the cinema to join in watching the films.

At the end of the screening I talk to a couple of the people who came and they ask me why I decided to show the films in a cinema rather than a gallery. Not the first time I’ve been asked this; I don’t believe artists’ film should sit only in a gallery, I think the showing of a film, especially something as rich and heart-suspending as Naheed Raza’s ‘Silk‘, should take place in a cinema, where it can exist gloriously. And artists’ film is not just a gallery experience, artists’ films are to be experienced, from beginning to end, rather than walked past and glimpsed at, which often happens in a(n) (unsympathetic) gallery setting. The Seattle audience (for this screening) is small and conservative, and I had suspected that might be the case, but it’s still a bash at my / videoclub‘s confidence. Especially when I know this programme is so excellent.

San Francisco is next. I have great faith in Artists’ Television Access and the San Francisco audience; Ruth Jarman from Semiconductor sang their praises so well when I mentioned I was going there. I’m also excited to hear what artists they’ll propose for the UK tour of StateLand, a programme of new work from the States videoclub will be curating and touring in the UK in October 14.

Clinton McClung from SIFF, who has been so super in helping making this tour happen, recommended a few filmmakers I should take a look at, including Karl Lind, Janice Findley and Kelly Sears, who Clinton described as an ‘Experimental Filmmaker and curator with great connections and taste.’

I would also recommend Northwest Film Forum for showing experimental work, and great for Capitol Hill and Seattle University audiences.

And now, San Francisco.

 

Moving image, Northwest Film Center, Portland

Arrastre by Nicholas Brooks on screen at Northwest Film Centre, Portland

Arrastre by Nicholas Brooks on screen at Northwest Film Centre, Portland

Portland was a joy. The guys at Northwest Film Center are such a wonderfully friendly and generous group of professionals. I really enjoyed the experience of working with them.

Before the screening I had coffee with Morgen Ruff, one of the Northwest Film Center team, and we spoke about the moving image infrastructure and artists in the city. There’s the Experimental Film Festival that takes place in Portland, which shows varied experimental works by artists and traditional filmmakers. Apparently both Pacific Northwest College of Art and Portland State University have great programmes for film and interdisciplinary practice, a good place to promote to for audiences – as I keep getting told, spring break’s not a great time for showing films, watch out for the student holidays next time.

40 Frames in Portland is a great place to get any restoration / conservation work done for film. Also, the Cinema Project in Portland does a roving curated programme of films, taking place in various venues, another really good potential collaborator. Morgen also recommended I contact filmmaker Jessie Malmed to get a better idea of the infrastructure in Chicago.

Seeing the Selected 3 programme on a big screen in the States was truly happy making; I didn’t get a lot of feedback at the end of the screening, but the few people who engaged with me said they loved the programme. I’m going to make sure I promote the screening better through all my contacts over here, including using the Art House Convergence Google Group. (Apparently there is some essential etiquette for posting up on here, which I am hoping to learn about shortly, I will post up details in a later blogpost.)

Next, Seattle.