Interview with David Curtis

This interview was recorded by Michael Mazière to provide background to the paper INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT FOR ARTISTS' FILM AND VIDEO IN ENGLAND 1966 - 2003 for the British Artists' Film and Video Study Collection. It has been tidied-up but not edited. It may not be quoted without the interviewee's permission. To seek this contact info@studycollection.org.uk

MM: I’ll give you the standard question – can you tell me what your involvement has been with funding artists film and video and experimental film over the years – the most general question.

DC: That is a huge question!

MM: I mean if you build up from what drove you to it.

DC: Well, in a way you have to go back further because my involvement in showing artists film and video began at the UFO Club and the Arts Lab – I showed avant-garde films within the kind of light-show context. Bob Cobbing was showing underground films at Better Books. It was the beginnings of the Co-op at that time. I really got involved in the Drury Lane Arts Lab.

MM: It was one of the bodies that formed the Co-op?

DC: No it wasn’t – the Co-op was set up in 66 – look at Marc Webber’s chronology of that period to get it exactly right. But the Arts Lab in Drury Lane was one of the venues were the Co-op showed. I was programming seven nights a week in the cinema there, mostly just whatever came our way – we did show Michael Snow’s Wavelength and showed work by Gregory Markopoulos. We got whatever was in distribution from local distributors, like the Kenneth Anger films.

MM: Underground films.

DC: Yes underground. We were the first place to show Warhol’s Chelsea Girls as a two screen film. (Derek Hill had shown it earlier as a one screen film)

DC: That was one of our things that made money basically. But the Arts Lab had no funding from anyone at all. We applied to the Arts Council to get some money for the Arts Lab which was running a theatre, gallery, bookshop, poetry performances – all sorts of things. We applied to the drama panel of the Arts Council but had no joy.


MM: So it didn’t fit into any category.


DC: It didn’t fit into any category. So my first involvement with the Arts Council was when in something like 1969 – about the time that I actually left Drury Lane Arts Lab and was beginning to work on setting up the Robert Street Arts Lab which was the second one – the Arts Council approached me and asked if I would sit on the New Activities Committee, which was a committee set up with people from all sorts of different organisations to look at new activities. I mean the history is so funny in a way because in 2002 here’s London kind looking at ways of funding avant-garde film – I mean what is it?, where does it fit in? – nothing ever changes.


MM: So was the New Activities mainly around that kind of culture or was it broader – performance.


DC: It was broader – it was all the things that didn’t fit into a proper theatre, a proper cinema. Because there were a lot of things like the People Show starting up at that time and poetry readings had become a big thing. So the New Activities Committee was chaired by Michael Astor who was David Astor’s brother – all the great and good and all sorts of extraordinary people. Anyway, fundamentally it did remarkably little. So, even when we opened the second Arts Lab in Robert Street and we applied to the Arts Council there was no funding – we got a little funding for the theatre but we got no funding for the cinema.


MM: You were on the committee by then?


DC: I was on the [New Activities] committee - I then resigned from the committee because it was ridiculous - nothing was happening. But eventually they began to think of ways of funding the Arts Labs – there were a whole lot of Arts Labs all over the place by then – Birmingham, Brighton – there was a big movement to set up arts laboratories. The cinema at the second Arts Lab got no support. At the second Arts Lab, Malcolm established a film co-op workshop – that’s where the workshop really started off – it had existed in the Drury Lane Arts Lab but basically it had a space in the Robert Street Arts Lab. The Co-op had its office in Robert Street Arts Lab – it was the first permanent base. The relationship was in place with Carla Liss, who was the first paid worker at the Co-op; the American films came over at that time - a collection that had toured around Europe with P. Adams Sitney came into the Co-op – into distribution, and that was kind of the first big money-making collection of films. And I think under Malcolm the Co-op started petitioning the BFI about funding.


MM: Where were you at that time?


DC: Well, I was running the cinema at the Robert Street Arts Lab from 1969 to 1971 and again we ran three programs a night seven days a week then and it was a very remarkable program that we did. It was almost entirely avant-garde – we did occasional classic features as late night features but apart from that it was simply avant-garde programming without any subsidy at all.


MM: So we’re now in 1971 and you’re still programming at Drury Lane – Robert Street


DC: And Malcolm is petitioning the BFI for funding and it doesn’t work – I mean we don’t get any funding at all. We got some private finance which is how some equipment was bought. So in 1972 Rodney Wilson joins the Arts Council and the Attenborough Committee was discussing what to do about artists film and video - the BFI and the Arts Council are having a spat about who should look after it. The BFI had already given grants as early as 1968, so truthfully the BFI got into funding the avant-garde before the Arts Council.


MM: I know an odd work which Tony Sinden made with David Hall.


DC: There’s an even odder one which was a psychedelic monstrosity – naked ladies in swamps and psychedelia. But it was very much haphazard funding. And the setting up of the Artists Film and Video Committee at the Arts Council suddenly meant that there was a proper route for funding artists film and video, and I joined that committee in 1973. The sub-committee came into being in 1973 and but you couldn’t be a member of that without also being a member of the main [arts documentaries] committee, so I joined both basically. So that’s when the funding happened properly at the Arts Council. Prior to that they had funded one or two things like Derek Boshier’s Link – films by fine artists usually made as records of sculpture. But I think that their first experimental stuff that we would recognise as artists’ film and video happened around 1972. So that’s how I got involved in funding.


MM: So you were just on the committee?


DC: I was just on the committee until 1977.


MM: You weren’t employed by the Arts Council? And that was from which year?


DC: From 1973 to 1977.


MM: And what else were you doing then? Were you working as an artist as well?


DC: No I was teaching painting at Birmingham. No that’s not true – I was teaching at Birmingham 1965-66 – [from 72-77] I was teaching film and at Croydon College of Art and teaching architecture and architectural history and stuff like that at John Cass School of Art.


MM: So your involvement with funding was purely through the committee as someone who had programmed and supported that work and you’d written a book.


DC: That’s true – [Experimental Cinema] came out in 1971, so I must have written it in 1969-70. I did – I remember I was working at the Arts Lab when I went to America to look at films – I was there for two weeks. And I did all sorts of things in the gap between the two Arts Labs – I worked for Derek Hill at the New Cinema Club and programmed stuff there, and then I worked for Jimmy Vaughn who was [Warhol and Anger’s] distributor – I did commercial stuff and programming.


MM: At that time when you were on the committee, were the decisions that were being made around funding individual artists or was there policy development or any support for organisations?


DC: It was very much support for artists – that committee was in the visual arts department and this was just another way of supporting artists like photographers. The question of institutional support did come up and events were supported – if you look in their list of things that were supported they had the Gallery House exhibition in 1975 – [A Survey of the Avant-Garde in Britain]- a really important avant-garde milestone in kind of looking at British avant-garde painting, sculpture, performance, film – that was given support by the Arts Council – a rare event.


MM: There was no support for running costs?


DC: [ ].


MM: But not for film. In terms of support for film in that period, support that was received was mainly grants for artists later on in that period and the organisations were basically scraping money together to keep themselves or finding ways of earning income by showing cult films.


DC: It was interesting that at the Arts Lab the notion of being independent and apart from the cultural establishment was very important, and yet I think that Jim Haines always believed in the value of chatting up Jenny Lee, who was the Minister of Culture and who came to the Arts Lab. She talked about giving the Arts Lab a building on the Mall right next to what was to become the ICA – the ICA was just opening at that time - but at the other end, where the British Council has their very bland modern office block; was a very beautiful old building and she talked about that being a possible location for the Arts Lab. And Jim had those sorts of connections so he sort of played it both ways – he wanted both the independence and patronage, I guess.


MM: So the support for the artists was through the culture of the Co-op and the organisations around it. And so at what point did you start working at the Arts Council?


DC: From 1977 – well no I’d done one or two things before. Two things I worked on [as a freelancer] before formally joining the Arts Council – one was the Filmmakers on Tour scheme which started just about the time I joined the Arts Council, and was something which he and I cooked up together, and the kind of mechanics of it was something which I worked out. The other was the early avant-garde programs and the experimental animation collection that were included in the Art Film Tour. The Film Tour was this bizarre thing which the Arts Council did which essentially came out of its funding of documentaries, that every year it included the new documentaries that had been funded for that year, which were toured around physically.


MM: Yes because there’s an income figure for those against production costs that appears every year.


DC: Yes the BFI were distributors of everything that the Arts Council funded up until I can’t quite remember when – for a quite a long period of time until the early 80s, but the Film Tour was this kind of direct provision -as the Arts Council called it - where there were these three vans that toured England, Scotland and Wales for four or five months a year going to village halls, schools, colleges, wherever with a program and catalogue. And the institutions would write in to the Arts Council and say what they wanted to be shown this year and the Arts Council would agree dates.


MM: So did they have a projector?


DC: Yes with a projector, screen and a stack of film cans – kings of the road! Three little old men with their vans scheduled by Pat Dawson – wonderful patriarchal provision that determined what documentaries were worthy of being shown. And Rodney used to buy usually American avant-garde work like Pat O’Neil and Scott Bartlett and the Whitney brothers and things like that, and include one or two of these alongside the documentaries as a kind of light relief. So I recommended a whole list of stuff to be bought by the Arts Council - which were early avant-garde work by Richter, Ruttman, Eggeling, Leger, Man Ray films - and they went out and brought the whole lot, as well as experimental animation by Harry Smith. And that was the first kind of big job that I did. In a way that provided a link to what I did when I joined the Arts Council. The job that was advertised was to be assistant to Rodney and to organise the film tour and buy work for the film tour and to get the artists work funded. And my pitch to them was that you could do more than that – you could organise exhibitions – you were in the art department that runs the Hayward and Serpentine - so you should be doing exhibitions of artists films and you could do touring programs of artists film and so – that was my pitch. And so that is what I did – we got Mark Nash to curate programs of American artists and video. Later there were discussions at the Co-op about whether the Arts Council ought to be doing exhibition provision but it certainly was something that I was very keen on doing. Actually the other thing I did with Rodney immediately after I got there was 'Perspectives on British Avant-garde Film' for the Hayward. That was a kind of quick exhibition that filled in a gap in the Hayward schedule and they built a little cinema in there which showed films pretty much continuously – there was merging of international and British work.


MM: At that point you were working with a lot of exhibition programs, was there a specific artists film and video fund or was it part of a general pot?


DC: It was all part of a visual art budget, but there were specific funds for documentaries, and after the Attenborough Committee there were specific funds for artists videos – about £20,000 pa initially.


MM: And that started in 1974 – well 1973 is when the report came out – I’ve got the figures anyway.


DC: I suspect that [cost of ] the exhibitions - well certainly for anything happening at the Hayward - would simply come out of the visual arts department exhibitions budget, but we then started putting in proposals for different touring exhibitions. And I’d have to look at the papers to see what actually happened first and so on – but that all came out of artists’ film budget.


MM: So what was your priority – there was already a fund for artists for experimental films – was you priority to get the stuff out, to support more exhibition work – apart from obviously working with Rodney?


DC: Rodney was responsible for the Artists Film and Video Committee – not me in those early days; so I simply did what I was told in one sense. But I suppose that my personal agenda was to drive exhibition – partly in the wake of the video show at the Serpentine which was in 1975.


MM: By then video had placed itself in the gallery – it had a space more than experimental film in that way.


DC: I wonder even then whether I was that bothered by the difference between video and film – I mean video seemed to kind of naturally occupy a gallery space because of its particular take on duration and all the rest of it. But obviously there weren’t video projectors [at that time].


MM: But what I was wondering at that point, was given that there was production, there was some exhibition strategies – was there any kind of demand for support from the organisations that were coming to the Arts Council.


DC: I mean the Co-op did petition the Arts Council from time to time and the Arts Council did give it little bits of money for equipment – I can’t tell you when and where but there were bits of equipment that were funded by the Arts Council.


MM: But not revenue.


DC: No. I think that by the time I got to the Arts Council the BFI was already revenue funding the Co-op so in one sense that relationship had already set up. And I say I think it was really important that Malcolm always believed that BFI was the organisation to be supporting this whole area. I mean he was quite consistent about that.


MM: So his position was really in opposition with what had come out of that before because he then went on to lobby and be part of the Board.


DC: And I mean it would be really interesting to find out if Malcolm actually knew about the Attenborough report – I mean it wasn’t a really high profile thing – it was a war between bureaucrats and that was the resolution of this. I doubt whether the great public out there noticed that this had happened at all – simply a code of conduct between two public bodies really that was established by that time. Malcolm and I both knew Willy Colestream from the Slade, who was chairman of the BFI at that time and sitting on the Arts Council board in a way that these things happen, but he was basically BFI chairman for quite a long time before. He and I actually went to see Willy Coldstream at the time of the Arts Lab to see what should be done about this. That relationship kind of held Malcolm into a belief that the BFI was the correct source.


MM: It was the correct source to fund the Film Co-op as an organisation but not in relation to later issues about whether it was the correct source to fund individual artists or whether those models apply because Malcolm now said that some of the feature work was funded by BFI wasn’t the most successful period for that work.


DC: Is he talking about himself?


MM: Well himself yes but not just himself – others too because the work suffered because of the production process of film.


DC: Both the BFI and the Arts Council set up funding in a model where they – the funder - owned the copyright to the work – so it wasn’t like funding. In terms of the Arts Council, the way it supported film was unlike its support of other artists – where they basically just funded the artists on the basis of supporting the work. [ ] And actually, one of the historic struggles of the avant-garde with the BFI was precisely to try and challenge that model of ownership.


MM: But did that model change in the Arts Council?


DC: Yes it did – I can’t remember exactly when it did, but I remember that when I took over responsibility for the committee, the copyright now remained with the artist. And one of the things that we did in particular with TV, was to be very emphatic that the copyright should remain with the artist – which in TV practice is quite unusual.


MM: There was the Arts Council funding with the sub-committee funding individual artists, and then there was the BFI giving fund revenue to the Film Co-op, and there was a number of exhibition schemes including Filmmakers On Tour at that point. What was the interest from yourself or the Arts Council in Channel 4 – when Channel 4 started being talked about in the late 70s? – was television seen, in any way, in terms of a new sort of funding?


DC: I think that at the time the IFA were arguing for an independent fourth channel, the Arts Council wasn’t remotely interested in television.


MM: Not even Rodney?


DC: I don’t think so. I mean in one sense you could say we were smug in the sense that there was a sort of [section missing]


DC: so shall we talk about LVA for a second?


MM: Yes


DC: You know it fairly well – when did LVA get started?


MM: 1976


DC: So that’s before I worked at the Council – I must have been simply at the committee. There were a lot of arguments – David Hall was there – there were arguments about the need for specific funding for video and Malcolm at that time was busy advising BFI about this new medium video and all the rest of it. But David Hall, because of where he came from, was emphatic that this was something that the Arts Council should be doing. And really through the force of his personality he persuaded the Arts Council that they needed to do something for video. Therefore I think we first funded some equipment and the possibly the first catalogue and then some revenue funding.


MM: There is no question that BFI was involved in that – LVA was well located in the Arts Council.


DC: Later I think the LVA smartly recognised that the GLC was a source of funding.


MM: And the Co-op also got some money out of the heyday of the GLC.


DC: But LVA was quicker and smarter!


MM: They had fewer decision-making processes to go through!


DC: And then there was a kind of interesting ideological struggle about the representation of women which was where Lis Rhodes was absolutely the person who took this forward. And the Artists Film and Video Committee was certainly the first committee at the Arts Council to look at the representation of women.


MM: And she was on that.


DC: She was on that for quite a while and she was the kind of bridge to GLC because she was on the Women’s Committee at the GLC – she was there at the same time as she was also programming the Co-op space.


MM: Was there any other significant moment of institutional support – do things that we’ve outlined which were in place kind of carry on? The Umbrella was set up.


DC: The Umbrella came out of the direct provision of exhibitions by the [Arts Council] department. Basically the Umbrella happened initially with the Arts Council doing all the administration and Mike O’Pray doing all the programming. And that came out of the work I’d been doing in terms of programming, but it was clear that I couldn’t do all that needed to be done.


MM: Was there a tension between the control of exhibitions – between being in the hands of the filmmakers and the Film Co-op, and then slowly moving towards being in the hands of the institutions, and then setting up something like the Umbrella which was specifically packaging the work? On the one hand, it feels like there was some frustration on the part of the funders that maybe the artists were doing a bit of botched job of it?


DC: I mean artists weren’t doing it fundamentally. They were programming their own spaces, but they weren’t touring; and avant-garde films need to be seen outside London and a few regional centres.


MM: So it was a touring aspect?


DC: It was a touring aspect basically and that was something that the Arts Council and arts department was very set up to do at that time. It was - if you remember -programming at the Serpentine and Hayward Gallery – it was all done in our offices so it was an obvious model to build on.


MM: And the Umbrella was built on this model?


DC: I lifted the notion and the title of the Umbrella from the Dance Umbrella. I remember going to meetings at the Co-op, after I joined the Arts Council, where there were quite hostile responses to the fact that the Arts Council was muscling in on this area.


MM: But also there was a period of incredible conflict at the Co-op around the early 80s. I mean I have some general questions around institutional support but maybe we could keep this for the end and talk a bit about television and how that came up as a possibility and how successful you feel it was.


DC: Certainly the first involvement with television the Arts Council had was with or via John Wyver, whose Ghosts in the Machine was the first one [of the first showcases for artists’ work] at the beginning of Channel 4, and was criticised by everybody in the avant-garde area in Britain as being American.


MM: John had gone to California and come back to all this stuff.


DC: Not from a position of ignorance – it was really good stuff. But Rodney and I talked to him about the possibility of funding a British commissioned element of 11 pieces for the second series. Then there was a key moment somewhere in the mid 80s when the visual arts department budget was cut by 30% and Rodney to his credit protected the artist film and video area from cuts.


MM: But that would have left money for artists production but not for much for exhibition.


DC: A L Rees was [on the committee and] my chief confidant at that time, and I remember he and I went to see a film at the Hampstead Everyman and strode around afterwards and talked about how on earth we were going to find more money for the committee. And we agreed that this was the time to grasp the nettle of television. Rod Stoneman was already at Channel 4 and in essence within a month or two we had the grounds for what became the 11th Hour Awards, which was the beginning of it.


MM: Which then became Experimenta.


DC: It became Experimenta [and appeared on screen as Midnight Underground and The Dazzling Image].


MM: Well I mean the good thing about that was that there was no editorial control beyond Channel 4 – they could either take your work or leave it.


DC: Yes that’s right - the basic principles were that the Channel would be involved in selection – they could be outvoted - but the Channel obviously had the ultimate sanction in that it could choose to transmit the work or not.


MM: But the work had been made.


MM: Was the motivation partly financial but partly also to reach a bigger audience?


DC: Yes absolutely – I’ve never been embarrassed by that in the slightest. I’ve always been a believer that artists film and video has been held back by the fact that no one gets to see it, not because there isn’t an audience for it. The problem is that it’s a medium that’s very difficult to distribute so people can’t get their hands on it – unlike books and pictures.


MM: There’s a whole other discussion around context and the way in which people consume – where I think that the DVD format - more like a book - would be more suitable to purchase. I know that some other artists felt the same – that their work came on at midnight and there were maybe some half a million viewers.


DC: But amongst those half a million viewers there were Mark Webber and others for whom it’s been a life transforming moment.


MM: Yes right.


DC: It’s difficult for artists to grasp the importance of that - but it is a vitally important thing I feel that the artists work gets seen by more people.


MM: Well initially it was hailed as the first thing that John Wyver did, but do you think that despite the fact that it didn’t get a lot of press, it still reached the people who would not have usually been reached. I mean I’ve always thought from an artist’s point of view that it gave people money to make work that they would eventually take to other contexts.


DC: All that said, I would be the first person to admit that not everyone’s work is suitable for television. Peter Gidal never got funded for television – you know, he occasionally applied but he never got funded.


MM: And there’s a problem of looking at it.


DC: I was just watching something [by Gidal] and thinking, it looks fine on TV, but you wouldn’t get an audience of more than twenty.


MM: A much more interesting question I think is how much, in a sense, did the context of television distort some artists.


DC: Well I think that’s a much harder one to talk about. Artists make work for a context. I remember one of our battles at rough cut viewings involving Beban and Horvatic, and Rod and I said "You haven’t thought about the television audience" and they said "No we haven’t – we’re not remotely interested in the television audience". And that kind of thing is a problem.


MM: And that is a massive problem – a massive issue not necessarily a problem.


DC: Well, for me that’s not a problem. For me, in one sense, it meant that there was a mismatch there. I remember [?xx]– that may have been one of the films that Rod declined to show, and that could have jeopardised the scheme if an awful lot of artists had adopted that attitude. I think quite a lot of artists made rather mediocre work for television and I suspect that, in a sense, [self-censorship] had something to do with that, or perhaps their inexperience in dealing with the television [context?] . You could say that the Arts Council also funded a lot of work which in other circumstances it wouldn’t have funded, whether that’s a kind of lowering of standards I don’t know. For example, Annie Griffin made work which worked wonderfully on TV but which I don’t think that the Artists Film and Video Committee would have funded in another context. I mean the Performance Art Committee might have done but the Artists Film and Video Committee wouldn’t have done because it wasn’t radical in terms of the language or anything else.


MM: Was it also because there was still a notion of popularism – it wasn’t like Irit Batsry being funded say by Arte where they’re definitely funding something difficult – something for a different kind of audience – a small audience. There was still a populist agenda within it.


DC: The populist agenda was [part of ] Channel 4, and that’s the difference between Channel 4 and Arte. And we can lament the fact that Britain has never subscribed to Arte and has never to become part of that. Just to conclude on television, I think that it was really interesting experiment to do – I have absolutely no regret for that at all. I mean Peter Gidal rings me up to say ‘You must admit your mission to popularise the avant-garde and get it onto television was a total failure?’, I said ‘No it wasn’t – it did a lot of good.’ I mean Midnight Underground did a fantastic amount of good.


MM: Some of the work are classics I think – some of the Daniel Reeves pieces and even some of the pieces by George Snow – have got something that bridges somehow the gap between commercialism and artists. And it’s a question also about artists engaging in the commercial sector. I mean it’s not necessarily a bad thing.


DC: In that file up there you’ll find stuff around the funding of animated productions. Keith Griffiths and I went to Clare Kidson in Channel 4 and proposed to her an animators’ scheme that produced some very good stuff. And then a television scheme which I did with Alex Graham at BBC2 [Expanding Pictures]. Again we did some wonderful stuff – that Gillian Wearing piece (Two Into One) which went out on that.


MM: So they were strategies that were twofold – one was to get money into the department to fund artists, and [the other] to get the work seen.


DC: Just incidentally we never diminished an existing production budget to work with television – it was always extra – we always managed to trawl in some extra money.


MM: Because there were always the bursaries, well the other schemes. So that ran through until the television one.


DC: Yes the animators one is still running.


MM: I know it’s still running successfully but the other part kind of went with Rod.


DC: Yes they did – the ending of the Midnight Underground/Experimenta thing was awful – a protracted decline under Stuart Cosgrove.


MM: But that was a whole turning point for Channel 4 – it was a whole other issue. So I don’t know if you want to carry on chronologically or if you want to maybe talk a bit about the positive and negative aspects of institutional support and what role institutions should take when they’re in a position of funding artists work. Because there’s obviously a question of power there – a question of whether there’s a moral dilemma involved in it, or whether funding is just a good thing.


DC: Well, I think you have to recognise that actually a lot of the best things that you’re involved in had absolutely no relationship to funding at all. And this is something which people, when they’re talking about funding don’t realise, that the Arts Council supported only a tiny fraction of [existing] avant-garde work. The majority of it was funded by artists themselves who, in a sense, were subsidised by their working in the colleges or wherever else. The majority of the avant-garde work is not funded by grants. All that said, one of the most important things that funding can do is support the exhibition and distribution of work - where you’re intervening on behalf of a very broad range of artists in the marketplace - to help those artists to get their work out and to get some money back.


MM: Yes - at the moment the problem for artists’ film and video is that if they’re not supported by a gallery, then they have to do a lot of their own promotional and exhibition work, especially now that the Lux has closed. Do you see that then as the area that would need development?


DC: Well, if you’re talking about now, it’s an interesting question to think about what the balance should be between supporting artist-run distribution, and encouraging other forms of distribution and exhibition. Artist-run things are wonderful at supporting emerging artists but artist-run organisations are pretty awful at supporting artists who are further down their career paths. And I think there’s a problem there for artists who are further down their career paths who are used to being supported by artist run organisations. What do they do? Do they try to sell themselves to the gallery system? Do they try to get agents to take them on and so on? I was forever encouraging artists to go and talk to galleries – I was also encouraging them to go to commercial producers – encouraging them to take someone on who could actually act as their agent. And in a sense, I think one of the big questions is whether the Arts Council should be doing more of that encouraging. This also applies to agencies who work on behalf of artists - like Artangel – moving image people – I did talk to Artangel at one stage. These artists’ agencies that do public art and that represent performance artists and others could represent senior filmmakers and video artists. I think that’s a really neglected area – the question of commercial promotion of film.


MM: It comes back to the notion of patronage.


DC: Well, it doesn’t in one sense, because it isn’t necessary that you have to live by selling your work as limited edition – there are other opportunities which an artist agency can create for you – they can find you commissions and do all sorts of other things which are ways in which artists can get supported. I think collectively that artists and organisations and the funders neglected to develop that area.


MM: But if artists working in film and video are going to find any kind of independence – financial independence – then they’re caught on one level between the idea of single copies of their work for the gallery market or limited editions or television.


DC: Well there are lots of artists who live by commissions you know.


MM: Yes and commissions.


DC: Well, it’s interesting, because for Andrew Stones, who I was talking to the other day, as an installation artist, the gallery is his showplace basically. But he has resolutely kept out of the commercial world but has succeeded in attracting commissions. He’s a public artist – he’s made single screen and multiple screen work and he looks to the public sector to find him commissions. He’s currently doing something with the Bradford Museum which is a big commission.


MM: I suppose I’m trying to get to the point of assessing what the best forms of funding are.


DC: Just to stick with commissioning, there’s also state purchasing which is something which is huge in France and has been since the beginning of the 19th century but this has been another kind of unprogressed battle here. The role of the National Collections in supporting artists by purchasing. The [rest of] the Visual Arts department’s policy for supporting individual artists, certainly from the mid 80s onwards, was to purchase their work. They have these – not exactly democratic – but nonetheless quite wide ranging selection committees who purchased work. You are appointed to be a selector for a year and given a budget and buy work for the Arts Council collection.


MM: But do they purchase film?


DC: They occasionally have but they haven’t appointed people as selectors who know about the area. They have bought a few things – I mean notoriously they bought a VHS by Gillian Wearing. But that is one way in which the state could be supporting regional artists in terms of artists’ film and video particularly.


MM: I mean that’s something I’m very keen to emphasise – this lack of a purchase collection.