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
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
DC: From 1973 to 1977.
MM: And what else were you doing then? Were you working as an artist
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
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
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
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
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
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?
DC: You know it fairly well – when did LVA get started?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.