Film and Video Umbrella is Britain’s premier commissioner of artists’ film and video. Based in London but working extensively throughout the country, the organisation is known for its projects with both established and emerging artists that cover the spectrum of contemporary moving image practice.
The City in the City was the first in a series of film and video programmes designed for the giant Art on the Underground screen at Canary Wharf station. Curated by Film and Video Umbrella, and featuring a number of pieces commissioned by the organisation over the previous decade, the programme examined how different versions of the city are folded in on each other, jostling for prominence like the disparate, overlapping communities that make up the capital.
Canary Wharf itself is very much a city-within-a-city: an architectural bastion and commercial powerhouse within the ever-shifting and expanding metropolis. It is also a place where thousands of people gather and congregate: in offices, in plazas, and in transport hubs. Against this backdrop of hubbub and movement, the selected pieces explore how individuals navigate and occupy urban space, and the increasingly blurry line between the public and the private. Surrounded by the ebb-and-flow of commuters, the programme considers the phenomenon of the crowd: as a humdrum fact of everyday urban existence, as a source of collective identity and belonging and as a possible force and agent of change.
Comparing the freedom and energy of life in the metropolis with its occasionally restrictive, predetermining realities, the selection of works also highlights previous dreams of urban living that continue to haunt the present. As well as existing works by Mark Lewis, Melanie Manchot, Dryden Goodwin and Suki Chan, the programme premieres a new video by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler – a short companion work to a larger project made in collaboration with the writer, China Miéville.
Canary Wharf Screen was an innovative motion-picture screening programme initiated by Art on the Underground. Presented on one of the capital’s largest public projection screens, the exciting seasonal programme presented leading contemporary and historical artists’ moving image for customers, staff and visitors free of charge.
Celebration (Cyprus Street), 2010
35mm/HD, 11′ 11″
Threading its way through the cheerful clamour of a street party in London’s East End, Celebration (Cyprus Street) consists of a long, stately travelling shot that starts and finishes at either end of the street, and which pivots on a central, durational group portrait of the residents. A microcosm of the architectural and demographic changes that have taken place in this part of the city, the piece is a reminder of the longstanding tradition of street gatherings, and their documentation on film.
Encompassing photography, ﬁlm and video, Melanie Manchot’s work explores portraiture as a performative and participatory practice. Solo exhibitions include Photographers’ Gallery and Whitechapel Gallery, London, Haus Am Waldsee, Berlin and Fabrica, Brighton. Manchot has also contributed to numerous group exhibitions, including the 52nd Venice Biennale and the first Moscow Biennale. Originally from Germany, she lives and works in London.
Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk, 2009
HD video, 21′ 48″
Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk is a twin-screen video work that intersperses lyrical time-lapse sequences of London at night with equally evocative portraits of the people who make it up. Part dreamscape, part personal testimony, the piece contrasts the seductive freedom of the city with the sometimes repetitive paths that we, as individuals, carve through it. From the eerily empty night-time streets around Canary Wharf, to the restless trails of motion and activity around what is now the Shard, Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk offers a vivid picture of the marks people make on the city, and the imprint it leaves on them.
Suki Chan was born in Hong Kong and currently lives and works in London. Her practice combines light, moving image and sound to conjure physical and psychological experiences of space – abstracting familiar materials and objects to create imaginary and uncanny narratives. Recent exhibitions include Museum of London and Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan.
video, 6′ 30″
Wandering the nocturnal streets of London’s Soho, Goodwin trains his camera on the lighted windows of offices, bars and restaurants, where people are sitting, immersed in everyday actions, or lost in a world of their own. Faces in the crowd, their unselfconscious demeanour exudes a powerful aura that draws Goodwin to them, as a photographer/film-maker, and as a fellow human being. Zooming in close, so close he can almost touch them, he manifests this urge to reach out and connect with the beam of a miniature laser pointer that plays gently over his subjects’ faces; until, as if crossing an invisible boundary, it acquires a more unsettling, even sinister edge.
Dryden Goodwin works across a number of media, including drawing, photography, animation and video. Recent solo exhibitions include Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg and Photographers’ Gallery, London. His work has featured at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and the Venice Biennale. His portrait work, ‘Linear’, was commissioned by Art on the Underground in 2010. He lives and works in London.
Children’s Games (Heygate Estate), 2002
35mm/HD, 7′ 29″
Children’s Games, Heygate Estate is an uninterrupted steadicam tracking shot, in which the camera traverses the distinctive above-ground walkway that bisects the soon to be demolished Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. This so-called ‘street in the sky’ was one of the distinguishing features of this abandoned and discredited example of postwar architectural Modernism, whose original Utopian vision fleetingly surfaces throughout the film in the form of children playing among the ‘ruins’ of the Estate.
Mark Lewis represented Canada at the 53rdVenice Biennale. A prolific maker of highly polished and meticulously executed film works, he has had solo exhibitions at BFI Gallery, London, Modern Art Oxford and FACT, Liverpool. Recent exhibitions include Jeu de Paume, Paris and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. He lives and works in London.
Karen Mirza & Brad Butler
Hold Your Ground, 2011
Hold Your Ground is a short companion piece to a larger film work by Mirza & Butler, scripted in conjunction with the author China Miéville. Inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, and triggered by the artists’ discovery in Cairo of a pamphlet of instructions for pro-democracy demonstrators to best present themselves to help get their argument across, the piece dissects the ‘semantics’ of the crowd. Moving from the semiotics of particular body language to the symbolic properties of the crowd as a ‘body’ of individuals, the piece brings a similarly incisive, anatomical eye to the signifiers of protest and collective assembly familiar from media representations of mass demonstrations.
Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s artistic practice is based on collaboration and dialogue. This manifests itself in a multi-layered practice of filmmaking, drawing, installation, photography, performance, publishing and curating. Working as a duo for well over a decade, they have participated in many exhibitions in Britain and abroad. Recent presentations include Arnolfini, Bristol and the Istanbul Biennale.