Alexander Hetherington's practice the Modern Edinburgh Film School is one of great intrigue. It is a practice that not only draws on traditional modes of artistic creation such as production, but one that also explores what can be considered more ephemeral notions of practice. The Modern Edinburgh Film School comprises of curation, collaborative projects, writing, publication and discussion. To date the Modern Edinburgh Film School has over has worked with a variety of great arts institutions such as the CCA, GoMA, Embassy, the Cooper Gallery Dundee and the Talbot Rice Gallery to name but a few. This week we spoke to Alex about practice, film and what has driven the Modern Edinburgh Film School.
DISPATCH: Whilst you engage with a variety of artistic practice your primary focus is the moving image. What drew you to film?
AH: It is the experience of film and moving image that draws me in and is a vocabulary I would want to work with and be involved in; the bringing of materials, subjects and ideas to the screen and the evocations, ideas and thoughts in its moments and durations, in its experiences and unfolding, its ephemeral nature, precariousness, its collages of ambiguity and contradictions, flows, rhythms, evidence of thought, its natural discourse with performance and live art and its sculptural heredity. I am interested in how moving image can interrupt or fracture time, its rejection of the present tense. I am unbelievably interested in how artists come to their subjects, their focus on a particular theme or person, or set of materials, like Glasgow-based Anne-Marie Copestake’s two-part film on the artist Margaret Benyon; in the film Copestake draws into Benyon’s pioneering work in holography and writes beside it thoughts and ideas on perception of the image, image as a solid, image as a physical substance, image as sound and duration, image as precarious form, how it retains, refracts, its illusions, image as pure movement, image as a restless species. I think there is such generosity here, in Copestake’s work, and in similar artists’ work, the conscious flow of ideas, edits, a sense of her eye and camera, a sense of experiencing of consciousness, improvisation, she lets the moment breathe, of the eye connected to the physical. This is found so often in much of the work that I am draw to in moving image. It can be equally seen in works by Karen Cunningham, Zoë Fothergill, Elín Jakóbsdottir, Mairi Lafferty, Lyndsay Mann, Georgie Grace, Allison Gibbs, Catherine Street, Annabel Nicolson, et al.
DISPATCH: Can you tell us a little about your practice and what drives it?
AH: The grounding of my practice is a space of discussion, that film, its production and experience is linked together by talking, and those discussion then informs writing and that writing shapes the space of presentations, like screenings or public talks, which then forms the publications. These paper forms generate inspection, a closer drawing in; acts of seeing, reading, thinking, the moving image and sculptural forms inhabit for a time the same gesture or place. Film can be distributed as a form, as a written work and as a space; as well as a memory; the publication are echoes and beginnings. I have had wonderful long-term conversations with artists about their works and projects, often at interesting junctures in their practice. And I think they see me as an artist and that enfolding artist. curator, writer, producer thing that I do, that prism of approaches and experience enables a space to be inhabited by both, bringing together ideas. This part of the projects, these discussions and emails, is very intangible, grows within the moment and hopefully can be multiplied or amplified enough to reach audiences, be expressed and become a kind of material in its own right. I sense I have a kind of palette of interests in artists practices, more often than not they also work with sculpture, performance, uses of the voice, and the page, most also write. So reading, seeing, editing, speaking, material, presence, volume and dimension that criss-cross with subject matter, process and observation; how certain artists draw you into the spaces of the screen, becoming transmitted into the screen. Those kinds of ideas. The space between you and the screen, the thoughts, occurrences apparent in it, synchronizing with other things. I like that happening, with things overlapping, when they line up, form shapes in their close proximities, point to each other, things that be seen through each other, film and moving image having broader sensory effects. Film as the subject of collage.
DISPATCH: What moving image works have been most influential to your practice?
AH: There exists a number of ‘corner stone’ works influencing my practice which have shaped my approach to the screen, curating and writing, and I would wish to include performance and live art as a sister-form to moving image, that have also made an indelible mark on my conscious and unconscious reading of film and moving image. These would include The Wooster Group’s House/Lighs (1999), early works by Forced Entertainment, like Emmanuelle Enchanted (1992) and Club of No Regrets (1993), while two works by Catherine Sullivan, The Chittendens (2005) and Triangle of Need (2007) feature prominently in my understanding of a great deal of film and moving image, its complexity, and the bringing together of layers of material and sources. But bodies of work by artists intrigue me a great deal and following artists trajectories as they develop and change is something that stays with me, so artists like Daria Martin, Rosalind Nashashibi, Ursula Mayer, Rachael Reupke, Chantal Ackerman, Anne Colvin, Sarah Forrest, Ellen Cantor and Anna Lucas form a kind of foundation of reading and seeing, comparing and drawing in. And still to one side influencing my reading of film are artists like Lauren Gault, Trisha Donnelly, Guy de Cointet and Carol Bove; therein I see parities of subject, material, space, time and entrance. Recently I have become more and more influenced by works and in particular the writing of Tacita Dean and a growing love for the cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. And after seeing a new performance by Katrina Palmer at Tramway this year, her bringing together of writing, experience, literature, presentation, sound, shifting time, narration and voice (live, quoting, the supernatural) further influences my work and ideas. I should like to know more about the films of Moyra Davey and her practice is something I hope to have time to look more closely at.
DISPATCH: Your involvement in the GOMA exhibition Ripples on the Pond earlier this year explicitly demonstrated your interest in the work of female artists. How do you think feminism influences the work you do?
AH: Modern Edinburgh Film School has been described as a feminist practice in that is ‘generative and generous’. I have a very strong affinity with feminism and the practices of female artists and I think that is about approaches to work, about self-organising, about forms of collaboration, and from my review of ‘Of Other Spaces: Where does Gesture become event?’ at Cooper Gallery, ‘Hannah Arendt’s political theories on ‘Action, Power and The Space of Appearance’… on contemporary feminist visual art practices is grounded in notions of “organising… acting and speaking together, the sharing of words and deeds.”’ I think it is also about approaches to the subject, texts/references and materials, and what the art critic and curator Lucy Lippard described as ‘grids’ of feminist practices. I have an affinity for works where the subject is expanded, is porous, its boundaries are slackened, the intellect and consciousness are apparent, it re-describes or redraws supposed truths, defines its own terms, facilitates its own terms, and also something about its activism and politics. This is most often found in works by feminist and queer artists and I am interested in spaces where these might overlap or convene. I hope Modern Edinburgh Film School is a genderless title and its naming can allow more than one presence to occupy it.
DISPATCH: What’s your favourite exhibition to have been involved in (and why)?
AH: I have worked in public exhibitions formally since 1999 (writing on, curating, organising), but my experience of being involved in exhibitions extends further back to shows in 1990, at the Ikon Gallery, at Third Eye Centre and the early years of CCA for example so I have a great deal to draw upon, but as a mature artist (given to see things as an artist, as a curator, writer, to draw back onto my experiences but sense that can live now and be relevant now, to understand things consciously with a multiple eye, to read things simultaneously in different ways) and to look at exhibitions I have initiated and then to exhibitions I have been invited to be involved in. That then would be Lauren Gault’s Granular and Crumb for ESW in 2013 that I initiated with Lauren as part of the first year of Modern Edinburgh Film School and for me represents the best ‘flow’ of a project from my getting to know Lauren’s work to conversations about a new exhibition to its production to writing on it and to its presentation and reception, and that working project will stay with me for because it also represented that what I anticipated, as a way of approach and working, to find the right conditions for a work, and my way of working, could be achieved. Likewise working on Ripples on the Pond with curator Katie Bruce was so magical and astonishing, and working with all the artists on the screening events and their unflinching belief in me and our ability to extend the work out of the gallery so it might mimic the ecologies of the artists we wished to present in the show. To make the gallery an unstable space. The sense of Modern Edinburgh Film School as a chorus and quite subversively working around the conditions of museums and collections, to inhabit multiple spaces, to allow things to leave the gallery, to return film to works on paper.
DISPATCH: What’s your favourite moving image work of the 2016 (and why)?
AH: I would like to mention, among many, and here obviously works that would be have been made available this year: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour (2015), Rosalind Nashashibi’s Electrical Gaza (2015) and Katrina Palmer’s The Great Idea of the Higher Horsemanship (2016). And for each their capacity to hold in the moment a multiplicity of place, identity, time, visual and imaginary sense, porous lines, permeable, something of itself, but outside of itself, folding inward and outward; the sleeping soldier inhabiting/possessing the medium taking the woman round the cemetery/palace: here, then and now, describing these past places with only words and gestures; the animated sequences in Electica Gaza like cover versions of incidental moments, of places and situated being over-saturated by reality, the sequences of washing horses in the ocean, things out of time, out of their condition; and Palmer’s story of acrobat Susannah Darby suspended in space and centrifugal forces and the multiple attempts, across time, to save her life before she falls aligned to a meditation on serendipity and encounter. I like how Palmer fuses narrative structures together, clasping them together and letting them be read together. I would also like to mention Katy Dove’s exhibition of animation-based video and works on paper and canvas at the DCA in Dundee which closed in late November 2016 and would like to mention Holly Antrum’s film Catalogue (2012-2014) curated by Peter Amoore presented in 2016 at ESW.
DISPATCH: And finally . . . what are your future plans for the Modern Edinburgh Film School?
AH: Modern Edinburgh Film School is involved in phase two of the CURRENT project at Cooper Gallery DJCAD in Dundee to present contemporary art and moving image works from Scotland in museums in Shanghai in China. I have been involved in the curatorial discussions that will bring works by 24 artists from Scotland for presentation in China over an evolving four-week programme. I am using this opportunity to kind of rupture Modern Edinburgh Film School as a project, this will be its last work in this form, so far has it come from its point of origin. I wish to develop new ways of working through a reflective period of how my projects unfolds and to engage with people’s and artists’ interests in it; I have to say very few people express an interest in it and I wish to remain productive, so would like to foster new relationships and build upon relationships with artists I already work with. It has become defined in a way sometimes I am uncomfortable with. I think the starting point will be writing, experimental writing and evolve from that point, I will always work under titles, allowing a title to take the foreground, and will work precariously with new international audiences with my methods, and sensing again with Trump and Brexit, like austerity before them, to find ways to expand rather than inhibit or close off the self.
For more information on the Modern Edinburgh Film School see here: http://alexhetherington.tumblr.com/
All images courtesy of the artist.