American conceptual artist Mary Kelly discusses how feminism informed her seminal work Post-Partum Document 1973-79 and the origins of her lint technique.
Mary Kelly arrived in London as a student at a time when the public began to protest contentious political issues like gender equality and the Vietnam War. She became involved in the early women’s liberation movement throughout the 1970s and went on to lead the way for representations of women in the arts.
Feminist theory, political discourse and education have remained a constant theme in her work throughout her career. Her work Post-Partum Document 1973-79 draws on contemporary feminist thought and psychoanalysis to explore the roles of woman artists as both creative and procreative.
More recently, Kelly has developed a process where she creates various sizes of prints cast from units of lint, the textile fibres that separate in a domestic dryer. Fashioned over several months and hundreds of washing cycles, the panels of image and text are then assembled and pressed in intaglio.
Mary Kelly is Professor of Art at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is Head of Interdisciplinary Studio.
Also, here is Mary Kelly in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist.
As part of the curated conversation programme On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Period of Time, Mary Kelly talks to curator, critic, art historian and prolific writer Hans Ulrich Obrist as they explore what defines an era.
Sally Potter writes a beautiful, heartfelt foreword in Marc Karlin – Look Again, describing Marc Karlin as a cinematic pioneer, thinker and activist. She also goes on to recall her first meeting with Karlin, after a screening of Nightcleaners, and how he kindly shared the Berwick Film Street Collective’s facilities while she was making her film, Thriller in 1979.
Here is an interview between Sally Potter and Wendy Toye, broadcast on Channel 4 on 9th May 1984. It was commissioned for the film programme, Visions (1983-1986). John Ellis, who co-produced the programme via his company Large Door, has very recently uploaded a collection of complete episodes from the series. ‘So there is now a Large Door channel for our moribund independent production company, with a selection from the hundred or so programmes we produced’.
Two women directors of different generations – both trained as dancers – meet for the first time. Sally Potter’s first feature ‘Gold Diggers’ had just been released. Wendy Toye’s career began in theatre and she directed her first short ‘The Stranger left No Card’ in 1952. She worked for Korda and Rank, making both comedies and uncanny tales. Directed by Gina Newson for Channel 4’s Visions series, 1984.
Large Door was set up in 1982 to produce Visions, a magazine series for the new Channel 4. Initially there were three producers, Simon Hartog and Keith Griffiths and John Ellis. Visions continued until 1986, producing 36 programmes in a variety of formats. Hartog and Ellis continued producing through the company, broadening out from cinema programmes to cover many aspects of popular culture from food to television.
Visions was a constantly innovative series, and John Ellis’ article in Screen Nov-Dec 1983 about the first series gives a flavour of its range:
Especially during the earlier months of production, we vacillated between two distinct conceptions of the programme: one, the more conventional, to use TV to look at cinema; the other, more avant-gardist, to treat the programmes as the irruption of cinema into TV. […]
We found that virtually all of our programme items could be categorised into four headings:
1) The Report, a journalistic piece reflecting a particular recent event: a film festival like Nantes or Cannes, the trade convention of the Cannon Classics group.
2) The Survey of a particular context of film-making, like the reports from Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the critical profile of Bombay popular cinema.
3) The Auteur Profile, like the interviews with Michael Snow and Paul Schrader, Chris Petit’s hommage to Wim Wenders, or Ian Christie’s interviews with various people about their impressions of Godard’s work.
4) The Review, usually of a single film, sometimes by a literary intellectual, ranging from Farrukh Dhondy on Gandhi to Angela Carter on The Draughtsman’s Contract. About half the reviews were by established film writers, like Colin McArthur on Local Hero or Jane Clarke on A Question of Silence.
The third series of Visions, a monthly magazine from October 1984 added further elements. Clips was a review of the month’s releases made by a filmmaker or journalist (eg. Peter Wollen, Neil Jordan, Sally Potter) consisting entirely of a montage of extracts with voice-over. We introduced the idea of the filmmaker’s essay, borrowed from the French series Cinema, Cinemas, commissioning Chantal Akerman and Marc Karlin to do what they wanted within a limited budget and length. The plan to commission Jean-Luc Godard fell in the face of his insistence on 100% cash in advance with no agreed delivery date. And then there was no further commission.
Further Reading and Viewing
Charlotte Crofts (2003) Anagrams of Desire: Angela Carter’s Writings for Radio, Film and Television(London: Chatto & Windus), pp. 168–193
John Ellis Channel 4: Working Notes, Screen, November-December 1983 pp.37-51
John Ellis Censorship at the Edges of TV – Visions, Screen, March-April 1986 pp.70-74
John Ellis Broadcasting and the State: Britain and the Experience of Channel 4, Screen, May-August 1986 pp.6-23
John Ellis Visions: a Channel 4 Experiment 1982-5 in Experimental British Television, ed Laura Mulvey, Jamie Sexton, University of Manchester Press 2007 pp.136-145
John Ellis What Did Channel 4 Do For Us? Reassessing the Early Years in Screen vol.49 n.3 2008 pp.331-342
Featuring Richard Heslop, Marc Karlin and Derek Jarman.
This new exhibition draws together works from three strikingly independent filmmakers key to the radical trajectory of the post-1976 English underground movement. Connected by themes of left field personal politics, history and nationality, and marked by an intense visual sensibility, Richard Heslop, Marc Karlin and Derek Jarman developed work both technically original and aesthetically radical.
WEEK TWO: THU 13 – SAT 15 JUNE EXHIBITION & EVENTS PROGRAMME
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Thu 13-Sat 15 June, 12-5pm daily
EXHIBITION // Marc Karlin
Described as one of the most significant unknown film-makers working in Britain during the past three decades, Karlin (1943 – 1999) was a central figure in the radical avant-garde of the 1970s and made a major contribution to the shaping of Channel 4. Newly digitised works are shown including Utopias (1989), For Memory (1986), and Between Times (1993) alongside a one-off screening of Nightcleaners (1975) on Saturday 15 June. Courtesy the Marc Karlin Archive.
Thu 13 & Fri 14 Jun, 12-5pm // Utopias (2h 15m) and Between Times (50m)
Sat 15 Jun, 12-2.15pm // Utopias (2h 15m) and For Memory (1h 44m)
Sat 15 June, 2.15pm (admission £3 on the door)
SCREENING // Nightcleaners [dir: Berwick Street Collective, 1975, 90m]
A documentary about the campaign to unionise the women who cleaned office blocks at night and who were being victimised and underpaid. Nightcleaners is increasingly recognised as a key work of the 1970s and an important precursor, in both subject matter and form, to political art practice. Courtesy LUX.
Following on from Vivid Project’s short introduction on Marc Karlin in March this year, three of Karlin’s films will be screened over a three days from tomorrow (13-15th June). Here is the flyer from the March event, promotional material for the June will be up soon.
The Berwick Street Collective’s Nightcleaners (1975) was filmed to support an attempt by the women’s movement to unionise London’s night cleaners. Shot in black and white, and punctuated with sections of black leader, Nightcleaners fuses political documentary with a rigorous reflection on the materiality of film and the problems of representing struggle. Here is a short scene.
The collective was founded by Marc Karlin, Humphry Treveleyan, Richard Mordaunt and James Scott. During the filming of Nightcleaners they were joined by artist Mary Kelly. Here is a bio from the early 1970s out of the archive.
Humphry Treveleyan and Marc Karlin were both members of Cinema Action, the left-wing film collective, in the late 1960s but both left dissatisfied with the group’s formal commitment to film-making. With Nightcleaners, those expecting a didactic film, found one that was nuanced and exploratory, both in terms of form and working class representation. The film used black spacing which slowly draws contemplation from the viewer and the fragmented soundtrack, together with time lapse sequences, applied pressure on the image, questioning its ability to record actuality. At the time, Screen journal declared it undoubtedly the most ‘important political film to have been made in this country’ and predicted it ‘to provide a basis for a new direction in British film-making’ . Claire Johnston’s Jump Cut review proclaimed Nightcleaners was ‘redefining the struggle for revolutionary cinema’.
The revolution failed to materialise and Nightcleaners remained firmly underground. Naturally being a collective project, Nightcleaners seeps many histories and it remains a complicated assignment to gain an exact understanding of the creative intentions of the film from those involved. To this day tensions linger, as you can witness from the exchanges between feminist writer Sheila Rowbotham, a campaigner with the Cleaners Action Group at the time, and Humphry Teveleyan in the Q&A.
That is not to say Nightcleaners ever went away. Indeed, Mike Sperlinger, LUX’s Assistant Director, states from 2002 onwards the film had regular screenings with many different audiences, striking a political chord particularly in a time where the erosion of the trade unions of the 1980s has noticeably come home to roost. Mike also observes a renewed interest in materialist film practises in oppositional film over the past ten years and Humphry Trevelyan adds the film has been adopted recently by the Occupy movement with a screening at UCL.
Nightcleaners (1974) and it’s ‘sequel’ 36′ to 77′ (1978) will soon be released by LUX on DVD.
This Q&A is chaired by Picture This director Dan Kidner with Mike Sperlinger and Humphry Treveleyan and poses the question; does a film need to explore form as well as content to be political?