Pandaemonium: Interview with Michael Maziere

By William Raban

William Raban talks with Michael Maziere, co-director of the Pandaemonium Festival at the ICA (7 March - 21 April 1996). Michael Maziere is director of London Electronic Arts (formerly London Video Access). He describes the background to the festival and discusses the implications of LEA’s relocation to Hoxton Square in London’s East End. The purpose-built centre, which will also house the London Film Co-op, is due to open in March 1997.

William Raban: It’s 17 years since the last international festival of experimental film in London. Was it the intention to model ‘Pandaemonium’ on the 1979 ‘Film As Film’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery?

Michael Maziere: The idea was more in response to the big European festivals like the Video Festival in Berlin or the Osnabruck Mixed Media festival. The whole of the international circuit was very active throughout the 80s and London really had no equivalent showcase except for the Electronic Image screenings that were run as a specialist section within the London Film Festival. Despite their success in attracting a large audience, Wilf Stevenson (director of the BFI) axed these programmes because he was pressing for the Arts Council films budget to go to the BFI and in particular, he didn’t want the BFI to be supporting Arts Council funded work. LEA has been trying to raise money for the Pandaemonium Festival for the last six years (£32,000 from the Arts Council and £10,000 each from the London Arts Board and London Film and Video Development Agency).

WR: Did you select work from an open submission?

MM: From the start it was always intended to have an open international submission for the single-screen, but because the Arts Council were funding the gallery installations, these were restricted to work by British artists. Part of what I wanted to do was to break down divisions and to encourage gallery artists to work with time-based media.

WR: The exhibition catalogue gives far more space to the installation work in the gallery than it does to the single-screen work. Also the installations run continuously for the duration of the exhibition, whereas the cinema programmes get shown once – during the first week of the exhibition only.

MM: The new installations and cyberspace element have given a lot more visibility to the event and without them the press coverage would have been minimal. The audiences have been very high – already there have been 10,000 attendances and it is only three weeks into the exhibition. The reason for such a big turnout is that with so many collaborators, the exhibition cast a very wide net, touching all the different communities. Also it presents a snapshot of the moment presenting the best and most relevant work of the art world working with the moving image.

WR: What about the Cyberspace part of the exhibition?

MM: There is a real challenge to finding an effective way of exhibiting new media and I don t think we have solved that problem. You have to find a way of taking it away from the one person sat with a mouse in front of a computer. Simon Biggs’ outdoor installation, ‘The Castle’, which ran for the first three days of ‘Pandaemonium’, was one such attempt which used a different form of live interaction.

Cyberia (the Internet Cafe) were sponsors of the exhibition. They helped us by running the Digital Laboratory master classes three weeks before the show. This was a way of bridging the technology gap between film- and video-makers wanting to use new media. Each participant produced either an interactive piece or digital animation for transmission on the Internet and these works are on show at ‘Pandaemonium’. We have been using the Internet as a means for extending our distribution for 18 months, but Cyberia has now given us space for our own LEA site, which gives us a platform for showing work that has been specifically designed for the Internet. It is just one avenue, not a solution; just another medium that can be used.

WR: What of the future? How do you see the move to Hoxton changing what LEA does? I am interested for example, that you are taking a major part in the Whitechapel Open Exhibition.

MM: The move represents a philosophical jump from being a passive access centre servicing community needs to a more project-led and pro-active organisation creating opportunities for artists. By concentrating on commissions and special projects there is a central focus for the workshop and distribution activity. So creating projects like the Digital Laboratory or ‘Pandaemonium’ gives us the opportunity to make a cultural intervention as opposed to being just a service area. The new LEA gallery in the Hoxton centre gives a space for holding regular exhibitions and conferences and will provide a much-needed forum for artists.

WR: So will the gallery function in parallel with the Film Co-op Cinema at Hoxton?

MM: LEA will contribute a small number of programmes to the cinema, but the gallery is under a different leasing arrangement (not supported by the BFI). Since half of our current work is gallery-based, we felt that running our own gallery was appropriate. So far as the cinema is concerned, the Arts Council are making it a condition of funding that a programmer ‘of experience’ is put into that job. The priority will be to get good attendances five nights a week in Hoxton Square.

WR: Is it the intention to have an independent programmer who is not wholly attached to either the Co-op or LEA?

MM: That is the big question. I can’t speculate on that. The cinema and gallery will be run separately, but I would expect to have as many joint projects as possible. Next time we do ‘Pandaemonium’ in two years time, the screenings will be held at LEA as well as a larger central London venue. Hoxton will be the centre for debates and discussions, but I hope the festival will become an umbrella organisation for bridging different events across London. It should expand from the initial intention of bringing together different communities and practices and should develop a critical base for discussion. That requires having some control over the venue.

WR: Looking back over the last 20 years, the development of LEA has roughly paralleled that of the Film Co-op, though LEA is clearly in a more transient area of media production that has necessitated looking for new outlets for exhibition and distribution – the Internet and so on.

MM: The strength of the Co-op remains tied to a principle of integrated practice. Films made in the workshop get shown in the cinema and go into distribution. In the last few years LEA changed its staff structure from collective to line management. It also changed its policy from open access to selected distribution. There has been a constant change at LEA both in terms of structure and practice, but that has also meant that there have been a decreasing number of practising artists involved with the organisation because it is not membership-based but run by its board. That is why it is important that LEA brings in artists through a joint projects and commissioning policy. I want to make sure that LEA becomes an artists’ centre. The move to Hoxton will emphasise that, particularly with the Co-op moving there too, but it’s a big challenge to make it work.