Moving Memories: Video / Film – Archival Traces

By Nick Stewart

bfi-nick-stewart.jpgImage from Nick Stewart’s unedited research tapes

Film and video are different media. This may seem obvious but in reality the two are often confused. I work with video precisely because it is – video, and not film. It has different qualities that require specific techniques and methodologies. For me the essential characteristic of the medium is its ability to both reflect and record the “now”. It facilitates an intense engagement with the moment that is analogous to performance: to a heightened sense of actuality. Video is “on” even when it is not actually recording. Increasingly in new cameras what is seen on the screen is the image as it will be recorded. With film what you see is only the view through the lens. Here the recording creates a trace, a memory, which must await viewing at a future time. Video is “live” and as such is appropriate for dealing with the immediacy of experience. The decision to press record also creates a trace, but with this medium it is a trace that is immediately reviewable.

bfi-nick-stewart-2.jpgImage from Nick Stewart’s unedited research tapes 

Ultimately the film or video image, like everything else, decays beyond use. There is a poignancy in the contrast between this decay and the activities of those who attempt to slow down, or even stop, its progress. For this BFI residency I am interested in researching the various stages in the evolution of recorded images through the technical processes of this institution.

At the Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted I want to approach things as freshly as possible, to create a work derived from my actual experience of the place rather than any conjecture about it in advance. The project will engage with its day to day life through the recording of the activities carried out there while also pursuing research within the archived film and video collections.

During my first couple of weeks I’ve been looking at the work done in the various spaces on site. I’ve been shooting a considerable amount of footage of film being handled or running through fingers on the work benches. I’ve taped some sequences that are straight documentary style but mostly ones that are much more open and associative. In general the working environments at the Centre provide a wealth of material. They are visually and aurally complex places where the people working in the spaces seem integral to them. Often one glimpses fragments of activity through several layers of hanging papers, images, objects and materials. This complexity creates a space within a space – a sort of stage set where the activities of the various techniques being applied to the films constitute a found performance with film itself as the central character. My chosen task is not to present an analysis of this environment but rather to suggest possibilities other than those associated with the purely functional activities carried out there.

bfi-nick-stewart-3.jpgImage from Nick Stewart’s unedited research tapes 

The ambient sound in the different rooms is a wonderful mix of things – radios, film sound tracks, machine noises, conversations, all of which I will carefully record. I’ve also been shooting the hand written titles on the side of the old film canisters to build up a source of textual material. There is an extraordinary variety of these in different styles and colours and so far I’ve taped around five hundred separate words and phrases.

At this stage there are several possibilities for the form of a final work. I am keen to produce both a piece for single screen projection and an installation work for multiple channels of video. Whatever develops one thing is clear: the work will reflect a personal experience of the place, one that regardless of its ambition can only reflect a part of the life and work of what is an extraordinary institution.

Nick Stewart lectures part time in Sheffield. During the past year he has made exhibitions for The Royal Festival Hall and Platform Gallery in London.