Gate

By Jo Lanyon

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Artists’ films take to the wild outdoors in a maverick event on Dartmoor


Gate was a moving image pilgrimage that too place in a bleak part of Dartmoor National Park on a cold October night last year.

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The location provided the curatorial rationale for a programme that aimed to absorb "the associations and raw topography of the site." Artists have combined art, technology and the natural world to produce films from the ’60s to the present and this was evoked in the selection, showcasing work (not commissioned for the event) from 17 makers. Produced by metropolitan brothers Tim and Ben Eastop, with programme assistance from artist film-makers Stuart Croft and Tina Keane, it successfully avoided a clichéd or romanticised view of the English landscape, exposing the audience to the elements but making no compromise with the quality of the large scale projected images or sound.

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The programme opened with two pieces created over 30 years apart: Beth Derbyshire’s Wave (2002) and Malcolm Le Grice’s Berlin Horse (1971, see p.34 for image), both of which re-work and loop found footage and had a powerful impact on the audience in this sited context. Berlin Horse combines footage shot on Super 8 of a horse, being exercised on a lead-rope in the North German village of Berlin, with footage found in Soho (a Wardour Street studio rubbish bin) of a horse emerging from a burning barn circa 1895. The two sequences were re-printed by Le Grice as a negative-positive superimposition and combined using a "jazz like structure" – gradually looping together and moving from black and white to colour as the denouement unfolds. The film also incorporates a specially produced looped guitar phrase by Brian Eno. It was first exhibited at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1971 and has been shown extensively in contexts ranging from concerts to festivals, but never in a landscape setting before. Here, it provided the most moving experience of the evening, as the distressed horses appeared to dart frenzied across the moor through the fog.

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One of a number of artist film-makers working thematically with the rural landscape in the late ’60s, Le Grice has in the past described his uncertainty about what the work meant and also about its decorative qualities. However the key to its success in this context is due to what Rod Stoneman describes as the "polysemy and openness of a resonant text" and thus the way that the environment amplified and added to meaning. This was also true of Beth Derbyshire’s Wave, breaking majestically on the moor.

Curating for such complex situations and events is a challenge and some of the selected material, such as the short subtitled narratives of Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s Me/We, Okay, Grey, did not translate quite so well. However Gate remains a memorable micro (or macro?) cinematic experience for all those who trekked back in a torch lit procession to the Okehampton Military Range car park.


Jo Lanyon is director of Picture This moving image agency in Bristol.

Gate was supported by South West Screen and South West Arts with assistance from Lux and ACAVA.