The LUX Is Open

By Helen de Witt


The Royal College of Art became a new Lux Centre for a long weekend this Spring

For one weekend in April artists, filmmakers, curators, programmers, lecturers, a couple of enlightened journalists and culturally adventurous members of the public beat a path to the RCA for the second DNet event, this time called the LUX Open. For those of us who, after the closure of Hoxton’s Lux Centre in October 2001, never thought that we’d see the words ‘Lux’ and ‘open’ in the same sentence again, this was an event of symbolic significance as much as it was aesthetic.

The LUX Open is the outfit’s exhibition showcase, intended to display the recent acquisitions of the LUX collection, as well as several commissioned installation projects, curated programmes and a large component of open submission films.

Lasting four days and occupying both screening rooms and the galleries of the Royal College, the LUX Open displayed an enormous range of work; sometimes a little intense, as displayed by a rigorous re-adoption of formalist practices, sometimes a little patchy in quality due to restricted production budgets. Nevertheless, the overall impression was of a huge diversity of interesting work from established artists such as Tina Keane, Cordelia Swann, Katharine Meynell, Steve Hawley, John Smith, Michael Curran, Sarah Miles, William Raban, Nicky Hamlyn and Nick Collins, as well as exciting new discoveries, most notably, Jimmy Robert and Rachel Reupke.

Jimmy Robert’s film, Chartham Court, observes a day in and around a council estate in Brixton. Robert said he made the film as a way of meeting his neighbours and to enable them to acknowledge each other. Shot on Super8 with great delicacy, the film captures the family histories of the inhabitants through ornaments on mantelpieces, old photographs in frames and the choice of different dress styles of the white working class and Afro-Caribbean population. Although contained within high density housing, the eye of the camera roams the skyline pointing to the directions from which the inhabitants have come or where they may dream of going, while the home movie format adds a sense of personal memory.

Rachel Reupke was represented by single screen and installation pieces. Both presented sublime landscapes interrupted by human activity. Infrastructure is a black and white high-definition video work in four parts, opening with a grand scene of high mountains, below which an airport is nestled. The white aeroplanes move as if choreographed by an unseen hand. Images of hijacks and accidents come avoidably to mind but the scene itself is incredibly calm, which adds to its haunting effect. The other sections deal with different dramatic landscapes cut though by equally ghostly roads, railways and boats. The work is perplexing precisely because the expectation of the focus is on the larger elements in the frame; yet it is the smaller objects that attract particular attention, albeit overshadowed by the scale of the land. Reupke takes this idea further in her three monitor video installation, Parc Naturel. Here the landscapes are smaller and the viewer has to look closely in order to determine the human element within them (in the form of windmills and buses). Both works hint at personal narratives as figures emerge from within them, but it is more than enough to observe the scenes themselves and the vastness of the natural world that plays dormant host to mundane human business.

Other installations were by Guy Sherwin, Greg Pope, and Karen Mirza & Brad Butler, all beautifully effective and making the act of projection integral to the work. Pope’s Incidence Room was a four screen box onto which fleeting images of home and city were projected from below. As the viewer entered, they immediately become part of the flickering digital haikus. In contrast, Sherwin’s Three Trees was tranquil but witty. Its three screen 16mm loops ran at different speeds and contained shorter loops within their progression. As the projectors ran, the exact combination of images could not be calculated. The work also played on special relations, its image of a tree occasionally seen inverted but reflected in the water to appear correctly positioned. The shape of the tree mimicked the frame line and it was a tantalising experience to work out where the image ended and the absence of image started. Meanwhile, Mirza & Butler investigated Where a Straight Line Meets a Curve. Two screens were installed in the centre of the space, with film of an interior projected upon them. With shifting colours and dimensions, the piece questioned the relationship between the mental impression, actual space and cinematic representation.

The LUX also invited contributions from a diverse range of British moving image organisations, including Picture This, Bristol; Side Cinema, Newcastle; The Centre of Attention, London; Brighton Cinematheque; Love Bytes, Sheffield and others. There were also exemplary curated strands such as Lucy Reynolds’ ‘Describing Form: Film Experiments with the Sculptural Form’ (including rare works from Marie Menken, Liliane Lijn and ’70s American performance artist Hannah Wilke) and Mark Webber’s ‘Binary Film Primer’ of computer-generated and mathematically-structured works from the ’20s to the ’60s.

The Open proved that UK artists’ moving image culture refuses to be pushed aside despite the lack of a dedicated and properly supported national centre. With an abundance of single screen titles and film/digital installations, what could be missing? Work with no images at all? They were there too, in Matt Hulse’s ‘Audible Picture Show’, a selection of sound-works by filmmakers.

Helen de Witt is a film programmer, lecturer and writer. Visit for details of the archive and upcoming events.