Viva Viva: An Exhibition at P3 Gallery, London, December 2008

By Anne Robinson


“The advantage of establishing a film theory from inside the film itself, rather than bringing it in from the outside, has proved to be immense and very rewarding.” – Joram Ten Brink [1]

“Someone may someday realise that the living artist has the eyes of the age he lives in.” – Stan Brakhage [2]

Joram Ten Brink's film The Man Who Couldn't Feel and Other Tales proposes the 'essay film' as an avant-garde nonfiction film genre. According to Brink's written PhD, which cites Vertov and Marker, this idea came out of the examination of the completed film. Out of action, knowledge: the production of alternative epistemologies. Over the past decade, 'practice-based research' has become a buzz term in those areas of the academy where artists, filmmakers and documentarists have found that their (funded) careers depended on it; but, what does it look like?

Viva Viva celebrates a decade of audio-visual practice-based doctorates in the UK. The fascinating thing about this exhibition and the AVPhD symposia, is the hybrid nature of the project – its sheer diversity in every possible sense. Here are multi and interdisciplinary single-screen works and fine art installations, ethnographic documentaries, non narrative film, performance, and sound works that draw from cultural studies, fine art, anthropology film and new media.

These engaged practitioners have been moved by a desire to push the edges of their practice. At this point in the history of visual culture, there are artists who work experimentally with documentary forms and anthropologists who seem to have made art, so these are boundaries not so much blurred as fading into obscurity.

Zemirah Moffat's moving film Mirror Mirror follows radical ethnographic film-maker Jean Rouch's exhortation to use film to reciprocate the 'gift' of the subject, working with the transgendered performers at London's Club Wotever to explore her personal understandings of 'queer'. Rouch is also a presence in Johannes Sjoberg's Transfiction.

Cahal McLaughlin's multi-channel work analyses documentary forms by recording memories of political conflict for Inside Stories: Memories from the Maze and Long Kesh Prison. There is work on Latin American / Spanish cinematic co-productions from Libia Villazana and innovative interactive sound and new media works from John Eacott and Nina Simoes. Tony Dowmont and Gail Pearce from AVPhD emphasise the value of this kind of work: “rather than trying to 'know it all', an embodied practice research enables us to discover and hear different songs to a more conventional, purely text-based research.” [3]

Adam Kossoff's innovative spatial gallery works for Terra Firma: Space, Place and the Moving Image and Simon Payne's abstract digital pieces both have strong links to experimental filmmaking, which may actually provide a model for the kind of studio / process experimentation and documentation most useful to visual practice-led research.

“I suggest that there is a pursuit of knowledge foreign to language and founded upon visual communication.” [4] – Stan Brakhage

At the Viva Viva launch, Anita Ponton performed her work Unspool where she emerges from a huge entanglement of unspooled film to lip-synch to projected images from movies such as Rebecca, Sunset Boulevard and Vertigo, which speak of discomfort, suicide and madness. Should we see Ponton's performance as a parody of the 'viva voce' exam? The culture of academia has always privileged the verbal, hence 'live voice'. So, here is another slice of Latin - video: to see, observe, understand, comprehend. Viva video!


[1] Joram Ten Brink, (PhD title) The Essay Film – Towards the Definition of a Film Genre (Middlesex University, 1999)
[2] Stan Brakhage, Metaphors on Vision in Essential Brakhage (McPherson, 2001)
[3] Tony Dowmont and Gail Pearce, Journal of Media Practice, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2008)
[4] Stan Brakhage, ibid

Anne Robinson is a lecturer and artist filmmaker.