I’m going to pick up almost exactly where I left off, since, as usual, by the time I got to the end of my post I realised I had touched on something interesting (to me) but had run out of space. I was asking how we value artists’ film and video- and whether high production values are guarantors of quality, at least in the eyes of funders.
There is a question here around how images accrue worth according to their production values, a topic addressed by Hito Stereyl in her essay on poor images. She noted the hierarchy of image quality and value- a kind of pyramid with a select few hi-def, hi-res images at the top and piles of low-res, ‘poor images’ at the bottom.
A similar diagram could be drawn for videos- big-dollar Hollywood productions shot in 3D/ HD displayed on huge crystal display screens at one end, crappy mobile phone videos shared on YouTube proliferating at the other. This ‘lumpen proletariat of images’ resides beneath official culture, circulates mostly on the web, and has a potentially subversive character, which she links to Juan García Espinosa’s notion of Imperfect Cinema, in which a correlation between ‘perfect cinema’ and ‘reactionary cinema’ is made.
This recap of two previous posts relates to the subject I’m considering here- how the notion of deskilling, a well-known strategy of conceptual art, manifests itself in moving image work. Alexander Alberro, in his book Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity, discusses the turn away from the “skills, virtuosity, and privileged forms of artistic knowledge in the production of art” which became a hallmark of conceptualism, describing Lawrence Weiner’s performance “An Amount of Bleach Poured on a Rug and Allowed to Bleach”, which does exactly as the title instructs, as emblematic of this tendency.
Using easily accessible materials and non-specialist techniques, work by him and others “disavow(ed) inherited notions of artistic competence”, devalued the significance of skill, and was easily reproducible using cameras, photocopiers or directly ‘stolen’ by being ripped out of catalogues (e.g. Seth Siegalaub’s “Xerox Book”, which is the main focus of Alberro’s book).
This embrace of everyday materials and techniques, plus Weiner’s proposal that the piece need not be built, challenged the corellation of ambitious art with expensive materials, or any materials at all. Of course, as is well documented, these dematerialised practices still managed to produce commodifiable objects in the form of authentification certificates. As Alberro points out, if the materials are easily accessible, and artistic competence is devalued, it is the ‘mental labour’ which creates value, reproducing both capitalism’s division of mental and physical labour and the privileging of the planning/ design (concept?) stage over construction.
Robert Barry’s question, “how do you present an art that can’t be photographs in magazines devoted to color reproductions and things like that?” (i.e. that doesn’t look like art) is an interesting one to transpose into the moving image context.
One version of it could ask “How can a work which is not interested in big budget production- or indeed specifically rejects it- get state funding?” If a work doesn’t look expensive, because it uses found footage, or explores the signification of degraded imagery (like Steryl’s ‘poor images’), or uses available technologies like webcams, mobile phones and screen capture it may be harder to justify the funding. Particularly when films involving actors, costly location shoots, props, sets and costume design obviously look expensive and therefore more value-for-money.
Does this imply that a particular type of work- that necessarily involves high expenditure- will be funded, while ‘cheaper’ styles wouldn’t be? Artists like Klara Liden and especially Kalup Linzy, come to mind, whose deliberately low-budget, home-movie aesthetic complements the technology used in its production, intentionally playing with the associations conjured up by it (e.g. non-exclusivity, narcissism, self-performance).
It would be hard to imagine this type of work getting funding (pre-fame that is): it wouldn’t be specialist enough to ‘deserve’ money- unless, as in the conceptual art model, the mental labour appeared arduous or specialist enough to compensate for the relative ease of production. Perhaps this sort of work will become more common as funding cuts start to really hit in the UK…