Collective Filmmaking and the ‘Workshop Movement’ in the UK, 1982-2000
My research will examine the reconfiguration of artists’ and collective filmmaking in the UK, with a particular focus on the ‘Workshop Movement’ and its subsequent dissolution. I will approach this research via a materialist analysis of the period, focusing on archival material alongside the artworks themselves.
In 1982, the ‘ACTT Grant-Aided Workshop Production Declaration’, an agreement between the British Film Institute, Channel Four, Regional Arts Associations, Independent Film Association and the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians union, created a framework to fund workshops that could train, produce and distribute work by ‘alternative’ groups. This financial support for independent film and video led to a wide array of experimentation, often with wildly contrasting priorities. Over the next decade, numerous political, feminist and ethnic minority groups worked with these organisations to become ‘franchised’ as a workshop.
No synoptic account of this movement and its amateur productions has been written. The limited scholarship to date has focused on prominent collectives and contemporary artists, such as Black Audio Film Collective, Isaac Julien and Amber Films. My dissertation will trace the work of lesser-known groups, such as Sheffield Film Co-operative, Trader Films, Ceddo and W.I.T.C.H., amongst others, as well as the influence of other art forms. However, my research aims to do more than expand the scope of British art history. By reframing the study of prominent groups, I will look to establish the relevance of film and video to contemporary art. Foremost, my research will test the assumptions often embedded within the histories of such practices, and their ‘experimental’ and ‘oppositional’ character as is often written.
In addition to expanding the scope of the archive, I seek to query its periodization. I will extend my study beyond 1991, the official end of workshop funding, in order to understand how the reinvention of different groups and artists became organised around new procedures and standards. This historical trajectory will allow me to consider how the continued support of the workshops by successive governments challenges a supposed binary history of opposition.
Key to my study is a reflection on how British art of the period has been historicised. I will challenge the assumption that there is a clear break in the late 1980s. Furthermore, instead of framing the workshops as operating in opposition to predominant modes of cultural form and political representation, I want to suggest that the practices express a crisis of political subjectivity, as Stuart Hall theorised, operating both within and against state ideologies.
The variety and quantity of artworks made during this period remain underexamined, with only a select few still in distribution. The diversity of material (both artwork and documentation) hints at a fluctuating relationship between the development of technology, distribution of resources and the formalisation of state support. My research will take the form of a rigorous charting of this dispersed history. From the initial discussion of a national network of workshops in the 1970s through to their final transformation in the mid-1990s, the networks that sustained the production of film and video were radically altered, technologically and institutionally. Situated within these transformations, I will argue, were structures that both broadened access to the means of production and simultaneously procured social cohesion via incorporating the ground of radical dissent (as well as dismantling previous structures and institutions).Through such an emphasis I will frame collective practices of image making as a shifting field of political action and co-option, a field, however, that has been foreclosed by structures and institutions developed during the 1990s.