Article for VIVA 8 Festival cata­logue, London Film Makers Co-op (GB)1996

Tanya Ury’s video Hotel Chelsea — Köln screened at Viva 8 1996 was awarded the title:
best confronta­tional video.

A few years ago I bought first a Super 8 camera and then a Hi8. I love them — they are so incon­spic­uous, almost pocket-sized. But I don’t take them every­where with me. I am over-cautious that art will take too much of a prece­dent in my life. So I collect stories and situ­a­tions and later film some­thing planned but different and juxta­pose ideas. 8mm is so innocuous, you can set it up anywhere and people don’t notice what you’re doing. It’s unob­tru­sive — you can get on with the busi­ness of life while filming. The profes­sional camera team announces itself with its over­whelming pres­ence. A crew in action is perfor­mance art itself.”

Now everyone’s got a Hi8 and it has become a cliché. The mystique of film­making should finally have evap­o­rated. Holi­days and growing chil­dren are filmed by indi­vid­uals en masse; previ­ously only an élite docu­mented with Super 8. But I imagine that every Hi8 owner also takes the camera into the bedroom. Home movies will have taken on new vistas. Surely every­body makes their own home pornos? So this has to have become a banal act in private, even if in public the subject of sex and its image making still excites the need to create taboos. The theo­ret­ical millions world­wide using Hi8 for such a func­tion legit­imises my own engage­ment (in art) with the subject matter in ques­tion. A tripod and mains supply also allows for the privacy of working without an extra camer­ap­erson.

Of course I have used other types of cameras: U‑matic and VHS. The advan­tage of Hi8 is not only its size but the picture is also strong enough to pass for broad­cast quality. I can live with the fact that, espe­cially when projected, video images break up; it is the aesthetic of the un-aesthetic. When I want the clearer image of Super 8, I still transfer to video for the edit, because the idea rather than the mate­ri­ality of film is para­mount to me.

As a rule the disad­van­tage of using 8mm as a medium is that it is not taken seri­ously and so spon­sor­ship and recog­ni­tion are hard to come by. The myth of film may have been exploded by a Hi8 consumer public, but in fine art, film and TV circles, the hier­archy is clearly defined: Hi8 is not high art. Whilst galleries perceive the work as too closely iden­ti­fied with film, film distrib­u­tors and cura­tors consider video to be the poor rela­tion. However, in spite of and in the face of all this discrim­i­na­tion, I have repeat­edly come down in favour of 8mm. A raw image does not disallow for the pushing of an idea until it expands beyond the medium’s limi­ta­tions; in fact the video look, lacking its visual depth, demands to be backed by philo­soph­ical insight that pene­trates the surface of the image.

I have some­times been described as a perfor­mance artist and I have made live art, but the act was medi­ated by Hi8 cameras to moni­tors, which were concur­rently viewed by the spec­ta­tors. I could not conceive of presenting perfor­mance in any other way. Whether some­thing filmed really happened or not is a fact which tele­vi­sion and film have confronted us with daily: an inci­dent, captured on secu­rity camera, a child’s evidence in court, the tourist’s Hi8 coup at the scene of the crime, the denial of holo­caust film footage. These sorts of instances have dictated my use of Hi8 within perfor­mance. For this type of live action Hi8 is prac­tical; one can manœuvre easily.

Before I was an artist I docu­mented the construc­tion of the house I built with my ex, on Super 8. Years later I was able to use the mate­rial effec­tively as home movie found footage with added spoken texts that contrasted with the visuals. That was the first footage I ever shot and it connected me to child­hood memo­ries of the Super 8 films my father had taken, while also looking forward to married life. The act of editing and making an art video ten years later with the mate­rial precip­i­tated a decon­struc­tion of that child­hood, the marriage, and the house itself.

It has been my expe­ri­ence that in some exper­i­mental circles these 8mm works have been well received, but there has also been much crit­i­cism of the lack of profes­sional finesse: too much camera hand­shake etc. It is a ques­tion of value systems and in which camp one wishes to reside. 8mm is not main­stream and is also old fash­ioned; it’s like prefer­ring to use a type­writer or even writing by hand, instead of using a computer. As far as I’m concerned, a hand­written letter is stripped of preten­sions; the 8mm medium also reveals flaws but tells you more about the true inten­tions of the author.

Tanya Ury


Presen­ta­tion

1996 Published in the programme cata­logue for the for VIVA 8 Festival, London Film Makers Co-op (GB)

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