Tuesday, 10 July 2012


 War Machine by Duvet Brothers 1984 

War Machine by Duvet Brothers 1984 

Suburban Incantation by Alexis Milne 2012 

Riot Act (SE6) by Alexis Milne and Tom Bresolin 2012

Suburban Incantation by Alexis Milne 2012 

Bunker Riot Act from RAGE BANK on Vimeo.

Reality Check by George Barber 2012 

Reality Check by George Barber 2012

Reality Check by George Barber 2012

Hippocampus by Joey Holder 2012
Hippocampus by Joey Holder 2012

Hippocampus by Joey Holder 2012

hippocampus (installation view) from Joey Holder on Vimeo.

Neon Alone by Nicola Woodham 2012

STATIC (Alone without you) by Matthew Johnstone 2012
Still from live VJ set by Lepke B

Links to artists involved


Gorilla Tapes





Nicola Woodham


Tom Bresolin



Installation documentation by Jamie Farrell and Burcu Yagcioglu
Performance documentation by Jonathan Pigram and Thomas Johnson 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Interview with Rik Lander from the Duvet Brothers

 War Machine by The Duvet Brothers 1984

What influenced you to start making video montage and in particular politically explicit work?

When I started making moving images I (1983) I had no access to a video camera. They weren’t on every phone like now. I started using Super-8 film and loved the explicit way I could see that moving images were made up of 24 frames a second. I made films that explored how we look and how time is constructed. Later when I met Peter Boyd Maclean and we started the Duvet Brothers we had access to video cameras and editing as I had a job as an engineer for a TV company. We started making scratch with TV images because they were readily available to hand and started to mess with the time construction of images. That unleashed a hidden meaning in the images.

Then, as now, TV only represented certain views. We had a tory government hell bent on making the rich richer and marketising all aspect of human life. The miner’s strike was a war between the government and the workers with the police as an instrument of the state. TV was full of partial truths about what was happening. Scratch was a way of exposing the half-truths and revealing political biases in media. It was effectively counter-propaganda. Our videos were being shown at the ICA and the Tate as well as nightclubs and miners clubs all up and down the country.

Were you influenced by Video art or more DIY influences?

I had seen some video art at that time. It tended to be long, ponderous, subtle; in my view, tedious. The Duvet Brothers were profiled in the popular press and magazines because we could be represented as making art for the MTV generation. We were hated by much of the video art world, who considered the work superficial. As this was pre-YouTube it was hard to see the work of other artists. Journalists started calling us and telling us we were part of a movement called Scratch. When we saw the work of Gorilla Tapes, Peter Savage, Kim and Sandra and George Barber it was uncanny how we had all been separately exploring aspects of re-editing existing media and messing with the time frame.

How influential was your video work on pop video at the time and do you think this watered down the strength of the political videos you made?

Scratch was picked up my mainstream media very quickly, but mainly they just used the repeat edit, which was only a small part of the scratch toolbox. I knew it was all over when the Milk Marketing Board made a TV ad for milk that used scratch techniques.

We did OK out of it all and made TV title sequences and pop videos. Most promos were expensive and hideous. We made low budget arty promos that were highly influential.

Did you make a point of exhibiting work out of a mainstream gallery environment?

Various groups put our stuff onto compilation tapes that were distributed all over the place. Also clubs like Heaven used to show our videos on their TV screens. We were also shown in galleries and museums. We didn’t push any of that, people just chose to show the work. We had a live multiscreen show that we toured all over the world. It was three VHS sources and up to 21 TV screens in a sculptural pile. It was a way of taking art out of the galleries and into clubs.

How did you get your hands on the footage and technology to edit at the time?

We borrowed an early domestic camcorder to make our first promo in 1983 or ‘ 84. Then I got a job as an engineer and had keys to the edit suite. We’d borrow the cameras, shoot stuff, then edit all night, stopping at 7 to waft the smoke out. Then I’d do a full days work.

Can you talk about what happened on the back of the scratch video period for you?

After the Duvet Brothers split I began making a series of installations that place the viewer into a narrative. Today I am making a form of theatre that uses technology to give the audience a role within the story. It mixes media installations with mobile technology and live performance. Scratch was disarmed for me by its assimilation into mainstream media. These days it is hard to make video that doesn’t look like it could be a TV ad. The live element is important in creating media that is harder to assimilate. I’m interested in offering agency to the audience, giving them a role in the creation of their own experience.

Where do you see the medium moving now in interactive user/app age?

I find great parallels between 80’s scratch and the post-broadband rise of Mash-up. There is so much pleasure to be had in re-editing footage and changing it’s meaning so I’m not surprised it’s such a phenomenon. I have seen some very funny and pleasurably mindless stuff and some great political attack videos.

What work will you be showing at Bunker Mentality?

Limelight opening / War Machine multiscreen (composite) 1986

This is the first screening of this video version of War Machine in England since the 80’s. It is a composite of the three channels of our multiscreen show. This was a live show played from 3 VHS decks onto 21 screens.

Harry (composite) 1986

This was a commission from the Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno. It was our first attempt to introduce narrative into scratch and was part of our live show. Some of it was filmed in Berlin before the wall came down where we’d presented the multiscreen show in a tent during a riot. Put simply, it is a video about how some ideas are so powerful that despite surveillance and oppression they cannot be contained.

Virgin 1985

Blue Monday and War Machine are the best know Duvet Brothers videos, largely because they are the only ones that have been available in the archive. Virgin is the follow-up to Blue Monday and is about how western economies benefit from the trade in weapons that kill people in the developing world.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Reality Check

Still from Reality Check by George Barber 2012

“Reality Check” by George Barber           Colour video 25 mins 2012

“Reality Check” is an essay film referencing the various ‘realities’ we experience today. It proposes a synthesis of Reality as a popular TV format and Reality as the current political economic situation. In ‘Reality Check’ these themes are artistically articulated and intertwined.

Reality TV. Never have UK TV audiences watched so many hours of ‘real’ people – it seems almost part of the government’s recommended 5 a day. People are fascinated by watching people like themselves; people who are not fantastically good looking, talented, bright, well dressed, thin, successful – but paradoxically, at the same time, they are just as fascinated by looking at people who are better looking, rich, talented, famous but who don’t feel they’re alive unless they let the cameras in. ‘Real’ Celebrities play the double game too; Jude Law can be both the handsome suave Hollywood actor but also, while clearing the dirty plates, he can confess to poor impulse control, poor divorce etiquette etc.  All of which engenders ‘live’ un-acted Regret Confession. The real heart of TV Reality. Oddly, everybody knows Reality TV is just as much fantasy as reality, especially its fans. Yet, if it is a bellwether of contemporary society, ultimately, like its subjects, it is totally schizophrenic. It is a mad format. In 1967 D.A. Pennebaker, the famous documentary filmmaker, angrily dismissed ‘David Holzman’s Diary’ as the complete trashing of the realist documentary art, Yet what on earth would he make of ‘Made in Chelsea’ or ‘Jersey Shore’? Here Reality is staged in every scene to seem like Reality – which in itself is a highly selective version. It’s like 7 or 8 male and female Robert De Niro’s putting up a tent – if that’s your idea of reality then fine. A sophisticated and hard-to-analyse circle is created. A thick build-up of Reality, like paint on a De Kooning canvas, full of gestures, energy, anger and hard to resolve signs. Also, delightful moments of what could be avant-garde theatre are either intentionally or accidentally thrown up. The emptiness and repetition of Reality TV is often like Beckett. Soap Operas have drama, and go somewhere each week. Reality TV just sits there, hours of it all the same, like being stuck in traffic but loving it. There is no heavy mental traffic either, it’s just family stuff, money, shopping, phone calls and bad language – just like last week. Viewer and subject both immovable, like the chemicals of the photographic process, they are ‘fixed’ eternally in the same scene.

Still from Reality Check by George Barber 2012
 The other ‘reality’ strand in ‘Reality Check’ is wealth and fairness in society. Walking the streets of London, many of us can feel and know it - London is awash with cash but none of it seems to be in anyone’s pocket, it all belongs to the 1%, somehow hidden away. The parks, the smart centre is awash with ‘money energy’ but personally we feel outside, often a bit scared of the future and how we personally will make it. We feel stuck. Up in the towers and fancy houses, people, whom we never meet, seem to have everything worked out their way, everything we have is being chipped away to make them richer. Statistics on the news and press repeat this. This economic reality, though it has always been there, seems to be breaking through into common awareness and discussion. Like global warming as a concept, the inequality of society is now making its way into people’s consciousness. It also enters media discussions more often, it certainly exists in the Occupy movement, and it crops up as a bond between young people, and in their elders who cannot believe what the future looks like for their children. Even the consciously apolitical, see that every year, a little bit more is taken from them; margins, work benefits are not in ‘Continuous Improvement’ – a term from auto manufacture - but quite the reverse, ‘Continuous Retraction’. In Auto Manufacture there is a constant search for ways in which the same quality can be achieved by cheaper methods – this is now standard policy in all sectors, school, old people’s homes, transport, airlines, TV, medicine, insurance, supermarkets and utilities. In 1980 the average water rates for a house in London was about £15 for the year – 30 years later it is veering towards £500 and still we are warned each year that the companies need more – we have to fix the pipes. What else are they fixing? Any guesses?  From the worker’s point of view, everything is constantly being squeezed so that more has to be given to stay secure, to make the sector and your job ‘sustainable’. Any sector one cares to look at in detail, it’s the same story, the older workers tell one how much better it was when they first joined, and they wouldn’t recommend it for their children now.  Even lawyers will tell you that everything is sown up between a few major firms whose partners rely on younger workers putting in 12 hour days. Unless these foot soldiers can eventually become a partner they will be ejected once they reach that exhausted, or ‘tricky’ mid-30s stage. Oh yes, initially you get to start by being an ‘intern’. That famous short cut to riches.

Reality is an eternally hard thing to define. Human beings are individuals and see things differently with different imaginative fascinations; each is drawn, if they are happy and lucky, to their own reality – we make Reality at some level, we choose our Reality. In both Reality TV and in real life, the unhappy experience Reality as imposed.  In one sense, Reality is just like Time, neither seems to reward one for thinking about them. For an individual there is no profit in spending life clock watching or thinking about time – it’s more fun to just get on with it.  Similarly, it is unprofitable thinking others have it easier - which in reality they do - it gets you nowhere.  It also suits the system, that most people park it and resign themselves to ‘life’, or their lot as they experience it. The opposite just doesn't pay off.

These are the background themes of “Reality Check”. More accurately, it probably best presents a very subjective George Barber reality.

Still from Reality Check by George Barber 2012
Ultimately though, for the powerful, squeezing the poor is self-defeating and plainly not in their interest. A price cannot be put on a stable and happy society. Britain today is hovering, the wealth balance, like the weather systems more prone to cataclysmic events. Effectively, as the economic reality tips and more is taken away from the middle and bottom, even the basics are harder to secure.  In the sense of social cohesion, the stability the rich and powerful have enjoyed for many years is perhaps waning and many of that group will wonder in time if it was worth screwing the little bit extra. Tesco’s strap line ‘Every little bit helps’ may not be true for all circumstances. Social destabilisation will bring the value of all assets down. Similarly, who can imagine the real price in economic terms or otherwise of trying to adjust to permanently irregular weather patterns? A rebellious society and unruly planet will not help the rich. They will not help anybody.

Walking the streets of Central London, it seems we have come up to some historical marker, some indicator of change – that the UK is going to seem different soon. I was a student in the 1980s and in a sense, the UK became more European in that period, we might not have known it then but that is what happened. People got better clothes, smarter cut suits, decent haircuts, European kitchens, went to restaurants with famous cooks and acquired the habit of coffee or wine. The rise of designer branding. I was born in South America and today that is where I’m afraid London is heading; no disrespect intended - vast swathes of London are simply beyond imagination; money is creating gated communities just like in Rio where simply being on certain streets walking marks you out as someone to be watched with self-evidently no right to be there. Often in the centre of London, above the shops nobody seems to be there anyway – the homes are not actually used, they are just piggy banks for characters abroad.  The city is full of divisions – and empty rooms. My feeling is that if the 80s made us more European, today we are slowly turning South American – the post WW2 social contract is being thrown out and a much more divided tough society is on the way. In all respects, the 'developed' world is turning back, to meet the 'developing' world half way - and it can be no coincidence.

“Reality Check” is a humorous work inspired by these feelings.      

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bunker Mentality is a four day video art exhibition in a labyrinthine 2nd world war bunker in Dalston, East London. The exhibition traces a lineage of video montage from 1980's artists such as The Duvet Brothers and Gorilla Tapes to artists currently subverting appropriated footage such as Joey Holder, Matthew Johnstone, George Barber, Alexis Milne, and Nicola Woodham.

Death Valley Days by Gorilla Tapes 1984
War Machine by The Duvet Brothers 1984

The title Bunker Mentality refers to a defensive state of mind, needed in order to resist and compete with the pervasive media spectacle of advertising, television and film. Video art has been responding to this assault since the 1980’s through subverting found footage in the spirit of Situationist d├ętournement. The aspirations and promises played into living rooms via video cassettes and television could suddenly be re-appropriated, re-sequenced and jump edited to represent a counter-cultural voice and explore new aesthetic relations. 

Artists such as The Duvet Brothers and Gorilla Tapes have greatly influenced the next generation of video artists who were growing up in the Thatcherite 80’s and the Blairite ‘90s. This exhibition attests that video detournement is still a relevant tool in the current conservative climate. Further, these techniques gain new ground in the current decade, as these artists grapple with subjects such as subcultural uprising and neoliberal downsizing.

Alexis Milne’s video The Delinquents (2012), examines authentic rebellion in 1980's hip hop and 1990's rave movements and their subsequent recuperation in media representation. In Suitable Management (2010), Nicola Woodham's video uses found footage to reflect coercive uses of technologies, in the (discredited and discontinued) treatment of mental illness via electric shock therapy and now, via managerial techniques of constant self-assessment.  

For Bunker Mentality George Barber will present a major new 25 minute video work entitled Reality Check (2012). Reality Check is an essay film referencing the various ‘realities’ we experience today. It proposes a synthesis of Reality as a popular TV format and Reality as the current political economic situation.  In ‘Reality Check’ these themes are artistically intertwined and articulated.

Reality Check by George Barber 2012
Delinquents part 4 (Suburban Incantation) by Alexis Milne 2012
Suitable Management by Nicola Woodham 2010

The exhibition also covers new directions in the sampling and reconfiguring of found footage. Joey Holder responds to digital overload through focusing on the mutation of natural form into hybrid screen aesthetics. Matthew Johnstone deconstructs familiar contemporary visual languages exploring their technological means in relation to specific ideological conditions.

Nudi Branch by Joey Holder 2011
Modern Warfare/Reducer(Modified) by Matthew Johnstone 2009
Also featured will be Riot Act, a live destructive flatscreen performance by Tom Bresolin and Alexis Milne, which utilizes projected CCTV footage from the London August riots, first performed in a disused Blockbusters video store in Catford, previously damaged by looting.

Riot Act by Tom Bresolin and Alexis Milne 2012

BUNKER MENTALITY is situated at the Bunker Space, Abbot Street, Dalston E8 3DP
At the back of Cafe Oto, five minutes from Dalston Kingsland, and Dalston Junction overground stations.