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.

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