Monday 17 December 2012

Review of the 2012 Film London Jarman Award

2012 Film London Jarman Award
Whitechapel Gallery

Following on from an exciting and jam-packed day of film screenings, live performances, and talks on Saturday 3 November, it was revealed at a special ceremony hosted at the Whitechapel Gallery on Monday 5 November 2012 that the winner of this year’s Film London Jarman Award is James Richards.

Launched in 2008, when it was won by Luke Fowler, one of this year’s Turner Prize nominees, the Award is an annual prize celebrating the spirit of experimentation and imagination in film. Any mid-career artist film-maker, whose work embraces the legacy of Derek Jarman’s own highly experimental approach, can be nominated, and, alongside Richards, this year’s longest ever shortlist of ten nominees, drawn from suggestions made by a network of industry professionals, included Brad Butler & Karen Mirza, Marcus Coates, Shezad Dawood, Benedict Drew, Nathaniel Mellors, Ben Rivers, Aura Satz, Matt Stokes and Thomson & Craighead. As the winner, Richards will receive not just £10,000, but also a broadcast commission to produce a series of film artworks for Channel 4. This year also brings with it the added honour of marking the 70th anniversary of the birth of Derek Jarman himself. For the first time too, a further three artist film-makers from the shortlist – Brad Butler & Karen Mirza, Nathaniel Mellors and Shezad Dawood – will also be commissioned to produce short art films for Channel 4.

Although each of the artist film-makers nominated has his or her own unique style, certain features seem to permeate their works. Many investigate a fusion of sight and sound: bright colours, lights, distorted shapes, swirling, spinning and moving against a soundtrack of jarring, discordant, metallic noises. Benedict Drew’s Gliss (Phrase III) Encounter With The Un-Rare, for example, pulsates to thuds and thumps, unpleasant clanging sounds and screeches, a drum, space-age noises, and a baby wailing, as clay-like shapes gyrate across the screen, an invitation to the wildest imagination to interpret what they might be. For my part, there’s a skull, and some sort of internal bodily examination going on, but what the next person will see I can’t even begin to guess.

Language is also a significant ingredient, with text flashing up on screen, varying fonts and colours, some words exclaiming alone, others going on to build up sentences. Many of the works, Richards’ included, involve voiceovers. Breaking this down, Brad Butler & Karen Mirza’s short piece, Hold Your Ground, inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, dissects the ‘semantics’ of the protesting crowd, isolating individual sounds as pre-speech elements. The result is alienating and implies a sense of struggle to communicate.

In conversation with writer and curator Gil Leung, Richards spoke of his film-making process as a dissolving of the self, and an attempt to cut back and refine his material whilst preserving an overall sense of unknowability. Appropriated and contingent fragments from very different sources jar in some way, never quite making sense, offering both resonance and dissonance. Indeed, this was the feeling I was left with after the day of events, and one which certainly echoes the tone of much of Jarman’s own work. The films in this Award offer a fitting tribute, and through the opportunities offered as a result of this exposure, many more artist film-makers will go on to leave their own mark.


Image of the Jarman Award letters spelt out on the beach

James Richards
Not Blacking Out Just Turning Off 
courtesy the artist

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