SARAH PIERCE INTERVIEWS THE CURATORS OF PLASTIK, AN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTISTS’ MOVING IMAGE HELD IN GALWAY (7 FEBRUARY, AN TAIBHDHEARC), CORK (13 – 15 FEBRUARY, CRAWFORD/TRISKEL) AND DUBLIN (20 – 22 FEBRUARY, IFI/TBG+S).
Sarah Pierce: How did Plastik come to be?
PLASTIK (1): Jenny Brady first got in touch with Ben Cook (Director of LUX) about the possibility of setting up a critical forum group in Dublin after attending a school led by Ian White at the LUX / ICA Biennial of Moving Images in 2012. Lux were interested and Cook visited Dublin in February 2013, in order to establish Critical Forum Dublin at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (TBG+S). It was based on a model that had been running in both London and Glasgow. The curatorial board responsible for putting PLASTIK together were all drawn from that first year of Critical Forum.
Maeve Connolly was also involved from a very early stage and helped put together a conceptual framework that would inform the festival. Our intention was to set up a dialogue between the spheres of film and visual art and to have that conversation take place in ways that we might not be used to here. Key to this relationship was creating a dialogue between the festival’s two main partners: the Irish Film Institute (IFI) and TBG+S.
The history of artists’ moving image practice, in terms of work produced, but also access to materials, is still relatively new here. Of course things are changing rapidly, but it was our hope that, by bringing these aspects into conversation through a festival, we could also consider the ways in which cinema can function as a site for the visual arts. We also wanted to begin to address issues around access, to create a context through which audiences throughout the country could start to access this work, the full spectrum of which we now refer to as ‘artists’ moving image’.
After some deliberation we settled on the name PLASTIK, for the way it evoked cinema’s more sculptural aspects, a gap between the material and the immaterial, aspects often brought to the fore through the engagement of visual artists with the medium.
SP: Can you elaborate on the process of programming a festival of this scale in terms of funding and logistics?
PLASTIK: The first time the possibility of the festival was floated publicly was at a public discussion at the IFI in March 2013 which addressed issues around artists’ moving image. It was a really passionate and productive session, attended by many people who had different levels of investment in these issues. It helped to identify some of the most pressing issues in this area, such as distribution / exhibition, the need to increase access to and visibility of artists’ moving-image, but also archival issues and the challenges of creating a longer historical legacy for these kinds of works. Other aspects that came up were funding issues, education and training as well the need for a heightened level of critical engagement.
Some of these issues had already begun to be addressed through the emergence of things like the Critical Forum, but the feeling at the time was that a festival devoted to this area of practice, particularly a festival with a strong discursive aspect, could be a good first step in addressing these issues and making them visible. The festival immediately started to gain momentum after that meeting and we were lucky that from the outset we had a really clear idea of what we wanted from the festival and what we hoped it might achieve.
SP: The curatorial focus was on artist films, which are typically shown in gallery spaces, yet you chose to programme much of the festival in cinematic spaces. Why?
PLASTIK: We were interested in exploring what the specifics of cinema could bring to a festival like this. We had ideas about how it might help to focus the discussion – having all these people in one place looking at the same thing. But we were also interested in the particular questions that the cinema setting might ask of these works. We were aware that this would not necessarily be the ideal condition for all of the works included in the programme and we were perfectly happy for that to be the case.
We were also interested in testing the limits of what we could do with the idea of the cinema, both in terms of the more performative gestures we saw at play in the works of Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder in Cork, but also through the variety of temporal experiences and kinds of attention the works demanded. The discourses around cinema within the visual arts have in the past been quite dismissive of cinema. The idea of an ‘expanded cinema’, for example, has always contained a kind of dissatisfaction and uneasiness with what cinema can be and do. Of course, some suspicion is healthy, but we were equally interested in what the specific constraints of cinema could offer works like these.
Finally, we were interested in a more traditional festival structure: the idea of a specific series of works and perspectives to be engaged with in succession. A structure like this presents the opportunity to have quite an intense experience with the works, curatorial propositions and discussion that can be really generative; we wanted to bring this to an Irish context.
SP: Plastik took place across three cities: Cork, Galway and Dublin. What differences did you notice in each place? Were there special considerations for programming?
PLASTIK: From the outset we wanted to reimagine the idea of what a touring programme might look like. In a discussion that helped kick off the Dublin leg of the festival, Isla Leaver Yap (LUX Scotland) spoke about the dangers of parachuting programmes into different locations, something we also aimed to avoid by building events from the ground up in each of the locations. In practice this meant independently curated programmes – in Cork by Aoife Desmond and in Galway by Megs Morley – but also in partnership with a whole range of local partners. It also meant expanding the festival beyond the limits of a screening programme. For example, the reading group Aoife and Sarah Lincoln ran in Cork in the weeks running up to the festival and a public discussion in Galway addressing their recent Unesco City of Film status and the impact this might have for artists’ films. These are elements that we don’t normally think about in relation to touring festivals.
SP: The talks programme was a big part of the events. What did you learn through these public moments? Why include a discursive element?
PLASTIK: At previous events Ben Cook and others had spoken about the historical place of artists’ moving image, an issue that is still being decided and debated in film and visual art contexts. We felt that the discursive aspects included in the programme were vital in situating ourselves in relation to these wider debates instead of just watching them from afar. The festival also remains grounded by its connection to the discursive nature of Critical Forum and the possibility of a more rigorous and critical engagement with these kinds of practices.
SP: What was it like to curate as a team?
PLASTIK: There was a process of getting to know each person involved with running the festival. We were aware of the fact that we each had distinct positions in relation to this area of practice and made a decision at the outset to incorporate these diverse perspectives within the festival structure – having a curatorial team rather than one single voice. But we also didn’t want to end up with a festival that felt like it was programmed by a committee. In practice this meant granting a large degree of autonomy to each of our invited curators. We also fought hard, individually, for those aspects of the programme that we were most passionate about. In the end this was visible not just in the overall shape of the festival but in those aspects that each of us fought to maintain.
SP: What’s next? Will the PLASTIK festival happen again?
PLASTIK: The response to the festival was really overwhelming, not only in terms of the sheer number of people involved, but also the degree and the quality of that engagement. It was also truly remarkable for example at 11am on the Sunday morning of the Dublin event to see many of the same faces that we had just left dancing at the Hannah Sawtell show at 2am the night before, all ready and willing to take on what turned out to be a marathon five and a half hour session with David Gatten.
There are still many questions that need to be addressed with regard to how we can continue to foster a productive environment and an audience for these kinds of practices. Ultimately, it was our hope that the PLASTIK festival would feed into this discussion in a very active way, and maybe even begin to address some of these issues and consider new possibilities. It is certainly our intention to continue to take part in these discussions and beyond that there is every likelihood that the festival will return in one shape or another.
Sarah Pierce is an artist based in Dublin. Jenny Brady is an artist working with the moving image to explore ideas around translation, communication and speech. Daniel Fitzpatrick is a film curator, writer and lecturer. Sibyl Montague is a visual artist currently based in Dublin. Fifi Smith is a visual artist and founder of the MExIndex.
1. PLASTIK comprises Daniel Fitzpatrick, Jenny Brady, Sibyl Montague and Fifi Smith. The PLASTIK Festival was made possible through the generous support of the Arts Council.