A Film of One’s Own [Archive Fever]

Louise Curham’s solo exhibition A Film of One’s Own [Archive Fever] uses super 8 film, a medium which celebrated its fiftieth birthday this year. Here, Louise gives Focus an insight into this multi-layered work, over ten years in the making, on show at PhotoAccess until Sunday 15th November 2015.

A Film of One's Own [Archive Fever]

A Film of One’s Own [Archive Fever]

The title of this exhibition is important. ‘A Film of One’s Own’ references Virginia Woolf’s A room of one’s own and Jacques Derrida’s Archive fever: A Freudian impression.

Archiving one’s self

The work in this show all comes from my abstract super 8 films literally sticky-taped into an old 16mm narrative film of mine. I cut out the middle of the 16mm film and taped the super 8 into the gap. 

My idea was to ‘archive myself’ by putting all my super 8 films inside this 16mm film. This connects with the [Archive fever] in the title. Jacques Derrida gave a talk at the Freud Museum in London in 1994 that became the text in English Archive Fever: A Freudian impression, which has reverberated so widely for anyone dealing with culture and the past. A resonance for me from Derrida’s piece is his reading of the psychoanalytic process as one of interrogating one’s own archive. The article is much better known for the way it lays out Derrida’s thoughts about the formation of ‘the archive’ and its construction of power. For me he sets these ideas down in service of his reading of the psychoanalytic process as mining one’s own archive and the consequent perils and discoveries.

So in this work I double archive myself, nesting one era of work inside another. What I learnt from this is that Derrida is right about the hiving-off that happens when we consign something to the archive. I had not realised before how dramatic the act of archiving can be.

The physical strips of super 8 that are inside the 16mm can not behave as they did before. I can’t run them through the projector or put them on the scanner as I could before. But I do have access to them in a different, ‘archived’ way and that is all the digital surrogates you see in this exhibition – stills made from digital scans of the prints and a 4 image video work of the new 16mm strip that contains the super 8. The series of 4 single prints are the super 8 strips before they were archived into the 16mm. Those can’t now be recreated (the digital file remains of course) like that, the films are now taped in, archived.

A Film of One’s Own

On a simple level, this work archives my process as a maker and my shift from narrative to abstraction. The 16mm film is my 1993 student film. At that point I wanted to be Jane Campion. The super 8s quickly became almost film-less – as the digital prints show, they are made from paper and trace paper and shards of celluloid taped together. 

The shift to abstraction came from lots of places. 

Virginia Woolf comes in here. What I take from her text is that creativity needs resources. That still resonates powerfully for me. Resources seem to have gotten tighter and tighter for cultural production in general and my own  resources never match what I’d like to do – resources in terms of time, space, things and increasingly my peers and colleagues who can’t spare time, et al.

In a way, I have built my response to this limitation into my practice. Traditional film making is excruciatingly resource intensive. My response to this has been to construct a practice that is ‘poor’ – my mantra has been to work with what I have in a very literal way. It’s a ‘making do’ algorithm that is quite neatly mirrored in my use of analogue film – super 8 and 16mm (35mm just once).  I read the material film tradition as one that is all about the algorithm of the machines that analogue film depends upon, in other words the limits of what those machines can do have been the leaping off point of what I think still is an amazingly rich field of artistic production. It also intrigues me that artists/film makers are still uncovering that power anew and for each person who makes that discovery it’s like a whole new invention. I think in part it’s this very literal algorithm that the technology sets up that resonates now with our experience of algorithms in all kinds of ways (most obvious is that most art students learn some coding). It seems to me that this means these film gauges stick around – practice in this area doesn’t shrink, quite the reverse it seems as new super 8 film stocks are released and even new cameras. 

So I’m saying the material film tradition grounds itself in the medium – those immensely rich explorations (let’s start with Len Lye) of what can be done between the film camera, the film processing tank, the film printer and the film projector (and continue to Paul ClipsonSally Golding and Richard Tuohy). And we have to mention Stan Brakhage, American abstract doyen whose images lie so closely behind mine.

So there are a number of ways to read my practice as ‘poor’ – I wrote about this in my MFA and teased out the link to Arte Povera. 

A Film of One's Own [Archive Fever]

A Film of One’s Own [Archive Fever]

Here I am moving further and further away from the photographic image. You can’t really see this in this exhibition. I decided to stick rigidly to my brief of archiving myself, starting at the beginning and you can see the image is there very strongly still in those early super 8s – check out the small prints with their obvious pieces of home movie (actually forged from photographs but good enough to be home movies). But you can see I quickly move away from those if you check out the big mural piece which has no photographic ‘subject’ as such.

The ‘poor’ approach connects with me as a female of my era. My approach is totally hand made. It reflects my response to the problem of sustainable image making practice and it carries me inside it – that I am female and over the course of this work have made decisions about the balance of income, art, life responsibilities. So this ties both ideas together as A film of one’s own [archive fever] – this practice uses myself, as an archive and a medium to make this work. In using myself, I stick as close to the bone as I can so that maybe my outline will be visible beneath the hurtling abstraction.

Super 8 also connects with home movies and things that happen at home.

So there’s one final point – psychoanalysis mines the archive. My moving image works are always in tension between the torrent of images and this desire to slow them, almost to soothe them. In live performance, I quite literally do this with the super 8 projectors as I intervene on their speed and nurse them through the projectors. In a way, this image torrent, no matter how kindly slowed feels like a visualisation of the tumult of this internal human space.

A Film of One’s Own [Archive Fever] will close with the special event, Performance for wind instruments and super 8 film by Canberra musicians Psithurism, on Sunday 15th November at 3pm.

Louise will be teaching Intentional Malfunction- DIY Approach to Super 8 Film at PhotoAccess from the 2nd-3rd of April, 2016. Enrol online.

Louise Curham is an experimental filmmaker and archivist. Louise collaborates often with experimental musicians – recently with locals Danny Wild and Shoeb Ahmad. Louise’s single channel film works and film installations focus on hand made and ephemeral photographic processes. These have been shown throughout Australia, in NZ and Japan. She also collaborates in the artist project Teaching and Learning Cinema, re-enacting live art from the ‘70s.


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