PUNK + ART+ POLITICS
Just another angry council estate type who doesn’t know his place…
Comment on my application to the Royal College of Art 1982
I started-out making films with a super 8mm camera that my Mum brought me at a Spiritualist Church jumble sale while still a teenager in the punk era. Sadly all of these have either been lost because of my nomadic lifestyle, or were chewed-up in S8mm projector’s as a result of my failed attempts to edit with a film splicer and chemical cement – which at the time at least got me as high as a kite – even if it didn’t result in the Eisenstein-like film montages I was trying to achieve!
These lost films were mostly just moving-picture portraits of the boys and girls I grew up with: The Punks, Skinheads, Soul-boys, Mods, Glam-Rockers, Council estate kids, Squaddies, Asian bad-boy Martial Arts experts (who went on to become stuntmen in the Bond movies) and even the odd Rastafarian.
Story-wise they really were just snapshots of life – us playing football or cricket, doing karate, gang fighting, chasing and lusting after girls or just hanging around being bored. Lost home movies from life on an English council estate in the 1970s.
ART SCHOOL FILM+VIDEO
At Maidstone College of Art – as well as discovering Art-school Girls, Jean Luc-Godard, the Nouvelle Vague and learning how to use a 16mm Bolex – I was also a student on the ‘Godfather’ of British Video Art: David Hall‘s pioneering Fine Art Film,Video and Sound course.
Many of my early experiments with film and artist’s video, installation and performance work can be found buried somewhere in the REWIND archive and might just see the cathode-ray light of day again in the future (who knows with academics!)
These works were above all a reaction to the angry and austere times I lived through in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Inspired by punk and the DIY ethos, I became obsessed with the emerging CCTV/Surveillance culture of the UK – a phenomena which we all now, alarmingly take for granted – Along with a healthy preoccupation with understanding and exploring violence.
To this end I undertook extreme duration performance works, recorded on high-density video and which I called acts of resistance and transgression – rather than just outrage/shock for its own sake.
A restored selection of these works can be found here:
Contact me via this website for a password to this portfolio.
Still from Passage (A Dead End) 2 screen Installation 1982
Looking back again at these films recently, perhaps what’s really left on a pile of decaying oxide tapes, are – in the end – a series of self-portraits about being young, angry and frustrated in a country riddled with class-prejudices, cultural divisions, inequalities and a system of privilege that keeps “angry types from council estates” out of art schools these days.
Like many young people do – now as much as back then – I wanted to challenge authority by pushing both my mind and body to a limit and see/read/hear/talk/sweat/rage and experiment with life as well as art through a great medium of the 20th century. A medium which had always been part of my world but which had always been in-accessible to “Council Estate types” with second-hand Super 8mm camera’s who “didn’t know their place”
A medium called: Television
LAST STANDS & LOST CAUSES
Pictorial heroes art, imagery and creative impulses were heavily influenced by the political context of 1980s Britain, in particular the legacies of the Falklands War and the depiction on TV of the Miners Strike in 1984, along with other manifestations of urban unrest that were springing up across the country at the time.
Pictorial Heroes reacted accordingly, identifying and using the TV as a medium of confrontation and alienation – a cathode-ray tube riot shield to hide behind and a tool to help search for truths in a troubled land.
Energetic, provocative and always angry, Pictorial Heroes work was and remains a rough and ready challenge to the academic definition of video art….
Pictorial Heroes began as a collaboration between two art-school graduates (Doug Aubrey and Allan Robertson) from Maidstone College of Art’s seminal Fine Art Video course.
With the legacy of the Falklands War and the Miner’s Strike leaving a deep emotional and creative scar on our motivations, Pictorial Heroes became our way of collectively responding to the times we were living through.…
Conceptually Pictorial Heroes was a collaborative fusion of art, pop, politics and the emerging video/digital technology of the time, and their projects took the form of award-winning single screen videotapes and multi-screen gallery happenings/interventions.
Foremost among these were video installations they staged for the first time in history at the Scottish Society of Artists in the McClellan Galleries and at the Royal Academy on Edinburgh’s mound, at the Seagate gallery in Dundee and also, variously at the National review of Live Art and Smith Biennial, which they won with a seminal single-screen video piece: Sniper (possibly an art-world first)
Pictorial Heroes went on to exhibit single-screen works at many International Video Art festivals, including the Worldwide Video Festival in The Hague, the London Film Festival and the prestigious Locarno Video Art Festival.
A female Sniper stalks a TV station in a dystopian global village.
Sniper is in many respects Pictorial Heroes short-form master work and caught both the spirit of time and place (Zeitgeist) of the late 1980’s and attracted international recognition as one of the first Artist’s videos pieces to ever win a major UK art prize (despite damning criticism from the Scottish Art world at the time)
Stylishly shot with a prototype CCD Camera Sniper took the vogue for de-constructed narrative and scratch video to a new and original cinematic level.
Smith Biennial 1987 Prize Winner
Production 1986/87: Analogue U-matic/CCD Video camera and Quantel paintbox. Produced at the Television Workshop Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art (DJCA) Dundee.
Featuring Allan Robertson as a spokesman for an ideologically fucked-over generation lost in a post-industrial wasteland. He wanders, rants and waxes lyrical about poetry, art and politics like a video art-world Mark E Smith.
In-between scenes this social outsider and art-world gob-shite is both politically corrected, dressed down and redressed both by the manipulation of video technology and a stylized female style-bible TV presenter-type, whose own observations on style become ever more subverted and pointed.
The City Limits award comment said it all: “Stylish, subversive and too sharp by half!”
Production: sometime in 1986. Analogue U-matic and VHS video and Quantel Paintbox/Stereo. Produced at the Television Workshop Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee
City Limits Award: Best video, Bracknell Video Art Festival, 1986
The Last man in Europe
Inspired both by Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ and Joseph Beuys’s Coyote performance and drawing on George Orwell’s original title for 1984: ‘The Last Man In Europe’ is a fragment from a lost feature film shot on an industrial wasteland, in a city somewhere in Northern Europe.
Production: 1985/85′: Analogue U-matic /Stereo. Produced at the Television Workshop Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee
Arrests was the single-screen mix-down – or rather mash-up – of a multi-monitor/bricks and rubble installation work called ‘The Great Divide’ which staged variously between 1986-88 across the UK.
Arrests was an angry/physical and conceptual reaction to the emerging surveillance culture of the time and a country increasingly divided by class and lifestyle as well as a side-swipe and observation on the emerging upwardly mobile yuppie-culture and neo-liberal politics of the time.
Production sometime between 1985-87: Analogue U-matic, 35mm stills/slides, Quantel Paintbox and VHS/Stereo. Produced at the Television Workshop Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee
Reflections on the Art of the State
A mix-down single-screen and poetic and polemical muse on a State that’s just a stone’s throw away.
Reflections on the Art of the State was the culmination of an award-winning installation series called: ‘The Faction Project’ which was variously staged between 1985-88 and was the first Artist’s video installation to ever feature at the Royal Scottish Academy Edinburgh, Scotland.
Employing many devices and techniques that have since become common place in digital TV and HD Cinema Reflections on the Art of the State was a work that mixed art, pop and politics to strip-bare the medium of television as an aggressor rather than as a passive form of observation.
The faction project and Reflections on the Art of the State was produced between 1985-1988. Analogue Hi-band U-matic and Quantel Paintbox/Merlin Analogue special effects/ Stereo. Produced at the Television Workshop Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee
Benno-Schotz Sculpture Prize (for Installation version Faction: All the King’s Forces) Glasgow Society of Artists, McClellan Gallery 1986
LOST and FOUND
Curator Malcolm Dickson at Street Level interviews Doug Aubrey as part of the Glasgow Art International in 2010.
The event was to mark the re-staging of Eventspace#1 an artists video show which included an award-winning installation by Pictorial Heroes at the original Transmission gallery in 1986:
The Benno-Schotz Sculpture Prize winning: Faction, Fragments and Divisions.
George Squared was commissioned by channel 4 as part of the 19:4:90 series that celebrated Glasgow as the European city of culture.
Part an observation of a place, part a documentary and part a global media mix-down of world-changing events, the past and present clash in an Eisenstein inspired dynamic montage that reflected events globally at the time.
George Squared marked the departure from established artist video practise by Pictorial Heroes into new and uncharted Cinema territory which would result in their Magnum Opus: Work, Rest and Play on the one hand; While on the other also launched a fleeting but highly controversial move into TV Production.
Produced in 1990: Betacam SP/Analogue stereo sound.
A Fields and Frames/Analogue Production
WORK, REST & PLAY
World Wide Video Festival, The Hague 1993: Official selection
London Film Festival 1993: Official Selection and UK premier
World Wide Video Festival, The Hague 1994: Official selection
World Wide Video Festival, The Hague 1995: Official selection
Locarno International Video Art Festival 1995: Official selection
A technical palimpsest for its time
Colin McArthur (Sight and Sound)
Like the upswing of a Pynchonesque Yo-Yo
James Flint (Wired Magazine)
Made over 6 years Pictorial Heroes magnum opus: Work, Rest and Play represented not just a farewell to the world of Video Art but also a ground-breaking fusion of analogue and digital image making, text, music and the road movie genre.
Despite critically acclaimed reviews and writings on the project by among others Colin McArthur and Wired Magazine’s James Flint the film met with a large degree of hostility both from the Artists video community and a conservative and reactionary Scottish Cinema scene.
Work, Rest and Play was a film conceived both for digital cinema (before it was invented) and a non-linear platform that at the time was still in its infancy:the world-wide-web.
The up-loading of the films on to the world-wide web perhaps marks the point where Work, Rest and Play finally found its real home.
Work, Rest and Play consists of 5 episodes.
Log-in, turn-on, tune-in and drive into your dreams!
Date of Production: 1990-1995/Analogue High and Low-band U-matic, Betacam SP and Digital Betacam/Quantel Paintbox, Edit Box, Computer Animation and Analogue/Digital editing hybrid/Stereo.
Original music by Philip Crean.
Produced at The Television Workshop, Duncan of Jordanstone College Art and by Pictorial Heroes at Edit 123 Glasgow.
Text, Camera and Direction: Doug Aubrey
Editing and Post-Production: Allan Robertson.
Grade and On-line Post: Ian Ballantyne
Light, Sound, Motion and a Guy named Frank
Love, Lead and Pre-cast Concrete
Iron, Steel and Paper – Blood, Sweat and Lager
Dreams, Light and the darkness on the edge of town
TV & SUB-CULTURE
The question was that of knowing how to introduce resistance into this cultural industry. I believe that the only line to follow is to produce programmes for TV or whatever, which produce in the viewer an effect of uncertainty and trouble. It seems to me that the thing to aim at is a certain sort of feeling or sentiment.You can’t introduce concepts, you can’t produce argumentation. This type of media isn’t the place for that, but you can produce a feeling of disturbance in the hope that this disturbance will be followed by reflection. I think that that’s the only thing one can say and obviously it’s up to every artist to decide by what means s/he thinks s/he can produce this disturbance..
Jean-François Lyotard, Brief Reflections on Popular Culture, Institute of Contemporary Arts Documents 4, London, 1986.
After disappearing into a self-imposed exile from the art scene with the completion of their magnum opus: Work, Rest and Play, Pictorial Heroes became a Film production company in the 1990’s,and went on to produce provocative, creative documentaries and experimental feature films for among others: channel 4 Television.
As a film-maker who owes as much to punk, reggae, youth subculture, anti-fascist politics and the Martial Arts as he does to a High Art or a formal Film school education, Youth sub-culture and ‘Occulture’ have always fascinated me.
Not least of all because of their misrepresentation in the mainstream media which is all too often far too quick to condemn that which it doesn’t or refuses to understand:
The Hidden Truths in a culture or society.
Although very different in style and form, at the heart of all the films that follow here is the theme of transgression – not necessarily in just a stylised or fetishistic sense – but more in the form of anti-social/anti-establishment style and body politics that challenge power and establishment orthodoxy.
Sometimes violent, sometimes sexy and sensitive but always passionate and angry, they are portraits of the beating heart of youth and rebellion.
All the films I’ve included here like my early work and collaborations with Pictorial Heroes mess-about and experiment with reality and subvert the moving image medium of Television.
But perhaps above all else in these films I set out to find new narratives and capture/portray something of the magic and lost sweat of youth.
THIS WAS ENGLAND
World of skinhead was commissioned by Channel 4 as part of its ‘Tribe-time’ strand in the mid 1990s.
Marginalized and misunderstood just like the subculture that the film explores by the very station that commissioned it and who subsequently left it uncredited as an inspiration behind Shane Meadows: This is England series of films, World of skinhead despite the copyright issues involved in clearing more than 25 tracks of music has gone viral on the world-wide web.
At some-point in the future I’m thinking of revisiting the story of this film with many of the same characters, and more as a story about growing old and a sense of identity/Britishness and multi-cultural conflict more than anything else that the skinhead cult involved.
I’m also looking at making a film in the future about skinhead girls – whose look and style is both distinctive and yet seductive – and am planning a video installation based on the downloaded and pirated versions of my original film as: www.orld of skinhead.
If anyone wants to see a full version of the film as it should be seen I have a limited edition DVD which also includes a Directors commentary track.
For copyright reasons these are only available to share with personal collectors, cultural and academic archives and skinheads! and are solely for non-commercial exploitation.
Please contact me via this site for more details.
A Pictorial Heroes Production for Channel 4 Television UK
A series of 3 ‘Mondo Movies’ commissioned by Channel 4 for ‘Renegade TV’
XXXTripping explores underground cultures obsession with the theme of transgression.
Featuring many well-known counter-culture figures such as graphic novel legend and Occultist Alan Moore, Film-makers such as Beth B and Richard Kern, skinhead writer and artist Stewart Home and the legendary Genesis P.Orridge the films are what we termed at the time ‘Hyper-Docs’:
Edgy fast paced short films that explore themes of Magic, the Body and Death in a digital dimension.
XXXTripping was also pioneering at the time in its use of blogging and the internet – even though the broadcaster involved couldn’t see the point of the internet and didn’t think it would catch on!
XXX2: The Body
A short film portrait and an exploration of noise and silence with the pioneering dub-reggae Producer, Legend and Mix-master Adrian Sherwood.
The film was a pilot shot in an afternoon, in North London for a longer project which sadly never saw the light of day partly because no-one wanted to listen to a film about noise and deafness and partly because Sherwood went on to collaborate on similar ‘artful’ ventures elsewhere..but perhaps mostly because I went off to Baghdad to work on a film called: Minefield.
If anything, it’s a short film about one of my own personal pictorial heroes with whom I share increasing hearing loss as a result of a well-spent and lost youth.
While I guess if I had been a musician rather than a film-maker, I would have wanted to be Adrian Sherwood….
As for the original duo behind Pictorial Heroes:
Alan Robertson now lives and works in Belgrade as a Visual Effects Director, while Doug Aubrey is a BAFTA nominated film-maker based in Copenhagen and Glasgow.
A selective archive of Doug Aubrey and Pictorial Heroes works can be found in the REWIND collection. While a more detailed history of Pictorial Heroes activity in the 1980’s and 1990’s can be found on their Twitter-Timeline.
All rights/clearances and permission to use/exploit or exhibit this material: Copyright Pictorial Heroes Ltd (c)