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t is no exaggeration to say that the installation of Handsworth Songs (1985) at Documentall introduced a new audience and a new generation to the work of the Black Audio Film Collective. An artworld audience weaned on Fischli and Weiss emerged from the black cube with a dramatically expanded sense of the historical, poetic , and aesthetic project of the legendary British group. The critical acclaim that subsequently greeted Handsworth Songs only underlines its reputation as the most important and influential art film to emerge from England in the last twenty years. It is perhaps inevitable that Handsworth Songs has tended to overshadow the eleven remaining films produced by the Collective in their fifteen-year history. If critical attention has rightly focused on the implications of that celebrated debut, an unfortunate side effect of that recognition has been the neglect of a body of work that extends from 1983 to 1998. 3 8 . Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art In its totality, the work of John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, Edward George, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, David Lawson, and Trevor Mathison remains terra infirma. There are good reasons internal and external to the group why this is so, and any sustained exploration of the Collective's work should begin by identifying the reasons for that occlusion. Such an analysis in turn sets up the discursive parameters for a close hearing and viewing of the visionary project of the Black Audio Film Collective. We can locate the moment when the YBA narrative achieved cultural liftoff in 1996 with Douglas Gordon's Turner Prize victory . The subsequent triumphalist exportation of that narrative has, until recently, succeeded in blocking the preoccupations of previous artistic generations. One strangely unremarked effect of Documentall, articulated in Britain only through mean-spirited muttering, was to call time on this hegemony. For those alert to the repositioning and realignment of form and value, however, Documentall announced a resurgence of interest in the generation long overshadowed by the YBAs. For the first time in years, figures such as Zarina Bhimji, Black Audio, Cerith Wyn Evans, and Isaac Julien, all of whom emerged in the mid-'80s, were evaluated, contextualized , and affirmed as canonical artists of postwar European culture. Such a reconsideration of the '80s generation throws intergenerational differences into relief. This becomes more striking when one contrasts Black Audio with successful young black artists of the 1990s, such as Ellen Gallagher, Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili, and Kara Walker. As Kobena Mercer astutely pointed out, these "younger artists no longer feel responsible for a blackness that is itself increasingly hypervisible in the global market of multicultural commodity fetishism.'" Their response to this hyper-visibility has been to operate through strategies of "mute or evasive positioning.'" Artists today evince a coy slipperiness of address, aesthetic, and self-fashioning, an elusive approach that can be understood as a protective response to "diversity increasingly administered as a social and cultural norm in postmodernity."1 To contemporary ears, the very name of Black Audio Film Collective strikes a note of Fanonian seriousness at odds with the strategies of deracialization and disidentification common to contemporary artists. Fashions have changed; BAFC now appears to shoulder a burden of representation others have long since shrugged off. As a statement of intent, their name now sounds direct to a fault, confrontational even, in comparison with the equivocation of today's sophisticates. Any reckoning with the work of BAFC then obliges one to reorientate one's discursive position, to die; it is not too difficult to discern British critical/cultural neglect toward the BAFC as an act of sustained petty revenge for their refusal to do just that. From the perspective of 1990s video art, BAFC's "crime" was to continue to invest in the cinematic even as its death was being announced. The development of the moving image within the gallery premised itself on the notion of the death of cinema as art practice. In an artworld spellbound by new media, the group appeared to be stranded in the past. In Julien's words: "The move into the gallery space to make an installation allegorizes the production conditions of British cinema, which no longer existed as an experimental cinema or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2152-7792
Print ISSN
1075-7163
Pages
pp. 38-45
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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