Entrée – one of Bergen’s leading non-profit, independent spaces – has this year made a decisive commitment to showing single-screen film and video works in the most optimal conditions possible. «After eight years as a white cube, which can create really harsh conditions for video and film, I thought it was time to adjust the space and devote a full year to these media», says Entrée’s co-founder and curator, Randi Grov Berger. «Together with my artist colleague Andrew Amorim, I started planning how to rebuild Entrée to present moving-image works in more ideal conditions.» By Helena Haimes
From mid-March, the gallery is devoting its entire programme to artists’ moving-image works, converting its exhibition space, located in the very centre of Bergen, into a small but impeccably equipped movie theatre. The programme promises to be rich, varied and globally relevant, and includes a mixture of commissioned and existing works by international and Norwegian artist filmmakers. It kicks off with three works by emerging Berlin-based Chinese artist Yafei Qi that investigate the growing feminist movement in her native country. Later highlights include a collaborative project with curator Ingrid Haug Erstad that presents Anton Vidolke’s widely-praised Immortality For All, a film trilogy exploring the lineage and legacy of Russian Cosmism; an Entrée-commissioned work by Marysia Lewandowska that continues her research-led exploration of archives, collections and exhibitions; as well as screenings of works by Goutam Ghosh and Jason Havneraas, Johanna Billing and Jon Raffman, among others.
Screening at Entrée between 29 March and 8 April is British artist Ian Giles’s film After BUTT. Grov Berger first met Giles during her curatorial residency at New York’s ISCP in 2014, and she and Amorim reconnected with him when they were back there last year. «When he started telling us about his work in progress it aroused our curiosity», she tells me. «When he later sent us the finished work we were stunned: there are so many layers of information, and so many things going on at the same time in his work, which makes it complex and simple at the same time.»
Giles’s film is a meditation on the impact and legacy of BUTT Magazine – the iconic, pink-paged magazine made by and for gay men between 2001 and 2011. The film’s fulcrum is a series of interviews that the artist conducted with the publication’s founders – Jop Van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers – as well as other contributors, including arts and culture journalist Alex Needham and curator Stuart Comer. Giles compiled and edited this material into a script with a narrative structure that loosely tells BUTT’s story in chronological order, which was then performed by a selected group of younger gay men in a filmed series of workshops.
The resulting work is both a cross-generational celebration and incisive critique of the magazine and its authentic representations of gay culture at a crucial point in its history. The late 90s and early 2000s saw the introduction of combination therapy for HIV, and with it a renewed wave of sexual freedom and a new sense of the multiplicity of gay identity rather than the preened and polished “muscle marys” who had previously been so dominant in gay publishing. It showed that, as one of the interviewees puts it, «there are many ways to be gay».
Giles first came across BUTT when he was a student at Chelsea College of Art, London, in 2005. «I initially liked it as an object», he tells me. «The black images, the pink paper, this zine quality. Every other magazine on the shelf was shiny and just looked like Vogue, whereas this stood out.» Ten years later, he was reintroduced to the magazine when staying with a friend in Amsterdam who was working for Van Bennekom and Jonkers, and had a collection of BUTT issues in her spare room. Freshly intrigued, he started flicking through them while filming on his phone – a gesture that he repeatedly recreates in the final film as a nod to the publication’s design.
After BUTT gently reflects the magazine’s aesthetics and seductive objectness, though Giles was careful to keep these references subtle. «I think what I have continued to do is employ BUTT’s sense of a natural but published conversation – my film expands approaches to publishing by representing the interviews I carried out and translating them into the medium of film.»
Older viewers are likely to feel a twinge of shock at the ease with which the film subjects such a relatively recent era to creative historicisation. Again, this was an artistic decision that was grounded in the magazine itself, and its distinctive approach to gay history and culture. «They interviewed a lot of people who’d been hugely influential on gay culture in the forty-year period before the magazine was founded», Giles explains. «They didn’t want to teach people about gay histories, but record their histories – they’d interview John Waters or Don Bachardy, who was an amazing painter, and Christopher Isherwood’s partner. They identified this catalogue of men who’d been through a lot themselves, so it was easy to historicise it because of that. Plus, the design of BUTT looks old in a way, which strangely means it sort of hasn’t dated either.»
Another thread running through the film is a constantly shifting and intentionally nebulous sense of authorship. The artist-author, for example (handing out scripts, instructing the session’s participants) is himself played by a young actor. This is reinforced in the film’s script – available at Entrée as part of an accompanying publication – which refers to interviewees as numbers rather than names. «I wanted to make it more of a collective voice, and initially it was to protect the honest way that people had spoken in our interviews», said Giles.
Though obviously seen as crucial to the creative process of most conventional films, the use of a pre-written script as a structural device reflects a new direction for Giles. He explains that he’s moved closer to a more traditional, planned approach in his recent work, having previously made many of his creative decisions in the editing room. «Some of my previous projects definitely influenced that process», he recalls. «Essential Rhythms, a film loosely based on the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, was the first time I worked with other people’s words – I did a workshop with people, recorded their words and re-narrated them as a voiceover.»
His influences also extend into theatrical territory. A Caryl Churchill play, Pigs and Dogs, exploring events leading to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, which was at London’s Royal Court in 2016, proved especially inspiring. «The play spliced quotes from lots of different people, it’s performed by three actors who walk around in a triangle and recite quotes in single sentences, and the audience has to piece them together.»
The set of contemporary visual and performance practices that theorists have come to call ‘participatory art’ provided the artist with another fruitful source of inspiration, though their impact is purposefully oblique and intelligently referenced. This participatory element is reinforced by the lasting friendships forged during After BUTT’s production, which the artist sees as crucial to the final film’s intimate atmosphere. «I’m constantly alluding to and borrowing from the aesthetics of participation», he says, «and the script and the making of the film were great ways of getting this group of people together».
Ian Giles, After BUTT, Entrée, Bergen, Norway, 29 March - 8 April 2018. The program is curated by Randi Grov Berger & Andrew Amorim. One project with Anton Vidokle this fall is curated by Ingrid Haug Erstad.