/ / Cinenova

I Don’t See A History That Goes Back From Before I Came In.
Melissa Castagnetto and Marina Vishmidt

Performed at The Women’s Library on Saturday 14 March 2009.

Hello my name is Melissa Castagnetto and this is Marina Vishmidt. First, we will read a short statement from Emma Hedditch, as a way of having the person closest to the archive narrate the history a bit fro the ones of you who are not familiar with Cinenova, then Marina and I will sit and read from present discussions we have had among ourselves on thinking about Cinenova. Hopefully we will bring together the factual and the subjective and that that would be a good base from which to extend into the rest of the presentations happening today. We would also like to posit this instance on presenting our history with Cinenova as a moment of present reflection. And for this we have pens and papers, so you and us can get up at any point and write a question, or a response to previous comment or whatever you might be thinking during the duration of this presentation, it would be good to visualise this and at the end we can see all of these together on the wall.

We will also be playing an audio clip description of Syntagma by Valie Export, we were thinking that this would enact an important gap between presence and absence, lags in time and visibility, that is key to the whole presentation and how we’re approaching Cinenova in it.

SCRIPT:

In the summer last year, after Ian White’s screening of kinomuseum – Kinomuseum focused on the relationship between cinema and the museum, examining the responses of both institutions to artists work, and was originally screened at the 2007 Short Film Festival Oberhausen, but this time at the whitechapel gallery, a group of us went to the pub. Mike Sperlinger was there, also Ian, Megan Frazer, Jackeline Holt, Rachel Baker and Emily Pethick too. all of us have been involved in different capacities with Cinenova. and also with Emma H, our friend who is an artist and Cinenova’s director. She had been away for sometime, and we were wondering what was happening with Cinenova while she was away. Jackie, Rachel, Emily and I, were throwing around different ideas about what we could do. We had questions of administration, also structural and artistic questions. We felt very enthusiastic about our discussions, I loved that these ideas were somehow triggered by Ian’s screening. It seemed that affective charge was the biggest thing then, what happened in the screening and the discussion we all had after. it felt dynamic and compulsive, I had not ever met Emily before, and somehow we find ourselves organising a meeting with Emma and proposed to work towards a project for the showroom gallery in London.

Part of the Kinomuseum programme was a subprogramme by Mary Kelly called fall out. This programme and the processes that Ian shares in terms of thinking about the Kinomuseum programme, really steeped in for me that very live and problematic relation of expansion and contraction and historical feeling. And then I found myself reflecting on our experiences with the Mary Kelly Project, and how we worked together individually and collectively. The Mary Kelly Project was an instance of the kinds of collaborative practices that constitute Cinenova’s main way of appearing in public. [READ THE FIRST PAGE OF MARY KELLY PUBLICATION]

Now, can we think about engaging with Cinenova, how to position oneself without obliterating what exists already, and been conscious of the who’s and how’s, and how this position come into been through these relations, how do we make these processes visible? But how do we communicate the politics of working together for that group identity not to become an object? How do we preserve the singularities of these processes?

I think Lis Rhodes’ practice and films also really interesting on above points, i.e. how much of her practice as a filmmaker and activist was community-oriented, and how spare and hermetic some of her films can be at condensing these politics, but then the generativeness of that muteness and anger within that stripping away. As Ian White noted in the 2008 Oberhausen catalogue, writing about the programme he organized titled ‘Whose History?’ after a 1979 essay by Rhodes for the ‘Film as Film’ exhibition catalogue:

Her unequivocal, political imperative is that history itself is individuated, a monolithic structure radically re-gendered into one experienced by everyone, to radical effect.

The archive becoming activated by people’s ideas and passions, and also in identifying how do we inscribe ourselves individually.

“Feeling unwilling to write – an inability to manipulate ideas into a theory and facts into a convincing argument, an apprehension at intervening in the hierarchy of film history; an alienation from its underlying thesis of development – I began to reflect.”

What precedes what? On the one hand, there are no individuals that precede or objectify the relations through which they come into being, on the other there is also no community which realises these relations as necessary or authentic. And that it’s always transient. Tension: on one hand the pleasure of identity formed by a common project, and in the other, been devoid of communal aspiration and stripped of context, the logic of an interior time. And this idea of an imaginary group, a notional community, a community that is impossible, and thus always has to be produced.

I wonder if these thoughts could even be somehow expanded to feminism itself.

The discourse we’re trying to bring into being with the preliminary discussion process leading up to the Showroom programme, and also through that programme itself, can be immediately triggered at the Women & Archive event, that Cinenova is immediately an argument or a set of ‘dispersals’ in that context rather than an object we are bringing and putting on the table. The collective and unfolding form of production that will be enacted during the Cinenova collaboration with the Showroom next year will also stage many of these questions of history and representation, and how legal regimes come into play there. [in case we hadn’t explained yet]… The Showroom would be the space in which those involved in the group would work, and others interested could work with the archive in different ways as a form of open research, and in which whatever is being worked with is in some way displayed. At present, because of the delay in The Showroom’s building we have decided to put back the project to Spring 2010.

The idea of setting up such an exchange was propelled by the desire to think in a few specific directions about Cinenova and how and why it operates in relation to feminist politics, art histories and present determinations. In doing this, we hope to articulate the Cinenova project as a vulnerable, topical, unfinished and obstinate ‘matter of concern’, a site where singularities are produced and claims dispersed rather than legacies immured.

In thinking of an archive like Cinenova, we think of a marginal existence, of an array of symptoms and potentials that emerge relationally to the concrete outlines of the present – public funding, visions of community in art practice and social conditions, the purpose of archives and what they disclose. Archives, like the moving image, take time as their medium, and an archive spanning almost a century in its holdings is an index of social history as much as woman-made film practice.

With a focus on contextualisation of materials rather than the distribution of a set legacy, we would like to think about processes of production and sociality, how they become reified as objects or traces, then to be displaced anew and turned into other processes, and where in time, in language and in politics the distinction is made – between process and trace, between an archive and a collection, between a collection and a work.

Such questions put to the archive also imply subjectivation, and how a feminist film archive may be productive and not just reproductive for us now, echoing how some feminist politics tried to overturn this distinction also. We would further like to think about organisational forms and notions of education and how they are implicated in conflicting drives for autonomy and institutional criticality we face in our daily lives as artists, curators, writers and ‘incidental persons’ in the cultural field.

* * *

[Cinenova is] Not so much separatist as structurally integral to the distribution of women-made motion pictures in educational, cultural, institutional and community instances, a visibility and a discourse are being generated every time this work is seen, rooted in a history still adept at snatching possibility out of the jaws of the present.’

The spectrum of work distributed by or available in Cinenova’s archive can be quite plural, from the rigorous formal undertakings of Lis Rhodes to more straightforward campaigning or educational films. Here is a description of Light Reading, from 1978, written by her:

“LIGHT READING begins in darkness as a woman’s voice is heard over a blank screen. She speaks of her search for a voice: of presence and absence, of experience and history. Her voice continues until the images appear on the screen and then it is silent. In the final section of the film she begins again – reading the images as these are moved and re-placed, describing the piecing together of the film as she tries to piece together the strands of her story. ‘She watched herself being looked at She looked at herself being watched but she could not perceive herself as the subject of the sentence…” (Lis Rhodes).

* * *

And to counterpose:

Leeds Animation Workshop is a not-for-profit, cooperative company, which produces and distributes animated films and videos on social and educational issues, begun in 1976 by a group of women friends who came together to make a film about the need for pre-school childcare. Since the mid-1980s the Workshop has been run by five women, who carry out all stages of the production process, from initial research to final distribution. In Home and Dry four women discuss their housing situations, the inadequacies of council policy and the political thinking that lies behind them.

* * *

It’s about activating the past not simply referring to it, and allowing an activation in the present…

* * *

An excerpt from the Circles catalogue 1979:

By presenting women’s work together we hope to be able to show its richness and diversity and the threads which run through and link it together. We hope also to encourage discussion and support for other women to make and show their own work, whether the subject matter be personal or political, figurative or formal and create our own ‘definitions’ and ‘contexts’ as women artists.
Circles Catalogue, 1979.

The women’s art movement was one of the most important of the twentieth century, above all because of the degree to which it was integrated into a political movement. It was a political movement that expanded the definition and scope of what we understand as political struggle to relations of power and domination in every domain and dimension of public and private life. One of the things that made the women’s art movement so powerful was the way it overcame narrow definitions of aesthetic culture and of political struggle at the very same time, and did so within a project of integrating cultural, social, and subjective transformation into a single practice. The challenge for contemporary feminist art practice is to continue that project.

I would like to slightly shift the terms of this question more in the direction of the relation of an archive, like Cinenova for instance, to a specific radical politics or political landscape and social movements that it has, in a way, outlasted The two feminist film organisations, Circles and Cinema of Women, which were the component parts of the 1991 merge that created Cinenova were projects that grew out of the women’s liberation movements of the 1970s and 80s, which intersected also with class and race-based political activities in the UK at that time. The statement which we read in the beginning gives more background on the principles that animated the creation of a separate distributor for moving image work made by women that circulated in art, but also educational, agitational and other community contexts. So really we’re talking about a community that has by now mutated, dispersed, or become unrecognisable, an inoperative community, in Jean-Luc Nancy’s words. We should be mindful also that Circles and Cinema of Women, as distribution mechanisms, were part of a radical independent cinema tendency in London of the 70s that also included groups such as the Berwick Street Collective, which made Nightcleaners, 4 Corners, London Women’s Film Group, The Film and History Project, and many others, including of course Black Audio Film Collective in the 80s, now among the best-known and most-historicised, due to the efforts of dedicated individuals and groups like The Otolith Group here. And likewise it can be observed that 4 Corners, for instance, has developed into a very different sort of organisation, like many other organisations that outlived the social movements and tumultuous times in which they originated. Now, operating in a community context is much more about administrating social exclusion by means of the arts to government and regeneration agency specifications than it is about advocacy or changing the conditions of this exclusion.

A look through the Cinenova archive makes it evident that we are living in a very different cultural and political landscape – many of the films in the archive are records of struggles, interventions in them or documentation of them, many of these simultaneously also film art which has in some cases become canonical. Campaigning films, personal films, women’s countercinema, reacting both to dominant cinema culture and white male-dominated official independent and experimental film subculture both. Feminist poetics, lost languages, or maybe just displaced languages, and deferred encounters with them. Cinenova is an archive, it exists as a resource, but it is not really part of a movement in the way that Circles and CoW were, or many of the groups and individuals represented in its collection. Nor does it want to compensate by ‘acting’ in the art world to revive those images and legacies. This lacunae between the times which made those films and our present makes it hard to explain what shape Cinenova could take in the future, or to justify its existence to funding bodies or people coming to it anew – ‘why a separate distributor for women?’ I don’t think the necessity to highlight and promote women’s moving image practices has gone away in the past couple of decades, especially with the rising levels of political awareness, including feminism, over the past several years. It has been said, however, that there are Women’s Libraries in London and Glasgow, and a Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths, all recipients of public funding or institutional support (through universities, for instance) however, a women’s moving image distributor like Cinenova is run on a voluntary basis with no public funding forthcoming. With relation to a canon, I think these are questions that have been most effectively addressed through the collaborations that Cinenova has enabled or participated in through screenings and research, for instance (a bit about the Mary Kelly project), and in general Cinenova exists publicly primarily through these articulations, which the upcoming Showroom’ project will try and extend into hitherto unmapped areas.

This is a very pragmatic question, but I have very little knowledge about how this works and it could provide some interesting discussion: What licences do the works in the archive sit under?

The question of licensing is very interesting, evoking as it immediately does a host of questions about the practical existence, intentionality and future of Cinenova, as it’s currently situated in a liminal area which is neither archive nor distributor, which in its own right speaks about its historical trajectory and the present constraints which both define and un-define it as a collective undertaking, as an idea, and how it operates on a day to day level. Clarifying existing licensing arrangements and devising a framework within which they can be reconsidered, for Cinenova as an organisation and in its relation to the artists whose work it distributes, is an urgent task, but also not one that will probably be fulfilled in the short term -it does form one of the cornerstones of the grant applications which are currently being written. At the moment licensing operates on ad-hoc basis, with each screening situation and filmmaker being dealt with on a case by case basis. The general agreement is that 50% of the screening fees are paid to the filmmaker, but beyond that, I am not sure, perhaps Melissa can expand on this since she is more familiar with the administrative aspects than I am.

The contracts cannot always be located, and did not aways exist in the first place. The absence of a uniform licensing framework, and the absence of resources to devise and implement a new one, can also pose challenges when it comes to work which is also looked after by other distributors, such as the BFI and Lux in the UK, Women Make Movies in NY, or other institutions. Cinenova does not hold any exclusive rights to any of the work in the archive, and as far as I’m aware, the artists and film-makers who have work in the collection are quite free to show and distribute this work as they like, and they often do. Cinenova, in this sense, is more a point of access or information (however restricted in the present circumstances), a repository of certain materials that may not be available elsewhere, than a proprietorial entity. In this way, it is more a point of condensation and diffusion of film and video works made by women, than a solid structure to define and uphold a historical narrative or a neutral mechanism for the dissemination of a defined corpus. The provisional licensing structure is in that sense both an index of limitations, of lack of funding and staff, and an index of potential – a test site for ongoing development and thinking around these issues as they emerge, and a way to re-imagine and invent histories as a contested matter, with a vexed and mobile relation to claims of ownership or legacy, and the narrow identifications they promote.

If I propose that women as a group have a particularly compromised relation to ‘credit’ (financial or authorial). What tensions do you see between encouraging distribution and the urge to not devalue the works via over-cheap distribution? More broadly, do you think that creative commons debates are gendered due to this proposition?

Well, I would say that ‘creative commons debates’ are compromised in several ways, most obviously through trying to refine and recalibrate inherently unworkable and exploitative property regimes, and the inadequate appreciation of how ownership structures cannot be addressed solely through creating a web of customisable licenses when the value generated still ends up boosting profits further up the hierarchy. In that sense, the pragmatism of CC is closer to an idealism about reforming a capitalist property regime that cannot be reformed in the interests of producers or consumers, in which this distinction is of course a central problem. But then there is also the question of how value is measured and rewarded, and of course gender is a pervasive factor whereby certain individuals or groups work is devalued or the value is captured and capitalised elsewhere But to my mind, although it might sound too abstract, the discussion can get quite circular so long as we think it terms of credit and value, and making these more equitable through specific legal or technical allowances and don’t address how value and credit are relations which are produced and perpetuated socially and historically, with our own capitalist situation in particular, which I think is what your question is trying to approach.

In order to avoid, for the time being, embarking on a vast discussion about the relation between capitalism and patriarchy, I will try to respond more precisely to the intent of your question. If Creative Commons, for instance, tries to formalise certain situations in which creative work may circulate without traditional rewards from the reputation economy or the so-called ‘real economy’, then you propose that women have already been de facto in this situation for centuries and continue to be, where their work is un-credited and appropriated by those with more power and visibility, usually male. CC is revealed to be problematic because its fixation on technical solutions slides over the deep social and structural inequities, such as those stemming from gender, or class, or race, which cannot be ‘fixed’ through fewer or more context-dependent limitations of how work circulates and who profits from it, but by the relations to the means of production in the world that the online sphere is only a subset of. I see this a big ideological and political problem, and gender as an example of that. But without a practical critique of capitalism, women will never be properly ‘credited’, as their labour will always be undersold, since that’s the base of how capitalism works – surplus value – and I don’t see how licensing can change that. But more autonomous and confrontational modes of organisation, for the production and distribution of work, especially in times of crisis, can be a place to experiment with property relations, and specifically the form of property relations that are reflected in the individualising marketing strategies of the artworld, which of course includes, and derives from, similar structures in art history. Challenging professionalisation – atomisation – individualisation have to challenge property relations, and that can only happen by tactical self-organisation that can form a counterpower and lead by example that alternatives are possible, although of course tactical collaboration with established organs is unavoidable, so long as it promotes these goals.

Cinenova, like most distributors, applies distribution or screening fees on a sliding scale, and figures out the licensing in conjunction with the artist on a case-by-case basis. This is the current state of affairs, which has its advantages, when there is communication between Cinenova and the artist, but is obviously inadequate in many other ways – when there is no communication (sometimes the artist doesn’t remember that they deposited their work with the archive and is not even sure that it still exists – an obliteration caused by the lapse of time, but also a drift in ideology over the past decades which deprives the feminist politics of Cinenova of a certain consensual ‘reality’ – and in the sense that there has been no opportunity so far to radically revise the licensing structure wholesale and in line with the debates that ave been happening in a technological, political and economic situation very different to when Cinenova started, and also by taking advantage of the relative freedom (from bureaucracy/accountability to state agencies) that a lack of public funding affords – although this opportunity would be contingent on a source of funding, probably public.

I understand the archive came about via a merger. How do/will new works enter the archive, under what criteria? Is this a priority?

Cinenova does not currently have the resources to take new work into the archive. A big part of putting Cinenova on a new and more stable footing in the near future will be figuring out some possible avenues to answer those questions. But there is no capacity at present to effectively act as a distributor, in the standard sense of the word, of work already in the collection, much less to take on new work – and it would have to be under re-configured criteria, which would come about as part of re-imagining Cinenova’s ‘mission’, if you like.

– What’s happening? Who is doing it? How we do it?
– How is Cinenova centred as an archive? Grows through other people’s practice
– What kind of resource is it?
– To what extend we build that Cinenova thing: Accountability- Responsibility
– Involvement shapes processes shapes involvement
– What is the nature of Cinenova’s publicness, How is it enacted: Access, Position
– Socio-economic realAtions between Cinenova as an organisation & our practices

Distribution as process rather than a rigid institution & different strategies
Mobilise desire
Volunteer run spaces
People further up in the chain
Circuits of desire
Credits & Attribution : Value System, Who benefits, Who does the work?
Do it for love when you have another source of income

– What does it mean: “Artist-led organisation” Is administration & org, also part of the artist’s work as an artist?
– How do you engage as an artist in administration?
– Problematising relations of artistic capital through types of work performed by artists, non-artists, What counts as artistic practice and what counts as organisational work?

* * *

Index: trace, is the record.
Icon: Something you can see
Recording Process – How do you make this palpable/public – The idea of how Traces become icons, How do you ‘image’ relations, How do you index traces and How these traces/processes become the image/form
Forms of dialogue – conversations

CATEGORIES, Sub categories:

This is a very pragmatic question, but I have very little knowledge about how this works and it could provide some interesting discussion – What licences do the works in the archive sit under?

The question of licensing is very interesting, evoking as it immediately does a host of questions about the practical existence, intentionality and future of Cinenova, as it’s currently situated in a liminal area which is neither archive nor distributor, which in its own right speaks about its historical trajectory and the present constraints which both define and un-define it as a collective undertaking, as an idea, and how it operates on a day to day level. Clarifying existing licensing arrangements and devising a framework within which they can be reconsidered, for Cinenova as an organisation and in its relation to the artists whose work it distributes, is an urgent task, but also not one that will probably be fulfilled in the short term -it does form one of the cornerstones of the grant applications which are currently being written. At the moment licensing operates on ad-hoc basis, with each screening situation and filmmaker being dealt with on a case by case basis. The general agreement is that 50% of the screening fees are paid to the filmmaker, but beyond that, I am not sure, perhaps Melissa can expand on this since she is more familiar with the administrative aspects than I am.

The contracts cannot always be located, and did not aways exist in the first place. The absence of a uniform licensing framework, and the absence of resources to devise and implement a new one, can also pose challenges when it comes to work which is also looked after by other distributors, such as the BFI and Lux in the UK, Women Make Movies in NY, or other institutions. Cinenova does not hold any exclusive rights to any of the work in the archive, and as far as I’m aware, the artists and film-makers who have work in the collection are quite free to show and distribute this work as they like, and they often do. Cinenova, in this sense, is more a point of access or information (however restricted in the present circumstances), a repository of certain materials that may not be available elsewhere, than a proprietorial entity. In this way, it is more a point of condensation and diffusion of film and video works made by women, than a solid structure to define and uphold a historical narrative or a neutral mechanism for the dissemination of a defined corpus. The provisional licensing structure is in that sense both an index of limitations, of lack of funding and staff, and an index of potential – a test site for ongoing development and thinking around these issues as they emerge, and a way to re-imagine and invent histories as a contested matter, with a vexed and mobile relation to claims of ownership or legacy, and the narrow identifications they promote.

If I propose that women as a group have a particularly compromised relation to ‘credit’ (financial or authorial). What tensions do you see between encouraging distribution and the urge to not devalue the works via over-cheap distribution? More broadly, do you think that creative commons debates are gendered due to this proposition?

Well, I would say that ‘creative commons debates’ are compromised in several ways, most obviously through trying to refine and recalibrate inherently unworkable and exploitative property regimes, and the inadequate appreciation of how ownership structures cannot be addressed solely through creating a web of customisable licenses when the value generated still ends up boosting profits further up the hierarchy. In that sense, the pragmatism of CC is closer to an idealism about reforming a capitalist property regime that cannot be reformed in the interests of producers or consumers, in which this distinction is of course a central problem. But then there is also the question of how value is measured and rewarded, and of course gender is a pervasive factor whereby certain individuals or groups work is devalued or the value is captured and capitalised elsewhere But to my mind, although it might sound too abstract, the discussion can get quite circular so long as we think it terms of credit and value, and making these more equitable through specific legal or technical allowances and don’t address how value and credit are relations which are produced and perpetuated socially and historically, with our own capitalist situation in particular, which I think is what your question is trying to approach.

In order to avoid, for the time being, embarking on a vast discussion about the relation between capitalism and patriarchy, I will try to respond more precisely to the intent of your question. If Creative Commons, for instance, tries to formalise certain situations in which creative work may circulate without traditional rewards from the reputation economy or the so-called ‘real economy’, then you propose that women have already been de facto in this situation for centuries and continue to be, where their work is un-credited and appropriated by those with more power and visibility, usually male. CC is revealed to be problematic because its fixation on technical solutions slides over the deep social and structural inequities, such as those stemming from gender, or class, or race, which cannot be ‘fixed’ through fewer or more context-dependent limitations of how work circulates and who profits from it, but by the relations to the means of production in the world that the online sphere is only a subset of. I see this a big ideological and political problem, and gender as an example of that. But without a practical critique of capitalism, women will never be properly ‘credited’, as their labour will always be undersold, since that’s the base of how capitalism works – surplus value – and I don’t see how licensing can change that. But more autonomous and confrontational modes of organisation, for the production and distribution of work, especially in times of crisis, can be a place to experiment with property relations, and specifically the form of property relations that are reflected in the individualising marketing strategies of the artworld, which of course includes, and derives from, similar structures in art history. Challenging professionalisation – atomisation – individualisation have to challenge property relations, and that can only happen by tactical self-organisation that can form a counterpower and lead by example that alternatives are possible, although of course tactical collaboration with established organs is unavoidable, so long as it promotes these goals.

Cinenova, like most distributors, applies distribution or screening fees on a sliding scale, and figures out the licensing in conjunction with the artist on a case-by-case basis. This is the current state of affairs, which has its advantages, when there is communication between Cinenova and the artist, but is obviously inadequate in many other ways – when there is no communication (sometimes the artist doesn’t remember that they deposited their work with the archive and is not even sure that it still exists – an obliteration caused by the lapse of time, but also a drift in ideology over the past decades which deprives the feminist politics of Cinenova of a certain consensual ‘reality’ – and in the sense that there has been no opportunity so far to radically revise the licensing structure wholesale and in line with the debates that ave been happening in a technological, political and economic situation very different to when Cinenova started, and also by taking advantage of the relative freedom (from bureaucracy/accountability to state agencies) that a lack of public funding affords – although this opportunity would be contingent on a source of funding, probably public.

I understand the archive came about via a merger. How do/will new works enter the archive, under what criteria? Is this a priority?

Cinenova does not currently have the resources to take new work into the archive. A big part of putting Cinenova on a new and more stable footing in the near future will be figuring out some possible avenues to answer those questions. But there is no capacity at present to effectively act as a distributor, in the standard sense of the word, of work already in the collection, much less to take on new work – and it would have to be under re-configured criteria, which would come about as part of re-imagining Cinenova’s ‘mission’, if you like.

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