After extensive research amongst the remnants of amateur film clubs in Poland under socialism, I co-developed the Enthusiasts archive. A critical archive of beautiful amateur films found, restored and made available for you.
Presented as a collaborative artwork theEnthusiasts archive enables you to explore how the generosity of the enthusiast reveals a range of interests and experiences generally invisible amongst the breathless flow of the State sponsored, or professionally mediated.
My intention withEnthusiasts archive is to stimulate interest and discussion into the nature of creative exchange, the function of public archives and the future of the public domain. In many ways, the project informed Procesos de archivo/ Archivalprocess and Open Cinema
Archives, like collections in museums and galleries are built with the property of multiple authors and previous owners. But unlike the collection, there is no imperative within the conventional logic of the archive, to exhibit, display or interpret its holdings. An archive designates a territory - and not a particular narrative. The material connections contained are not already authored as someone’s – for example, a curator’s or artist - it’s a discursive terrain where interpretations are invited.
The Enthusiasts archive began with a chance encounter in 2001 with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s first popular feature film Amator (Film Buff) from 1979; the main character is a leading member of a factory based film club. Intrigued, Marysia Lewandowska and I began a research project in the summer of 2002 into the existence and remnants of amateur film clubs in socialist Poland.
There has been a spectacular transfiguration of Polish political and cultural life since the introduction of the market economy in 1989. It is as if Poland has played out in a lapsed-time film style, the economic and cultural changes of ‘western’ Europe. Fifty years of social evolution –from a manufacturing to a service economy - has been compressed into just over ten years. Poland is a crystallization of the forces at play in the rest of Europe; it projects a service driven, consumer led future, while content to forget its industrial past, and hide its manufacturing present.
And yet, all the former state owned industries - for example those generating power, refining steel or producing chemicals - played a central role in contemporary economic and cultural life. Clearly industry manufactures the goods and energy necessary to generate our material lives, yet also structure our experiences into ‘productive’ labour, and un-productive ‘leisure’ time. Although in Poland even before the economic changes, ‘leisure’ was itself organized through factory-sponsored clubs, various associations, sports facilities and even state holiday schemes.
Out of this regulated network, perhaps the most popular clubs were those that encouraged the production of amateur film. With 16mm film stock, cameras and editing tables supplied by the factory/state, a large number of clubs were created throughout Poland from 1950’s onwards. By the late 1960’s there were almost 300 clubs in existence, out of this growing network film competitions evolved, prizes awarded, and festivals were organized on a local, regional, national and international level.
The passions of the amateur, enthusiast or hobbyist often reveal a range of interests and experiences generally invisible amongst the breathless flow of the State sponsored, or professionally mediated. The enthusiast is often working outside ‘official’ culture and its encouragements, frequently adopting a counter-cultural tone of tactical resistance and criticism.
It was clear to us that the film club enthusiasts often invert the logic of work and leisure, becoming truly productive when pursuing their passions, and using work for their own rather than the factory or states intentions. Generated by enthusiasm, the films simultaneously record, and offer resistance to the deep structures of contemporary material life.
These extraordinary films range from 2-minute animations, to short ‘experimental’ and ‘abstract’ films, from documentaries on family, village, city or factory life; to historical dramas and ambitious features. There is an astonishing range of material, beautifully crafted -because film stock was precious- and largely forgotten.
As a result of our research into the films, their makers and clubs, a huge selection of forgotten 16 and 8 mm material was found, usually in people’s houses, and sometimes literally under their beds. Joined by curator Lukasz Ronduda at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw we embarked on cleaning, restoring and digitizing as much material as we could find money to support. And we worked on ways of exhibiting and sharing the results.
Through founding of the Enthusiasts: archive as an artwork, we intended to challenge creative practices – to replace exchanges facilitated by frustration and restriction with those of collaboration and generosity.
Read a review of the Whitechapel exhibition by Rachel Withers in the New Statesman
Unfortunately the archive is now offline