1 Apr 2005 - 15 Jan 2006
The Enthusiasts and what became Enthusiasm project 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 as to whether such clubs existed, 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 they 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 8 or 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. Every large factory, mine or energy plant hosted a club and 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 even 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 of ‘official’ culture and its encouragements, frequently adopting a counter-cultural tone of tactical resistance and criticism.
After a year of research 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 some critical resistance to the deep structures of contemporary material life.
We encountered an extraordinary range of films, usually in people’s houses and sometimes literally under their beds, from 2-minute animations, to short ‘experimental’ and ‘abstract’ films, 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, and joined by curator Lukasz Ronduda we embarked on cleaning, restoring and digitizing as much material as we could find money to support.The first public exhibition of the films and the cultures that made them Enthusiasts was at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw in June 2004.
There's a great - now out of print and rare- Enthusiasts catalogue which accompanied the initial exhibition and includes interviws with filmakers, archival material and contextual reflections in Polish and English.
Subsequent versions, reconfigured as Enthusiasm, toured to the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, 1 April – 22 May 2005, Kunst Werke in Berlin, 5 June – 4 September 2005, and Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, 27 October 2005 – 15 January 2006.
For the Whitechapel and touring version of we worked in collaboration with the architects 51architecture we transformed the lower galleries of the Whitechapel Gallery into a film makers club-room, three beautiful curtained cinema spaces, and an archive lounge.
The first exhibitionary encounter for the visitor was a re-construction of a fictional film club. Many of the film clubs we visited during our research trips were marvelously evocative; they caught and held the traces of the social and creative history of the members and the films they made. The clubs were usually stuffed with framed photographs, printed film stills, posters, certificates, medals, prizes and trophies from film festivals, cupboards stacked with of unwanted film reels and video cassettes, redundant projectors, old cameras and recording equipment, film editing desks and chemicals, homemade developing tanks and film dryers, tea and coffee making equipment, a fridge, a coat-stand, odd chairs, salvaged furniture, junk and even rubbish.
Our installation of a club-house created from materials borrowed from club-members, scavenged, or bought at flea markets in Warsaw was partly inspired by ethnographic museum room tableau. A monitor and VHS deck in the club-house replayed films by club-members documenting the process of filmmaking, club trips and holidays, special events, meetings and festivals. Through inserting loops of self-representation within the fictional club we tried to ensure the collaborative and social nature of the film making process remained to the fore. While at the same time enabling the club to be an actual social space for the exhibition visitor; the club-house became the hub of the exhibition, mirroring its status in the culture of amateur film-making.
On our research trips we watched hundreds of films, in many extraordinary circumstances, often with former club members present. We became wary of imposing our own preferences and taste on the richness of the films themselves. We tried to become and remain sensitive to their enthusiasms and hopes. What eventually evolved from screenings and discussions were three porous themes: themes of Love, Longing and Labour.
Love, Longing and Labour.enabled us to select the films for exhibition into three film programmes, although in contrast to the conventions of artist's use of 'found-footage' the compiled films were left complete, with their original music and fully credited. Our emergent themes seemed better able to curate the films into comprehension than the arbitrary violence performed by sorting the films into the genres usually deployed (feature, documentary, animation and so forth).
We had found a means of giving an exhibitionary context to the films and their production, but how should a cinema of enthusiasm be represented in a gallery?
Too often we have seen films and the culture of cinema lazily installed for exhibition. Films are routinely digitalized, and projected onto a wall in a black box installed inside the gallery with nowhere to sit, no programme, no running time, nothing.
We were determined to complement the film-makers own cinematic aspirations, we worked to find a form of exhibition that could simultaneously express the gap between the humble working-class club and the cinematic desires of the members. What evolved were three beautiful, lush, sensuously curved, vibrantly coloured, five-meter tall, velvet-curtained cinema spaces.
Each cinema had appropriate chairs where visitors would feel comfortable, a screen, soft low-level lighting and a printed programme with film-notes and running times. Through the programme we wanted to hand control of the routes through the elements and spaces of the exhibition back to the visitors themselves. They could sit back and luxuriate in a particular cinema watching the whole programme, or wander from screen to screen mixing their own film selection. As with Capital, the space of the Enthusiasts exhibition became a space of creative production for visitors, mirroring the collaborative practices employed by the amateur film-makers themselves.
In the cinema entitled Longing we screened films of personal, political and sexual love, loss and longing; we explored themes of alienation, ecological anxieties, a fear of war and violence, and a terrible longing to be elsewhere.
In Love the films reflected on the joy, banality and celebration of an everyday love of life; they dealt with themes of humor and camaraderie, of families, parties, passion and sex as a radical transgression of the expected.
In Labour the films traced the beauty, routine, discipline and horror of work in all its forms; themes of celebration, futility, boredom and exhaustion are acutely depicted through films made by people caught within the processes of production.
The last major exhibitionary encounter within Enthusiasts was with the Archive Lounge. We were conscious that there were many films that could not be accommodated through our emergent taxonomies. An Archive Lounge would enabled visitors to watch, via searchable DVDs, all the films found, collected and digitalized but not screened as part of our cinema installations.
Our intention was to make available as many films as possible, to enable visitors to curate their own programmes and recognize that our selection Love, Longing and Labour was part of an interpretive process and not final or in any way authorial.
From the seed of the idea of the Archive Lounge developed for exhibition, we are slowly grew a huge and permanent archival extension of the project. Through watching visitors using the Archive Lounge, we realized the possibility for a new kind of exhibitionary space: a space partly opened by new technology, partly through our practice, and partly by a new suite of licenses.
We developed an on-line version of the Enthusiasts: archive now hosted by the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Through founding the archive as an artwork, we intended to challenge creative practices – to replace exchanges facilitated by fextraction and restriction with those of collaboration and generosity.
Versions of the exhibition were also hosted at:
As part of Breaking Step a major collaboration between the British Council and Belgrade's Museum of Contemporary Art, from March-June 2007
February-April 2007 The Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts Montreal, Canada
In 2011 a selection of films from the archive were part of Ostalgia at the New Museum in New York
In 2014 a selection of films were screened as part of Artists, Amateurs, Alternative Spaces: Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1960–1990 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA.
Read a review of the project from metamute
And a text from the catalogue was republished in 2006 as part of Documents of Contemporary Art: The Archive edited by Charles Mereweather.
77-82 Whitechapel High Street