Recently, Erik Knudsen was in a conversation with Paul Clarke, founder and CEO of The Pop-Up Foundation, as part of their Naturally Smart People Podcasts. In the relaxed atmosphere of the recording studio, Erik and Paul discussed a range of themes revolving around stories and storytelling as they relate to broader global themes and challenges, including our relationship to the natural environment and our existential wellbeing.
Unfortunately, the StoryLab Cuba Workshop for 2017 has had to be cancelled. Erik Knudsen is hoping to run the workshop again in November 2018.
The StoryLab Cuba 2016 Workshop was a special workshop. During the Workshop period, Fidel Castro died and the country was in mourning. This was an experience for all the participants and added a special aspect to the experience of being in Cuba developing personal stories.
Dean Clough Galleries, HalifaxAUTUMN EXHIBITIONSPrivate View: Saturday, 18th October 2014 from 12 noon to 3.00pm(Main shows continue until Jan 3rd 2015)Photography GalleryErik Knudsen: Cuba in WaitingOctober 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015Film maker, photographer and University of Salford professor, Erik Knudsen was invited to see Cuba ‘before Fidel Castro died’. That was in 1998 and Castro (albeit ghosted by his brother Raul) is still, very much, alive. Knudsen’s thoughtfully constructed, colour-bleached photographs have been amassed over the last four years and depict a string of poised yet static incidents in bars, paddocks and arenas across Havana Province. While acknowledging the genuine reverence that Castro commands, Knudsen also lays bare the poverty and repression that hold a renownedly educated and energetic people in check. “Everyone”he says, “is waiting for change”.Crossley GalleryJo Brown: Open PathwaysOctober 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015The last element to fall into place in this substantial show of abstract paintings and drawings was the title. Most conceptual artists know exactly where they’ll end up before they open their studio door; but when Jo Brown (b. 1945 and a ‘Dean Clough artist’ for some two decades) starts a painting, she doesn’t know what it will be. “This ‘not knowing’ is very important to me,” she says “because of the improvisatory, intuitive way in which I work, which depends on being sensitive to what is happening as a painting unfolds. The natural world is always there somewhere in the background as I explore the feeling of landscape through colour. So, my use of colour is much more about feelings than figuration”. The fact that Jo is widely collected (by municipal galleries as much as private collectors) and pays homage to Turner, Matisse, Heron, John Hoyland, Gary Wragg and Paul Tonkin offers a reassuring set of imprimaturs to those made nervous by abstract work. However, all they really need to do is access the paintings in the same disembarrassed spirit that Jo creates them. Here is pleasure, excitement and joy. So it was heartless of us to laugh when she dialled the title through. It reminded us of the remark by ‘Yogi’ Berra the baseball player – ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it’. “Oh I like that,” said Jo. “Can we get it into the invitation?” Almost certainly not, we responded.Upstairs GalleriesChris Cullen: The Ingenious GentlemanOctober 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015Todmorden-based artist Chris Cullen (b. Chorley 1948) has been carrying around Cervante’s satire on chivalric conventions – ‘El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha’ – since 1982. He’d even convinced himself that he’d read it… until in 2010 someone presented him with the full text (the remarkable 2nd volume of which was printed exactly 400 years ago). Since then Chris has been compulsively generating scenes from the book in both paint and ceramics. Given that even Picasso and Dali couldn’t dislodge the hegemony of Gustave Doré’s 19th C. illustrations, you might wonder what Chris was hoping to achieve. He’s the first to admit that his oil paintings owe everything to Doré’s imagery and reveals that he found a forgotten copy of Dali’sQuixote in his teenage sketchbooks. And while it is evident that (unlike the many sentimental, theatrical adaptations) Chris has grasped Cervante’s uncannily post-modern epistomology; there is no intrusive literary exegesis in this extensive show. “I just had the book in my head. I wanted to elaborate it, to see it in full colour, to get the full tilt of Quixote, to get that roundness… what I really wanted was a pop-up book!”. It’s an unapologetic celebration, then; and an exhibition as much BY an ‘ingenioso hidalgo’ as it is ABOUT one.Illustration GalleryDavid Roberts: Tales of TerrorOctober 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015David Roberts (b. Liverpool, 1970) studied fashion design at Manchester Metropolitan University and recalls working (hyphen-etically) as a hat-maker, shelf-stacker, egg-fryer, hair-washer, film-extra and coffee-maker before illustrating his first book (‘Frankie Stein’s Robot’ by Roy Apps) in 1998. Equally at home with colour as he is with black-and-white, David has gone on to visualise the scribblings of many leading children’s authors. Collaborators include previous children’s laureates, Jaqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, among many others. Roberts cites influences from Heath Robinson, Edward Gorey and Gustave Doré. In this beautifully mounted show (curated by Chris Mould) he displays an impressive aptitude for the monochrome image as he brings Chris Priestley’s chilling ‘Tales of Terror’ to life with a mesmerising array of minutely detailed drawings.Seminar GalleryStephen Weir: And While We Play TennisOctober 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015Stephen Weir (b. Ripon 1954) has spent a lot of time in the South of France where he paints abstracts under the Languedoc sun. This exhibition, however, centres on his mixed-media, boxed collages. “My collages are about living in a frenzied, media-dominated 21st Century in the UK where we are constantly bombarded by news through virulent electronic media,” he says.“…This is the opposite of life in Southern France”. Weir (who was tutored by Terry Frost at Reading in the Seventies) admits to being drawn to 24hr news coverage but “watches in bewilderment the absurd events that are revealed“. Instead of generating a sense of global inclusion, he argues, the ‘media blare’ creates a sense of isolation and alienation. “These works are secret documents exhibited for you, the viewer, to decode and unravel”.Link GalleryBoffinworldOctober 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015From the dawn of the steam-powered engine to the potentially vivid sunset of the nuclear power station, Britain is justly proud of its scientific achievements. Be it the transistor or the World Wide Web, the nation’s historic contribution to the global supermarket of ideas stands as proudly as any loss-leader should. Today though, as the chill wind of austerity threatens to numb the digits that gave the world its first programmable computer, the cry goes up: “Can we yet use this wind to fan the embers of our inspiration and restore the white heat of technology?”And for that we need Boffinworld.Experimental yet economical, Boffinworld is a heady blend of research and recreation. In a holiday camp atmosphere Britons can relax among the rocketry and LEARN from LEISURE. From the Manhattan project to the Bikini Atoll, extraordinary endeavours have always needed luxurious locations and so it is that ‘from the Big Bang to the tequila slammer’ Boffinworld aims to put the fun back into physics. Realised here is the first Boffinworld project; a response to the L.G.M. question. Its S.E.T.I. project (Send Extraterrestrials Tea Immediately) uses cold war technology to deliver a hot beverage. The ‘Brown Streak’ projectile will deliver a payload of warm, soothing tea to our neighbours in this universe or beyond.PLUS…Missing Link GalleryIan C. Taylor: IncomingOngoingNow and for the foreseeable furore, we’re pleased to announce that the Bradford-based artist Ian C. Taylor (b. Derby 1945) has volunteered to stud the cubic terminus of the Link Gallery with his unique brand of found and occasionally profound art. Ian began working at Bradford School of Art in 1969, was once “a freelance sculptor for TV”, claims inspiration from both Gaudier-Brzeska and Fred Astaire and is collected by the likes of Sir Terrance Conran, Andy Goldsworthy, Stephen Frears and Albert Hunt. A geyser-ish celebration of the imagination’s fecundity.Mur d’entréePeople, Places and Things (Monterblanc and Sowerby Bridge)October 18th 2014 to January 3rd 2015A mutual interest in ‘The Stereophonics’ led to a long-lasting friendship between Sowerby Bridge resident, Irene Murphy, and Monterblanc resident, Gaëlle Favennec. Gaëlle recently became deputy mayor of the Brittany town – which precipitated an exchange of digital photographs between the two locales. “We have a new media library,” Gaëlle writes in brave English. “So I thought of my friend, Irene Murphy who paint, and I asked her if she will be interested to exhibit here. She answered me ‘why not’ and all started at this time. She presented me this project of pictures of Sowerby Bridge and Monterblanc and I found it was a really good idea!”. The project is also a welcome chance to celebrate Sowerby Bridge in Halifax; and to reflect on the cultural understanding displayed by Gaëlle who – fortunately – realised that “why not?” is a northern indication of enthusiasm.FAQ’s about Dean Clough Gallery Private Views…1. How do I get to Dean Clough?See www.deanclough.com for a downloadable pdf map or ring reception on 01422 2502502. Can I bring someone else to the Private View?Yes. Everyone is welcome. The Private Views are a major social event in the regional arts calendar which are typically attended by over 200 people – including children!3. Are the exhibitions open during weekdays?Yes. The Dean Clough Galleries are open seven days a week from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Entry is free.4. Do I have to pay for parking?You do not have to pay for parking on weekends (so the Private View is ‘free’) but you do have to pay for parking on weekdays.5. Why do FAQ’s never answer the question I really want to know?Ha! You’re very welcome to email Vic Allen on email@example.com if you have a specific problem.Dean Clough Galleries, Halifax HX3 5AX • Tel: 01422 250250 • www.deanclough.com
It was great to be able to contribute to the Content Malaysia Conference 2014 held in Kuala Lumpur last week. I was invited by acting Director General of FINAS (the Malaysian Film Development Corporation), Dr Megat Al-Imran Yasin, who asked me to give two talks: one on the relationship between higher education research and the film industry, with specific reference to my experience in the UK; and the other on my experience of leading a media school – the then School of Media, Music and Performance – into the MediaCityUK development at Salford Quays in Manchester, UK. The latter was in direct relationship to ambitious plans by the Malaysian film and television industries to develop a Media City in Kuala Lumpur by 2020.
I hadn’t quite realised the scale and importance of the Content Malaysia conference until I arrived. The conference was taking place in one of the poshest hotels in Kuala Lumpur, The Mandarin Oriental, right next to the famous twin Petronas towers, and while this was a business to business event, attended by mainly people from the film and television industries, it was part of a larger public KL Converge event taking place at The KL Convention Centre next door. My first talk took place just before the arrival of the Minister of Communications and Multimedia, who was to formally give his blessing to proceedings. As a consequence, there must have been about 250-300 people there. My second talk, the following morning, was attended by about 150-200 people.
The fantastic attendance by both important political people and media entrepreneurs, filmmakers, producers, distributors etc, was an indication of the tremendous efforts Malaysia is making to have an international presence in film and television and to be the leading producer and hub for media content in the South East Asia region. They are pumping millions into this effort, including through incentive schemes to attract productions to Malaysia, the building of the Pinewood branded film studios at Iskandar, next to Singapore, and through their extensive efforts to sell media content at all the leading film markets across the world. They realise, rightly, that content is at the heart of every media industry, hence the title of the conference. (There was also a storytelling masterclass running alongside the conference.)
While there, I learned a lot about what is happening in Malaysia and South East Asia in general and met some very ambitious people. Of course I already know Dr Megat Yasin, the Director General of FINAS, but while there I had the privilege of making friends with Hassan Muthalib, the father of Malaysian animation films and the leading scholar on Malaysian cinema, and Sheen Singh, the CEO of Passion Productions, the leading service company for international advertising companies shooting in Malaysia. Both have a keen interest in working with new and emerging talent so we had many conversations about that, life and art. It was also great to be able to meet up with my PhD graduate, Nico Meissner, who runs the Cinematic Arts programme at Multimedia University. I suspect that this programme is going to become an important player in the ambitions of Malaysian cinema and look forward to following, and perhaps participating in, these developments.
My talks had two simple themes. First, I wanted to stress that research and development is a critical aspect of any successful industry and that a mature relationship between industry and higher education could provide an effective context in which new ideas and talent development are explored and nurtured. This is particularly relevant given the financial challenges that many broadcasters and film companies find themselves facing. Gone are the days when Higher Education was simply thought of as a training provider of fodder for media employment. Smart companies see universities are partners through whom they can explore and develop new talent. No one really knows what is going to happen next or what they even like – until they see it. Higher Education is about encouraging students to take risks, to develop creatively, to build critical rigour into their thinking and to develop their courage. The industry does not want us to deliver hacks, but graduates who are able to adapt to and shape the future. This is why our primary business is not training, but education. On the other hand, real engagement with industry provides students with an opportunity to more fully understand the challenges and opportunities open to their creative impulses and aspirations.
On the research side, many of us in the practice led academic world continue to be engaged with filmmaking or media practice, exploring and reflecting critically on what we are doing and as a consequence hopefully making a contribution to the industries and crafts we work in. Our engagement with, and guidance of, for example, our PhD students, who are themselves often from, and will be returning to, the industry also offers opportunities for the development of cutting edge new ideas and the creative practice of individuals.
Training is almost a separate issue, though not quite. A university will never be able to deliver a fully trained end product. This is not in the interests of a university and in any case, every company and producer needs different things and while organisations like Skillset in the UK try to standardise training across the sector, this has in my opinion not been a success. There are strong training outcomes as a consequence of a student’s education and these can form an excellent basis from which industry can build further training in situ. Invariably, when industry thinks of universities as training institutions, they are disappointed.
Actually, where most training occurs is in the independent and fringe sectors of the film and television industries. Hollywood, for example, relies on a deep hinterland of film production activity outside of the majors ranging from fairly large scale independent work to the fringe projects of small indies. This is where the talent gets trained, where they develop their unique visions and where Hollywood goes to find such new talent and new ideas. The majors cannot in themselves take risks, develop innovations or develop new talent. So in any strategy about creating a sustainable film industry, I would look strongly at how the independent sector can be encouraged and nurtured without stifling it with policy driven initiatives.
All in all, the opportunities for fruitful and mature interaction between higher education and the industry will be best fulfilled if this relationship is built around notions of research and development. Malaysia has an opportunity to skip a stage in the development of this relationship and encourage a mature relationship between its still developing media and film provision in its universities and its film and television industries.
As for the Media City developments the Malaysians are considering, my second theme, I wanted to focus on the idea that ultimately what makes a successful film industry is not buildings and technology, but people, their ideas and their stories. Technology has changed to such an extent that big buildings are no longer necessary to house most production activity, with the exception of high end productions. In fact these same high end productions are vying for the attention of especially young people in competition with low end content produced by ‘amateurs’ and distributed on such platforms as YouTube. What happened to book publishing in Europe with the advent of the Gutenberg Press in the 16th century is about to happen to film as a consequence of the digital revolution. How many of the 250,000 books published each year in the UK will make their authors money? Was money the main motivation for the writing of the vast majority of these books? Yet all these books contribute to the sustaining of a publishing industry that has enriched our lives.
When thinking of building a Media City it is therefore worth pondering this brave new world and understanding the fundamentals of what makes creative people tick. When you look at successful creative clusters around the world, they were originally built on informal clusters of small and medium sized companies in the proximity of a decentralised university. This latter point is important, as it relates to my earlier comments about the creative interaction between industry and universities. A decentralised university allows for creative and informal interactions with small and medium sized enterprises and practitioners who are ultimately going to drive innovation. The big players can then come in on this bedrock of innovation and enterprise. Where the big enterprises try and artificially create a hub of innovation, there is a high potential for long term failure. One could end up with fantastic and expensive buildings with wonderful facilities, but all the creative talent is hanging out in a poorer part of town because that’s where all the innovators hang out.
In the development of a Media City, I therefore think it important to create a very open and informal environment, cheap and flexible and, above all, designed for people to hang out. Inhabitants must be able to shape their own spaces and have flexible arrangements around the available technologies. Because of the nature of our businesses, it is always going to be dominated by a sea of small and medium sized enterprises, so I think it worth considering designing facilities and the relevant costings with this in mind.
The other thing to bear in mind is cultural and geographical diversity, particularly relevant I feel in a country like Malaysia. Why have just one big Media City? In what other ways can one develop media activity and media businesses across the country? The idea of having a concentration of an industry in one city is perhaps based on old business models and technologies and is perhaps one that should be questioned.
I look forward to having further discussions with people in Malaysia about these themes. Unlike in the UK where the industries and their infrastructure are pretty fixed, and very hard to change in any way, the Malaysians still have malleable infrastructures and institutions, which I think makes it a very interesting place to be if you’re a filmmaker or a film entrepreneur.
Over the past few months I have been working with fellow artists, Richard Mulhearn, Eleanor Mulhearn, Sarah Eyre, Laura Davies, Adrian Davies, Alex Jako and Anna Taylor, to create an exhibition in the beautiful deconsecrated Unitarian Church in Todmorden, United Kingdom. We called the project The Fielden Project because the church was build by the sons of John Fielden, the main industrialist in Todmorden who is most famous for bringing in the act of parliament that curbed the exploitation of children as workers in the factories of the industrial revolution. The religious, the cultural, the political and the ethical evocations brought about by this broad theme inspired us – all ‘blow ins’ to Todmorden – to respond to the church, its history, its former patrons and the general community of Todmorden.
For me it was an opportunity to explore exhibiting a project I was already working on around the theme of Doubt. I explored the location in terms of how my photographs could be part of a narrative created by the photographs. My creative statement goes something like this:
‘If I could not doubt, I should not believe’. (Henry David Thoreau)
Doubt is an evolving photographic essay exploring faith through feelings of doubt in the context of a society that on the surface seems increasingly secular and certainly more materialistic. The Unitarian Church in Todmorden was built at a time when British society more openly expressed faith through religious practice, as well as organised communities, and exercised power through these practices, and its deconsecration is one of many indicators of a subsequent decline in, certainly Christian, religious engagement in Britain. Questioning whether faith, or the need for faith, has actually diminished, I’m seeking to explore, through candid photography of people in public spaces, the possible void created by the retreating public expressions of faith. The shift in the status of the Unitarian Church, prompted me to explore the notion of bringing contemporary people caught in moments expressing doubt back into the church with a view to trying to evoke an engagement with the ideas of the role of constructed place as inspiration and refuge for those seeking meaning, purpose and understanding. Using the 12 pillars that support the structure of the church, photographs of contemporary people, supported by quotes, emerge from these pillars to tell experiential stories of faith, separation and doubt in a building that once was built for this purpose.
I wanted my photographs to work collectively along the pillars, across the pillars as well as individual narratives. Behind each of the photographs, semi hidden by the curvature of the pillars, there was a quote related to the theme of doubt accompanying every photograph, as if inner murmuring from the characters in the photographs. I suppose this is the filmmaker in me.
We worked with Sofka Smales to develop the show, both individually and as a group, and one of the challenges was the fact that the building is a Grade 1 listed building.
One of the amazing things about working on this project was how our very different work came to compliment and interact with each other’s work. This was a revelation and was not necessarily the product of a overtly conscious process; rather an osmosis that occurred as a consequence of numerous discussions, site visits and research. Our themes interweaved, echoed and reverberated and in the end I think we have created a well balanced and evocative show.
So far, response to the show has been very positive. Nearly 200 people turned up for the opening and since then there has been a steady stream of people visiting the show. I hope that if you are in the area, you may be able to visit it before it closes on the 18 May 2014. Opening times: Thursday and Friday 5pm – 8pm and Saturday and Sunday 1pm – 6pm. Enjoy.
I was very excited to be able to invite my good friend Sandy Lieberson, the renowned film producer (Executive at Fox in charge of films like Blade Runner, Alien, and a producer of such films as Performance, Rita, Sue and Bob Too and so on) to come and talk with my masters students at the University of Salford.
The three hour session was very informal and allowed students not only an opportunity to discuss Sandy’s experience, but to discuss their own ideas and thoughts about their futures. I think students found this very inspirational, for Sandy’s generous advice and encouragement is based on a wealth of experience that spans traditional Hollywood right through to digital independent film. Sandy was keen to challenge students’ notion of employment and concepts of what the ‘industry’ actually is. Interestingly, many students are still stuck in thinking of going into employment in a definable industry based on past models, but Sandy was able to shed some insightful light onto how the context of filmmaking has and is changing. Independence, proactive engagement, innovation and self sufficiency were themes that kept coming up, as did the importance of personal interaction with potential collaborators and commissioners. The idea of ‘getting a job’ is no longer what many students think it is, as there has been a profound shift in the state of the industry and where the future of it lies. Students were encouraged to have their own web sites and to make sure that their work was visible. A commitment to quality and innovation emerged, too, as key ingredients for a successful future.
Sandy continually tried to get students to think of the internet as a new tool for engaging with industries, audiences and fellow filmmakers. Traditional television and movie industry structures are being usurped by the sheer scale and flexible functioning of the internet. Even talent scouts from various established companies now use the internet as a key tool for discovering new talent, testing new ideas and, indeed, building new business models that are a far cry from the top down approach to film commissioning, distribution and exhibition of the past.
When a student asked Sandy what made a good CV, Sandy simply said: ‘a good CV is one that makes me want to meet you in person’.
A wonderful session, thanks to Sandy and the students.