Surely Everybody Makes their Own Home Pornos?


Article for VIVA 8 Festival catalogue, London Film Makers Co-op (GB)1996

Tanya Ury’s video Hotel Chelsea - Köln screened at Viva 8 1996 was awarded the title:
best confrontational video.



"A few years ago I bought first a Super 8 camera and then a Hi8. I love them - they are so inconspicuous, almost pocket-sized. But I don't take them everywhere with me. I am over-cautious that art will take too much of a precedent in my life. So I collect stories and situations and later film something planned but different and juxtapose ideas. 8mm is so innocuous, you can set it up anywhere and people don't notice what you're doing. It's unobtrusive - you can get on with the business of life while filming. The professional camera team announces itself with its overwhelming presence. A crew in action is performance art itself."

Now everyone's got a Hi8 and it has become a cliché. The mystique of filmmaking should finally have evaporated. Holidays and growing children are filmed by individuals en masse; previously only an elite documented with Super 8. But I imagine that every Hi8 owner also takes the camera into the bedroom. Home movies will have taken on new vistas. Surely everybody makes their own home pornos? So this has to have become a banal act in private, even if in public the subject of sex and its image making still excites the need to create taboos. The theoretical millions worldwide using Hi8 for such a function legitimises my own engagement (in art) with the subject matter in question. A tripod and mains supply also allows for the privacy of working without an extra cameraperson.

Of course I have used other types of cameras: U-matic and VHS. The advantage of Hi8 is not only its size but the picture is also strong enough to pass for broadcast quality. I can live with the fact that, especially when projected, video images break up; it is the aesthetic of the un-aesthetic. When I want the clearer image of Super 8, I still transfer to video for the edit, because the idea rather than the materiality of film is paramount to me.

As a rule the disadvantage of using 8mm as a medium is that it is not taken seriously and so sponsorship and recognition are hard to come by. The myth of film may have been exploded by a Hi8 consumer public, but in fine art, film and TV circles, the hierarchy is clearly defined: Hi8 is not high art. Whilst galleries perceive the work as too closely identified with film, film distributors and curators consider video to be the poor relation. However, in spite of and in the face of all this discrimination, I have repeatedly come down in favour of 8mm. A raw image does not disallow for the pushing of an idea until it expands beyond the medium's limitations; in fact the video look, lacking its visual depth, demands to be backed by philosophical insight that penetrates the surface of the image.

I have sometimes been described as a performance artist and I have made live art, but the act was mediated by Hi8 cameras to monitors, which were concurrently viewed by the spectators. I could not conceive of presenting performance in any other way. Whether something filmed really happened or not is a fact which television and film have confronted us with daily: an incident, captured on security camera, a child's evidence in court, the tourist's Hi8 coup at the scene of the crime, the denial of holocaust film footage. These sorts of instances have dictated my use of Hi8 within performance. For this type of live action Hi8 is practical; one can manoeuvre easily.

Before I was an artist I documented the construction of the house I built with my ex, on Super 8. Years later I was able to use the material effectively as home movie found footage with added spoken texts that contrasted with the visuals. That was the first footage I ever shot and it connected me to childhood memories of the Super 8 films my father had taken, while also looking forward to married life. The act of editing and making an art video ten years later with the material precipitated a deconstruction of that childhood, the marriage, and the house itself.

It has been my experience that in some experimental circles these 8mm works have been well received, but there has also been much criticism of the lack of professional finesse: too much camera handshake etc. It is a question of value systems and in which camp one wishes to reside. 8mm is not mainstream and is also old fashioned; it's like preferring to use a typewriter or even writing by hand, instead of using a computer. As far as I'm concerned, a handwritten letter is stripped of pretensions; the 8mm medium also reveals flaws but tells you more about the true intentions of the author.

Tanya Ury