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The Dinner Party
Flaxton's Dinner Party is a video installation with a difference. On entering the room the audience is confronted with a real table, laid with plates and cutlery. Suddenly, virtual hands reach out and begin to eat and conversations start. The audience can sit and participate alongside these virtual presences and construct whatever group interaction they choose.
This release of fantasy is very different from that of earlier works exploiting the same situation. I am thinking of Judy Chicago's formal feminist feast 'The Dinner Party' (1979), which highlighted women's history with a mixed media depiction of famous women, and Diller and Scofidio's 'Indigestion' (1996), an interactive video installation where two characters met across a dinner table and only their animated hands appear on screen, their witty dialogue gradually revealing a murder mystery.
By creating a more open situation, where they can participate on equal terms, Flaxton invites the audience into a deeper imaginative engagement with the installation, and people feel they have the permission and playful freedom to comment on and react to the oblivious guests. As such it has far more in common with constructed narratised play encouraged by a media artist like Paul Sermon in installations such as 'Telematic Dreaming'. Flaxton has created a minor masterpiece in the clarity of his vision and the exploitation of the disconnect between two competing realities occupying the same space.
In a world where artist's video installations can all too often be either obscurely portenteous or mundanely repetitive, it is refreshing to encounter a slice of the everyday and an invitation to join in or observe, without pressure or humiliation. When shown previously in the UK, whole families have enjoyed the experience and left feeling enriched and enlivened.
Professor Martin Rieser, Digital Imaging, Bath Spa University, July 2005
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Terry Flaxton, whether in his own work or in his involvement with early video groups Vida and Triple Vision has had a long term commitment to the 'politics of beauty' within the creation of art work, both analogue and digital. Beginning in 1976 with formats such as 2 inch Quadruplex, 1 inch reel to reel, or half inch black and white, Flaxton has sort to squeeze the maximum imaging capacity from the formats limited resources. His first piece, a collaboration, 'Opening Up', disclosed to him the secrets of an immediate form of moving image construction and what that might mean about the aesthetics one could employ. In works such as 'Talking Heads' (half inch black and white, prize winner at the 1979 Tokyo Video Festival) Flaxton has sought to expose the construction of the medium and all of it's readings both formal and aesthetic without lapsing into a dull formalism which characterised much early video work.

Vida were committed not only to making work, but also its exhibition and by 1980 had given 150 shows. Flaxton became involved with London Video Arts and curated shows at London's Air and Acme galleries. Though this commitment Flaxton went on to be a co-organiser of the 1st Independent Video Festival held at the Film Co-op in 1980. Flaxton was involved in co-ordinating and editing the Miners Tapes with many others.

After visiting Video West in San Francisco in 1980, Flaxton ran the early facility Videomakers, in Soho and began to earn his living as an editor and also as a Director of Photography, and learned to prize a good technical understanding of the media to be able to render aesthetic concerns visible. Flaxton, Penny Dedman and Kez Cary formed Triple Vision and later Renny Bartlett replaced Cary. Triple Vision initially were known for their enquiries into documentary form and were eventually commissioned to make the a series about video art for Channel 4 in 1986 entitled 'On Video', which eventually ran to 5 one hour episodes cataloguing both UK and European video art. He was present shooting for Apple on Ridley Scott's ground breaking 1984 commercial and his footage was used to heighten the profile of Scott's commercial before its only transmission in the middle of the '84 Superbowl. Flaxton also appropriated the footage to make 'Prisoners'. In 1988 Flaxton received a commission from John Wyver's 'Ghosts in the Machine' and made the award winning 'World Within Us'.

"A gifted lighting cameraman, whose skills are extensively sought both inside and outside the industry, Flaxton brings a consummate polish to everything he shoots, exemplified equally by the verite 'Prisoners' (1984) and the visionary 'The World Within Us' (1988). A similar finely-honed sensibility distinguishes later pieces, like 'The Colour Myths' (1990 - 1995), which draws heavily from an up-to-minute-palette of digital effects. Attempting the kind of rhapsodic fusion of image and language that few of his contemporaries could contemplate, let alone execute, Flaxton's later works have tended to divide opinion; but there is no doubting their vigour, integrity and sheer visual panache." Steven Bode, A Directory of British Video Artists, 1995.

Still winning awards, Flaxton has exhibited single monitor and installation work extensively at Festivals around the world and continued making with enthusiasm and zeal for the digital variant of video and is Creative Fellow in High Resolution Imaging at Bristol University (2007 - 2010). His latest work: '14 History Lessons, 18 Visions, 21 Beatifications' will premier late in 2007 at a major European Festival. This long form work began in 1989 has taken 18 years to complete and is an expression of the abiding concern discovered in Flaxton's first moments in analogue video - the aesthetics of immediacy, both to be found in today's digital technology
©REWIND| Artists' video in the 70s & 80s.

“Within its modernist project, Prisoners points to the possibility of constructing a progressive textural form, within a postmodern aesthetic, whose acuity and effectivity belies the blanket perception of all that is postmodern being inevitably hollow and necessarily devoid of any possibility of (intertextual) depth. Picture This: Media Representations of Visual Art & Artists, Steven Bode, Editor Philip Hayward, John Libby Media, 1988

“The weight and poetry of this particular work is that it is so deeply fascinated with the surfaces, not even of things, but of their replication on the craft of video. This fascination with surface, expressed through 3D computer effects, lighting and props and meticulous set design, has to lay open again, in the context of a meditative work on the death of the author, the question of the core vacuum in video’s presence to itself. Timeshift on Video Culture, Sean Cubitt, Comedia Publishing, 1991”

“Terry Flaxton has been an impassioned, indefatigable presence in British Independent Video for almost two decades. During this time he has assembled an impressive body of work encompassing powerful, polemical documentary (produced as a member of ground-breaking outfits Vida and Triplevision) and highly personal, poetic video art. Steven Bode, A Directory of British Video Artists, Editor David Curtiss, Arts Council of England, John Libby Media/University of Luton Press, 1995

In The Colour Myths cycle, Flaxton, perhaps the most respected video director of photography in the UK, uses a palette of colours and effects of startling brilliance to unfold a dialogue with the pessimistic post-modernism of Jean Baudrillard… The significant thing for this discussion is that in this cycle, Flaxton uses all the intensity and luster of which TV is capable to prodyuce his counter-argument: demonstrating, through television, the capacity of TV to produce and keep on producing meaning. Diverse Practices, Professor Sean Cubitt, Editor Julia Knight, Arts Council of England, John Libby Media/University of Luton Press, 1996

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"Terry Flaxton's shrewd and paradoxical installation contributes to the deconstruction of traditional video. The restless and versatile british filmmaker refuses usual interactivity, and displays, instead of a normal screen, a laid dinner table; then invites the viewer, through a very precise projection, to try to match the virtual guests' gestures. An unforeseeable and bewildering end follows." Techne Catalogue October 2005 - May 2006

PRISONERS

1984, 16min, Colour, Video

 

"Bringing a myriad resonance to the story of Ridley Scott's celebrated commercial for Apple Computers, the tape, in both its structure and its context, raises and embodies a number of particularly post-modern questions as to the way in which media representation, consumer capitalism and postmodernism are intimately interlinked."

 

From, All that Is Solid Melts On The Air by Stephen Bode from Picture This ed Philip Hayward, John Libby Media, 1988

 

 

 

Work like terry Flaxton's, from Prisoners (1984) to The Colour Myths (1992), or Sarah Furneaux'sAnxiety, Rest (1992), went back patiently to the problems of making, the question of how video might achieve what television could or would not. Prisoners reworks material shot by Flaxton for a documentary commissioned by Apple Computers concerning Ridley Scott's direction of their famous 1984 commercial, then the most expensive ever made. Scott had created a nightmare future underworld in his best Blade Runner tech-noir style. Flaxton's remaking of the documentary focuses on the extras, largely played by East End Skins, whose racism blinds most viewers to any understanding of skinhead as working class refusal of just that anonymity which the Scott commercial both condemns and glamorises. In the Colour Myths, Flaxton, perhaps the most respected video Director of Photography in the UK, uses a palette of colours and effects of startling brilliance to unfold a dialogue with the pessimistic post-modernism of Jean Baudrillard. Familiar things - rope, sand, water - are heightened in the shoot and in post-production to give them the aura of archetypes whose allegorical significances accumulate ever greater reserves of meaning. This is the opposite to the hyperreality thesis for which Baudrillard is best known, according to which the increase in the amount and speed of electronic images is the imploding black hole into which meaning disappears faster than it is created. The significant thing for this discussion is that in this cycle, Flaxton uses all the intensity and lustre of which TV is capable to produce his counter-argument: demonstrating, through television, the capacity of TV to produce and keep on producing meaning. These tapes have often been criticised for the density of their soundtracks, which recount complex arguments in the guise of a mythic dialogue between Echo and Narcissus. That critique misses one of the key elements of Flaxton's recent work: the constant dialectic between the popular and the demanding, populism and difficulty.

 

Both Furneaux and Flaxton are involved in the pursuit of meaning and, in doing so, in revaluing the intelligence as well as the capacity for pleasure of audiences, using both humour and subtlety, delightful images and complex soundtracks, to unpack the hidden strengths of TV. In that pursuit of TV's capacity, despite post-modern complaints, to produce meaning both artists are anxiously but calmly pursuing and almost forgotten goal: something like truth.

 

From the essay Populism and Difficulty: Television and Video Art by Sean Cubitt for: Diverse Practises Ed Julia Knight, University of Luton Press, 1996

 

 

Of the small number of media texts which have begun to explore this area (that of developing new textural styles which both transcend the blankness of pastiche and go beyond recuperative attempts to reinvigorate established documentary conventions), it is perhaps Triple Vision's remarkable Prisoners which has so far most convincingly illustrated the potential of the approach. Prisoners demonstrates how styles of consciously analytical media bricolage can employ the incorporation, fragmentation and contextualization of a key referent (in this case Ridley Scott's pastiche Orwellian 1984 Apple Computer commercial) and produce a text and textural strategy which transcends its formal precedents and as Bode discusses moves towards a deconstructive reading (in the Derridean sense).

 

Philip Hayward, Echoes and Reflections: The representation of representations, from Picture This, Ed Philip Hayward, John Libby Media, 1988

 

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THE INEVITABILITY OF COLOUR

1990, 20min, Colour, Video

 

Using a high-tech array of digital effects, Flaxton uses the myth of Echo and Narcissus to explore the relationship between sound and image and its bearing on how ideas are received by the viewer within audio visual media.

 

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ECHO'S REVENGE

1991, 5min, Colour, Video

 

Pursuing the concerns explored in The Inevitability of Colour, this tape deploys images referring to earlier moments in art (Magritte's pipe, Duchamp's Dada, Craig-Martin's Oak tree).

 

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THE WORLD WITHIN US

1988, 16min, Colour, Video

 

In the literary voice over, the nameless character invokes finally "my severe right, my inviolable right, to be released from this fascination with the surface of things" as the introit to the last release. The weight and poetry of this particular tape is that it is so deeply fascinated with the surfaces, not even of things, but their replication in the craft of video. The fascination with surface, expressed through 3D computer effects, lighting and props and meticulous set design, has to lay open again, in the context of a meditative tape on the death of an author, the question of the core vacuum in video's presence to itself.

 

From: Timeshift, Sean Cubitt, Routledge, 1991

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TERRY FLAXTON ; CATALOGUE NOTES
Jon Dovey, Reader in Screen Media, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Terry Flaxton is not a video artist, but he is an artist of video.
Once upon a time video was the medium of possibility, an opening up in the media simulacrum revealing new horizons in visual culture. Flaxton has held on to this utopian passion. His works are impossible to pigeon hole, eclectic. He has refused the segregation of video in the fine art ghetto, yet continued to work as an artist. His work spans, social documentary, single screen gallery pieces, television interventions, and installation. However, as a director of photography and writer his work also includes low budget features, artists' film, and innumerable TV credits. As an activist he has continued to assist and support new directors and new artists through his network of collaborators across the globe. In a thirty year career he is one of the very few artists to have maintained a genuinely independent video practice working across genres and platforms, both inside and outside the media industry. Prisoners typifies this mix, an art video produced in a documentary mode on the back of a commercial job for Apple in 1984; here for the first time the distinctive elements of Flaxton's style are brought together in a single work (though his first video piece was completed eight years earlier in 1976).
The threads that run through this inter-disciplinary tapestry are held together by his fascination, delight and engagement with the aesthetics of video. This runs back to early days, to the beginnings of video when we all realized for the first time just how plastic the electronic image signal could be. To an understanding of image as signal that developed from the first formal experimentation with video in the 60s & 70s. This was the backdrop against which Flaxton first encountered video, and his 1981 Towards Intuition: An American Landscape is the result of his first encounters with North American video arts culture. This close up understanding of the signal and of its technological processors informs every image he makes. He immediately grasped the potentialities of digital video processing in the mid 1980s, producingThe World Within Us (1988), an experiment in visionary poetic narrative which remains one of his most powerful and distinctive works. He subsequently became the only video artist in the UK to be an artist-in-residence at a major London post production house (Complete Video) in 1991.
His aesthetic commitment is to making as much as he can as beautiful as the tools allow. But this aesthetic is always more than abstraction. Always more than formalism. Equally fired by Marshall McLuhan and by John Berger he is more interested in media practices than those of the gallery circuit. The beauty in his work constitutes a grammar that is always part of a persuasive project. There is always a point towards which his luminous images are drawn. An argument that he wants us to see, to feel. This is clear in the social action documentaries that formed a great deal of his output in the 1980s, but even here there is another mission, an understanding that to change the world we will have to see it, imagine it, differently. This spirit of documentary inquiry runs through all the work, but is an inquiry into the image itself as much as inquiry about the world. His inquiry is an experiment with us his audience as the subject, can he persuade us to see the world differently ? This especially true of the single screen work The Colour Trilogy (1991-2) which develops the myth of Narcissus in a visual debate about the nature of representation (where Echo is sound and Narcissus, image).
His most recent work carries experimentation with technology and cultural form one step further. By now of course access to video is transformed. A desktop G4 and 'Final Cut Pro' offer us the kinds of possibilities that were possible 15 years ago for huge amounts of money and that only within an artist's residency in a broadcast facility. The 2003 works Wings, with references to Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Khalo, sees Flaxton engaging with this latest 'new technology' but still looking for the flow of image, sound, and text that will inspire his audiences.
The new installation work featured here, the Tables series of installed projections (primarily, The Dinner Party), picks up this theme in his work and takes it to a new place. Although previously committed to a single screen format this new work is projected from above onto everyday surfaces. After all the screen is now ubiquitous, from the mobile phone to the laptop, media embeds itself more and more deeply into the fabric of everyday life. These startling and seductive new images challenge the same perceptual preconceptions that have always been at the heart of his process: Can we make the world anew when we see it differently ?
JON DOVEY, READER IN SCREEN MEDIA
UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
JULY 2005, UK
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Notes for Invideo Catalogue entry on Terry Flaxton
Kylie Fitzpatrick, United Kingdom, July 2005
An attempt at identifying what lies at the heart of Terry Flaxton's video art, points us in the direction of the artist's own quest: the search for a story where moments of reflection are central to the narrative.
When he finished college in London in 1979, Flaxton left almost immediately for a road trip across the United States, filming the expansive landscape and the documentary Towards Intuition: An American Landscape. As a piece of work, Towards Intuition is aptly titled, for it describes the manner in which the piece was actually filmed, and also chronicles the intuitive approach to art and healing which was sweeping across America and Europe in the early 1980s. This film is a document of an age, right down to the quality of the single tube camera it was shot on.
An arterial project on the same trip was Documentary Rape, an lively investigation into the very nature of that which created it; broadcasters and media. Media is the central character in this story, and it is a whore. The presenter, a younger Flaxton, in self parody stands outside a sex shop on the streets of San Francisco to deliver his harsh verdict on the moral decreptitude of film makers. Here, in the his earliest work, is a hint of what is to come - an awareness of the inevitable subjectivity of the documenter, and a search for self. This theme is still present twenty five years later.
The unshakeable ghostliness of the dream state pervades Terry Flaxton's body of work, and his writing, which is poetic and reflective. Nothing escapes scrutiny: mythology, death, desire and of course, the great mystery of consciousness. This arguably achieves its greatest expression -and abstraction - with the completion of The Colour Trilogy in 1992.
The first of these films, The Inevitability of Colour is Flaxton's argument that, contrary to the insistance of French left bank thinking in the latter decades of the twentieth century, 'image' (that which we behold) has not become meaningless and redundant. In fact, the films, with their metaphorical use of colour and their signature dreamy, fragmented narrative, present a powerful defence against left bank nihilism; that is, that meaning can only be bestowed by the beholder.
The second in the trilogy, Echoes Revenge uses an entirely different narrative device. In sharp chiaroscuro, the profiles of two actors deliver a script, which appears to be camera directions, until it becomes clear that there is much more going on; that in fact, this is a dialogue between sound and image. The frame is locked off; the two profiles stare at each other as though gazing at a reflection in a pool: Narcissus. Sound dominates this passive image: Echo. Flaxton's intention is to reverse the usual audio visual experience, where image is dominant and sound secondary. The result challenges the standard conceit; that with this medium a picture in a frame should be moving - especially if the camera isn't. It is a brave experiment, with almost Brechtian overtones.
The third in the trilogy is The Object of Desire. Here, the viewer becomes Narcissus, seduced by his own image as he gazes into the water. As is the way with the endless appetites of the human condition, no sooner has one touched the object of ones desire, than it evaporates, or is an illusion, or shape-shifts into something else. Here is a picture of the emptiness of desire, which, once obtained is immediately replaced by another longing.
In the same reflective mood is The World Within Us (1988). An old man in the winter of his life, contemplates the expansiveness of the universe. Outside his closed door - both physical and metaphorical - his wife waits for him to rejoin the world.
This is an achingly poignant film, in which Flaxton manages to combine the exterior drama of the old couple, with the interior images, fears and abstractions of the man's thought track.
On another filming trip, some years later and whilst working as Director of Photography on a documentary about the Russian orthodox church, the opportunity arose to shoot some extra footage. Zagorsk was the result, which somehow in a few edifying moments of church bells and stillness, Russian architecture and illumination, captures the 'spiritual transition', the spiritual transferral. from the very old to the very young.
More recently, Flaxton has turned to experimenting with words in a new way. In the 'text and tone' poems Georgia and Frida, he pays tribute to two exceptional painters, Georgia O'Keefe and Frida Kalo, by manipulating white text on a black screen, so that certain words leap into the foreground while others recede and make patterns behind: like ripples on the water and birds in flight. But it is the words themselves which are most captivating. Georgia O'Keefe, a painter who lost her sight, described the need to create, as like standing on the edge of a precipice. One must leap and allow fear itself to turn into wings. In Flaxton's poem, he describes the road which leads to the precipice, which once seemed endless. But now he can see others standing where O'Keefe stood as she neared the end of her life, and some look afraid, some resigned, and others startled. What look will be on his face when he stands there, he wonders?
The half hour drama Forever (2004) sees the quest fulfilled. Here, moments of reflection are central to a narrative whose central character has lived for centuries. In a place where time stands still, he watches, and is watched, and grows weary. So in our endless search for eternal youth, we lose sight of the preciousness of each moment. When Terry Flaxton stands at the end of the road which leads to the precipice, the look on his face should be one of knowing, since he has jumped into the abyss already and so knows that he has wings.
Kylie Fitzpatrick, United Kingdom, July 2005
A Directory of British Video Artists,
"Terry Flaxton has been an impassioned, indefatigable presence in British Independent Video for almost two decades. During this time he has assembled an impressive body of work encompassing powerful, polemical documentary (produced as a member of ground-breaking outfits Vida and Triplevision) and highly personal, poetic video art.
What unites these separate strands of Flaxton's video making is a strongly held belief in the medium's ability to change our image of the world - or at least that resrtricted view of it obtained through the television screen. In Flaxton's eyes, a faith in video's transforming potential burns undiminished. More to the point, in Flaxton's hands, much of the medium's radical promise goes some way towards being fulfilled.
A gifted lighting cameraman, whose skills are extensively sought both inside and outside the industry, Flaxton brings a consumate polish to everything he shoots, exemplified equally by the verite Prisoners (1984) and the visionary The World Within Us (1988). A similar finely-honed sensibility distinguishes later pieces, like The Colour Myths (1990 - 1995), which draws heavily from an up-to-minute-palette of digital effects. Attempting the kind of rhapsodic fusion of image and language that few of his contemporaries could contemplate, let alone execute, Flaxton's later works have tended to divide opinion; but there is no doubting their vigour, integrity and sheer visual panache."
Steven Bode, A Directory of British Video Artists, Editor david Curtiss, Arts Council of England, John Libby Media/University of Luton Press, 1995
 

 

 


 
 

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