Darcy Lange: Study of an Artist at Work

20 January 2012

29 April 2012

Project curated by Mercedes Vicente
This exhibition project, devoted to Darcy Lange’s work, examines the artistic trajectory of this New Zealander video pioneer. Lange (1946-2005) was born in Urenui, Taranaki, Aotearoa New Zealand and his practice encompassed video as well as sculpture, photography, film and flamenco music.

At the end of the 60s, Darcy Lange made his first abstract sculptures and in 1971, he gave up his career as sculptor, tending to the cinematographic media, using both photography and video jointly to explore and document videos and movies under the general theme of ‘people at work’, working in the United Kingdom, Spain and New Zealand. In 1972 he started to make videos documenting the work in English factories and mines. In 1975 he carried out his work Cantavieja, where he reflects the work in the field in the rural context, during his staying in Spain. Soon after, he returned to New Zealand and continued documenting workers’ lives in Taranaki, and during the late 1970s, Maori activists’ struggles to establish land rights from Bastion Point to Ngatihine, north of Auckland.

Thematically, "people at work" situates Lange’s practice within a lineage of social documentary film and photography and a shared ideological genealogy dating back to 1930s American FSA (Farm Security Administration) photographers Dorothea Lange and Lewis Hine. With these seminal works, he became one of the first artists to incorporate the ‘long take’ in the recording of people’s actions in real time as they performed daily working tasks. His restless experimentation with the structural possibilities of the moving image and the still image, led to a parallel use of photography, film and video, simultaneously shot.

The capacity for early portable video to provide live and taped feedback meant it could serve as a medium for criticism and analysis, and a catalyst for social change. Lange stressed the relationship with the subjects of his recordings by playing back the recorded material to them. In his work studies in Birmingham and Oxfordshire schools, Lange recorded teachers in the classrooms, then the teachers’ and the students’ reactions to the tapes. The absence of electronic editing equipment in the early stages of video, which prevented shaping a tape into a finished product, further encouraged the development of a ‘process’ video aesthetic. Lange never conceived of these tapes as finished works but as “researches” and “an educational process”. The reactions of his subjects to the tapes became part of the body of work, guiding him in its development. By exposing the process, Lange’s videos become in themselves studies of videotaping as a work activity.

On the occasion of this exhibition it will be edited a publication that offers fundamental aspects about life, work and activism of the artist, and his vital contribution to the expansion of video as a medium. Art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh examines the history of documentary photography and conceptualist video in order to locate Lange’s dignifying portrait of labour as a foil to globalised consumerist artistic culture. London-based critic and curator Guy Brett engages with Lange’s work in light of current directions in screen-culture and recent decades of performance and its documentation. He pays particular attention to the possibilities, so harnessed by Lange in the 1970s, of the ‘new’ media of video, especially his early use of the ‘long take’ and his handling of playback as a component in the pedagogical process in Work Studies in Schoolse. Brett’s 1977 introduction to the Work Studies in Schools catalogue is reproduced here in full; this text was originally published by the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, whose then director, David Elliott commissioned the project from Lange. Film writer Lawrence McDonald examines Lange’s work in relation to documentary and ethnography, using the Birmingham schools project and the origin of cultural studies as an historical and theoretical background. Photographer and close collaborator of Lange’s John Miller and media studies commentator Geraldene Peters further focus on Lange’s Maori Land Project in relation to video/film practices as well as activism concerning Maori land rights during the late 1970s and 1980s in Aotearoa New Zealand. Pedro G. Romero addresses flamenco as a “tool for survival and a way of life”. He moves further to discuss Lange’s devotion to flamenco guitar and his teacher and guide, Diego del Gastor of Morón de la Frontera in Spain. Conceptual artist Dan Graham delivers a personal eulogy, addressing Lange’s interest in flamenco music, and their shared engagement with community and social justice concerns. Graham’s is a reminiscence of Lange’s politicisation and avant-gardism from which he draws a parallel —interestingly as does Buchloh— to Courbet. A description of works and a chronology posit these discussions within the wider scope of Lange’s oeuvre.