Exhibition Guide - Introduction
Dan Kidner

‘The Inoperative Community’ is an exhibition of experimentalnarrative film and video that address ideas of community and theshifting nature of social relations. It draws on work made since 1968 for cinema, television and the gallery, signaling the overlapping andentangled histories of these sites. The exhibition’s title is borrowed from Jean-Luc Nancy’s 1983 essay of the same name, and all theworks in different ways bear witness to what Nancy characterised as the ‘dissolution, the dislocation, or the conflagration of community’. Many concern the limits of political activism and the fate of left political subcultures, and all use narrative as a meansto explore social and political issues.

The exhibition focuses on a period that could be described as the long 1970s (1968–84) – all the works were either made during this time or revisit the aesthetic debates, or reflect on the radical social and political movements of the era. This period, that French philosopher Alain Badiou has called the ‘red decade’, began with national liberation struggles, mass student movements and workers’ revolts. It ended with the abrupt foreclosure of thesemovements and a return to early cold war levels of suspicion of socialism, a fear of a nuclear war and the birth of neoliberalism.

Encompassing over fifty hours of material the exhibition can benavigated by means of a programme displayed in the entrance of Raven Row and also contained within the exhibition guide booklet. Each visitor will only be able to see a fraction of the works on offer, but connectionscan be made between works on any particular course through thisconstellation of charged images. While it is possible to drift through the exhibition, sampling films, each benefits from watching from beginning to end. The screening room on the ground floor takes a more literal and structured approach to the historical and politicalframe of the exhibition. The programmes begin with an Anglo-French focus before expanding to include international filmmakers reflecting on the radical political movements of the 1960s and1970s. Correspondences can be found uniting films in the galleries and the screening room programmes, and dialogues emerge between filmmakers from different generations and disciplines.

Nancy described the experience of community as a dislocation or loss, recasting community as an ontological concept rather than asocial project that could be realised. He attempted to disassociate the word from issues of identity, and described a world where thesocial body had become atomised into the private order of the individual. The discourse of community, or ‘communisation’, which was revived and thoroughly transfigured by Badiou and others in the 2000s, constitutes an attempt to rethink the relationship of politics and philosophy. These discourses represent one reference point that influenced the selection and exhibition design of ‘The Inoperative Community’. Another was the relationship of narrative film and video – the diary film, essay film and political documentary– to the materialist or ‘structural’ practices that still dominate histories of experimental film and video.

‘The Inoperative Community’ doesn’t propose a new theory to explain the proliferation of moving images across the institutional spaces of contemporary art and their relationship to cinema, but it does provide a space to think about these migrations, and the modes of attention and distraction that dictate how these images are consumed. Artists working with film and video in the 1990s often used cinematic devices or appropriated images from Hollywood or European arthouse cinema, re-purposing cinematic images and grammar. In the last ten years, however, there has been a shift away from an interest in deconstructing cinematic grammar, and an increased interest in the film avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s. Crucially, this period is not viewed as a dead history, but rather as a live tradition within which filmmakers and artistscan operate. Whilst gallery artists have looked to the aesthetic and political preoccupations of avant-garde film of the 1970s, some filmmakers working within cinema have started using the kinds of conceptual gestures typical of artists’ film and video made for the gallery. Whilst taking care not to fetishise film projection and cinema – all works are shown digitally – nor encourage the kind of distracted viewing practiced by visitors to galleries, the exhibition registers these complex interchanges.