• Images of people at work: the videomaking of Darcey Lange

Vicente, Mercedes, 2017, Thesis, Images of people at work: the videomaking of Darcey Lange PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis examines the work of New Zealand artist Darcy Lange (1946-2005) who,trained as a sculptor at the Royal College of Art (1968-71), subsequently developed a
socially engaged video practice, making remarkable studies of people at work that drew from social documentary traditions, structuralist videomaking and conceptual art. My
research into his oeuvre draws on intertwined artistic, theoretical, historical and cultural discourses from the period in which he was active, particularly those concerned
with realism and representation, reflexivity and video feedback, the document and documentary, the dialogic and participation, art and society, and social activism.
Starting with his last sculptural ‘environment’ Irish Road Workers (1971) and ending with the series Work Studies in Schools (1976-77), labour was the sole subject of Lange’s oeuvre for much of the 1970s. In his words, his aim was “to convey the image of work as work, as an occupation, as an activity, as creativity and as a time consumer”. He engaged in comprehensive studies of people at work in industrial, farming and teaching contexts across Britain, New Zealand and Spain. A commitment to realism guided his works in
the early 1970s, evident in his adherence to an observational practice reduced to its bare essentials. Using photography, film and video (at times simultaneously), he
portrayed workers performing their tasks, and cast workplaces, schools and mines as complex societal mechanisms engaged in the production and reproduction of class
Work Studies in Schools introduced a radical shift in his practice, influenced by current epistemological and philosophical concerns about the politics of representation that recognised representation (and its making of meaning) as contingent and dependent on context. Rather than engage in the examination of the image’s process of signification
through structuralism and semiotics, Lange grounded his analysis in human experience and opted for the dialogic possibilities of camera lens media. Focusing on pedagogical
practices in the classroom, Lange explored the implications of video for teaching and learning, inviting his subjects to speak through their own analysis of their experiences of
work and class. In enabling a situation where the social exchange between teacher and pupils could be observed and analysed collectively, Lange turned a closed process of
exchange into something more open that could be mutually redefined and transformed.

In so doing, his images of people at work sought to confer agency, in an effort to realise his expressed ‘socialist aspirations’.
Lange’s political awareness grew in a decade of intense politicisation in the United Kingdom. In New Zealand, the 1970s saw the beginning of the so-called ‘Maori
Renaissance’. Lange joined the efforts of fellow activists and documentarians there to raise awareness and support for the land claims by the Maori indigenous people and,
working in collaboration with Maori activist and photographer John Miller, produced the Maori Land Project (1977-1980). It was in the Netherlands where he further
developed the ideas and aspirations behind this project, collaborating with René Coelho, founder of Montevideo in Amsterdam, and Leonard Henny, professor at the
Sociological Institute’s Centre for International Development Education in Utrecht.
Theoretical debates about cultural difference of the period framed this project, driven also by Lange’s desire to further extend social agency with his videomaking. An activist impulse also lay behind his political multimedia musical performances People of the World (1983-84) and Aire del Mar (1988-94). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Lange’s turn to video was not to engage in
conceptual activities or as a deconstructive exercise. I argue that he was drawn to video (film and photography) for its experiential and dialogical nature and capabilities, as “a way to get closer to people” and leave the isolation of a studio practice. He was driven by a desire to seek out a social purpose to artistic activity while avoiding the dogmatic political advocacy of his community art contemporaries.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W630 History of Cinematics and Photography
Funders: AHRC, Creative New Zealand, Chartwell Trust
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2017 11:24
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2020 08:38
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2853
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