In 2015 the MExindex was launched at NUI Maynooth University
A summary of events up to 2015
In early 2014 I organised ‘Maynooth Experimental’ at ‘Maynooth Film for All’ film club in Maynooth University with the support of Kildare County Council Arts Service, in partnership with the School of English, Theatre and Media Studies at Maynooth University. We screened a series of experimental short films followed by the main art house feature. Each screening was followed by a brief, moderated discussion with the audience. This created great interest.
Then in looking for suitable short films for the programme, I discovered that there is no easy way to find past or current Irish experimental films in Ireland. They were there, but it took dedication and persistence to track them down. By March 2015, I had identified 280 Irish artists’ moving image works. My research had, in fact, resulted in the creation of a database. I consider this to be a critical tool for the visual arts in Ireland and I’ve subsequently developed this as the MExIndex database.
I also discovered that Irish experimental moving image works were under-represented in international film festivals and art galleries. After making enquiries I found that this is largely due to the absence of a central reference for international curators to use when looking for Irish moving image work. At present curators – and especially international curators – must rely mainly on word of mouth to find Irish works of this kind. I firmly believe that the creation of the MExIndex will addresses this information lacuna.
Up until the end of the twentieth century, Ireland had not developed any strong tradition of experimental filmmaking, certainly not in the way that the rest of Europe or the USA had done. Film was expensive to use as a medium at that time. So while the avant-garde was in its heyday, a combination of an impoverished population and a hugely conservative consensus made this kind of experimentation in film almost impossible in Ireland. Some brave pioneers such as Vivienne Dick, Moira Tierney and Bob Quinn managed to work in this medium, but there was nothing like a movement in the struggling Ireland of that time.
In 2013 the Irish Film Institute (IFI) presented a programme of screenings focusing on the history of Irish experimental film. Its curators noted that, “from the existing literature on Irish cinema, one would be hard pressed to find evidence of an Irish experimental cinema”. This was a fair summery at the time!
But, there has been a distinct change over the last couple of decades with a growing current of creativity among artists working with experimental moving image in Ireland. A body of work is emerging and the signs are promising. Two experimental film festivals were very successful this year: the Plastik Festival in Dublin, Cork and Galway; and the Wild-Screen / Scáil-Fhiáin Festival in Connemara.
A small but growing audience is evolving and, more encouragingly, a number of independent groups interested in experimental film have sprung up: the Experimental Film Society (2004), the Experimental Film Club (2010) and Critical Forum Dublin (2012) and possibly others. This is a clear indication to me of the vigour of this area of visual art in Ireland today. However, as of yet, there is little knowledge of this form of work among the general public. In addition, the genre has one foot in visual arts and one foot in cinema, which makes it difficult for the institutions to categorise it. This ambiguity is part of what makes it the ‘wild child’ of the arts. The MExIndex will try to balance this contradiction while building the database.
The Film School within the English, Media and Theatre Studies department at Maynooth University funded the launch event for the MExIndex in April 2015 and Kildare County Arts Service funded the initial costs of the website (mexindex.ie). VAI, the School of Creative Arts IADT and the IFI have all been very encouraging and positive about this initiative. The website is now up and, pending further funding, I am planning a series of events, writings and promotions at relevant festivals and symposiums to bring attention to the MExIndex and make Irish artists’ moving images more accessible and visible. In addition the site will encourage quality, pithy essays on the genre and the works within the index. In this way I hope an active critical debate will test the strength of such works. As Rosalind Krauss said: “… an emerging generation of artists needs its own generation of critics”. (2)
There is a lot of work out there and the only way to find out just how much there is, is to catalogue it. At present my minimal resources are focused on ensuring that information on Irish artists’ moving images are accessible. The object is not only to build a comprehensive database but to create a network of contacts to promote the exposition of Irish artists’ moving images (experimental film) both nationally and internationally. I hope that this will encourage curators to widen their search for such work, and in doing so give artists access to new audiences and vice versa.
Fifi Smith 14/01/2015
Fifi Smith is the director of the MExIndex. Having originally practiced architecture, she has worked as a visual artist for the last 26 years. She has exhibited continuously both nationally and internationally since 1994. Having started as an object based sculptor, she now works in kinetic light installations and artists moving images (see www.fifismith.net).
1. Text from the launch of ‘Absences and (Im)Possibilities, a programme of Irish Experimental Film works’, presented by IFI and Experimental Film Club, November 2013
2. Rosalind Krauss quoted in Scott Rothkopf, ‘Krauss and the Art of Cultural Controversy’, The Harvard Crimson, 16 May 1997