Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery presents Darcy Lange: study of an artist at work, the long overdue retrospective exhibition of New Zealand video pioneer Darcy Lange (Urenui, 1946-2005). This major survey features the breadth of Langes artistic practice including video, the cornerstone of the exhibition, sculpture, film and photography. Curated by Mercedes Vicente, the exhibition examines a career devoted to video and contextualises the role Lange played in the history of new media. A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland and the Royal College of Art in London, Lange established a career in the late-1960s with large hard-edge abstract sculptures but soon turned to photography, film and video. In 1972 he started videotaping under the general theme of people at work in English factories, mines and schools. Returning to New Zealand in 1974, he continued documenting workers lives and Maori activists struggles to establish land rights, from Bastion Point to Ngatihine, north of Auckland, in his important Maori Land Project (1977-1981), amassing hours of video taping. Thematically, people at work situates Langes work within a lineage of social documentary film and photography and a shared ideological history with such 1930s American FSA (Farm Security Administration) photographers as Dorothea Lange and Lewis Hine, and filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, a contemporary of Lange. With these seminal works, he became one of the first artists to use the long take, the recording of peoples actions in real time as they performed daily working tasks. His restless experimentation with the structural possibilities of moving and still images led to a parallel use of photography, film and video, simultaneously shot. The capacity for early portable video to provide live and taped feedback unlike film or photography 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 1976-1977 work studies in Birmingham and Oxfordshire schools in England, 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. This emphasis on process was shared by other contemporary artistic practices of the 1970s like conceptual, performance and land art. Without the intervention of montage or use of dramatic sequences of multiple takes and camera angles, Langes videos rely exclusively on the process of slow observation provided by the long takes. The viewer sees the action unfold on the screen at the same speed as it occurred. Lange never saw these tapes as finished works but as researches and an educational process. The reactions of his subjects to the tapes became as much a part of the body of work, guiding him in its development. By exposing the process, Langes videos become in themselves studies of videotaping as a work activity. A comprehensive catalogue will be published later this year documenting the exhibition. Darcy Lange: study of an artist at work is showing at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand until 24 September 2006.
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