Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools

Darcy Lange

This video is no longer available

Darcy Lange, Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools (still), 1977.

Artist Cinemas presents Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools
Darcy Lange

31 Minutes
Eric Spencer, Art Teacher, Fifth Form, Cheney Upper School, Oxfordshire, Class Study and Students’ Responses

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased from Monica Brewster Bequest with the assistance of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand in 1983.

Artist Cinemas
Week #4

May 10–16, 2021

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Darcy Lange’s Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools (1977), on view from Monday, May 10 through Sunday, May 16, 2021.

This work belongs to the series commonly known as Work Studies in Schools, where Darcy Lange (1946-2005) focused on the process of teaching and learning in the classroom. The first of these studies took place in 1976 in the English city of Birmingham where Lange videotaped a number of classrooms in three schools, seeking to represent different social classes by recording in both private and public schools. In his later studies in four Oxfordshire schools in 1977, he focused on the teaching of art, music, history, and science and systematically introduced the element of feedback. This time, Lange not only videotaped each class in action, but also watched the tapes with the teachers and then the students, each time recording their reactions. Their responses became incorporated into the work and guided its development, and by exposing this process, Lange turned these into studies of videotaping as a work activity. Work Studies in Schools in many ways continues some of the concerns of Lange’s earlier work studies of British miners and factory workers. However, here Lange introduces and examines language for the first time; particularly, how the subject is defined by linguistic parameters marking social differences such as gender, race, and class, as well as cultural, economic, and ideological backgrounds, thereby, as Lange stated, aiming to “illustrate the social breakdown within each class.”

The particular selection screening here is Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools: Eric Spencer, Art Teacher, Fifth Form, Cheney Upper School, Oxfordshire, Class Study and Students’ Responses, 1977.

It is presented alongside an excerpt from film writer Lawrence McDonald’s essay “Exacting Reproduction: Darcy Lange’s Work Studies in Schools” (2008).

Studies of Teaching in Four Oxfordshire Schools is the fourth installment of Faraway, So Close, a program of films and interviews convened by Koki Tanaka, and comprising the sixth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Faraway, So Close will run from April 19 through May 31, 2021, screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s) conducted by Koki Tanaka and invited guests.

Exacting Reproduction: Darcy Lange’s Work Studies in Schools
Excerpt from the essay by Lawrence McDonald[1]

Darcy Lange was trained as a fine artist, not as a camera artist (film, video and photography): nor was he trained as a social scientist. Yet by using his camera(s) to observe and investigate many of the classic topics of social enquiry, he made the work upon which his reputation as an artist rests. The purpose of this essay is to discuss how a major part of this work, specifically the studies made in various English schools during 1976–7, connects with contemporaneous and subsequent developments in cultural studies and the ethnography of the classroom.

Darcy Lange’s turn from the formalist concerns of late modernist, geometric hard-edged sculpture and, following that, multi-media sculptural installations, to film, photography and, above all, video studies of the social world parallels that of a number of other artists at work in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For instance, Conrad Atkinson, who in the early/middle 1960s “… was trained at the Royal Academy under a very traditional fine arts curriculum”,[2] but abandoned formalist painting for politically conscious art. In 1972, London’s ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) hosted Atkinson’s exhibition Strike, “… which brought me out of this studio-art-school- gallery cocoon into realism”,[3]and it also showed his 1974 exhibition Work, Wages and Prices. It is important to note that the period in which this work was made – and also Lange’s A Documentation of Calverton and Pleasley Coalmining Communities, Nottingham, UK (1973) and his A Documentation of Bradford Working Life, UK (1974) – gave rise to waves of working class militancy directed against the Conservative Government of Edward Heath. In his diagnosis of the political implications of Heath’s policies, Robin Blackburn asserted: “… Heath is preparing the ground for the birth, or re-birth, of revolutionary politics within the working class. In terms of the British class struggle this would represent perhaps as significant an advance for British workers as the possibilities of May 1968 represented in terms of the French class struggle for French workers.”[4]

But Atkinson’s overtly political work was not the only model of an art that attempted to engage with the social world in the early 1970s. Stephen Willats, another English artist, also strived to reach a wider (non-art) audience with works that drew upon studies in social psychology and the sociology of groups. Willats confronted the problem of art’s separation from society by addressing broader issues of “social coding structures” beyond what he termed “art’s social environment” (i.e. a self-enclosed art world);[5] and to do so he turned to theoretical schemas of cognition and perception within technologically-based, interactive installations such as Meta Filter (1975). By contrast, the American-based German artist Hans Haacke’s 1970s studies of the machinations of networks of power relationships were focused directly on the art world itself as the most effective site for political intervention. Becker and Walton summarise his work of this period as “… a contribution to social science method by adapting the art historical technique of the provenance to the study of power”.[6]

The social science orientation of Darcy Lange’s 1970s video studies is more implicit than that of the artists named above but it is manifested in a number of linked ways. The first thing to note is that the overriding preoccupation of these studies is the classic sociological one of work in both urban and rural settings. The former includes the wage labour of factory and colliery work as well as the unpaid recreational work of tending allotment gardens. The latter takes in, amongst other things, the following: the horticultural and pastoral work of a rural peasantry in Cantavieja, Spain; the forestry, shearing, and mustering of a rural proletariat in New Zealand; and the recreational activity of competition axemen in Taranaki, New Zealand. All of these studies are focused on cycles of production, whereas Lange’s other major 1970s series, the Work Studies in Schools (1976–7), is fundamentally concerned with patterns of reproduction, the manner in which society maintains and renews itself inter-generationally, focusing on the education system as a site where class differences are reinforced or contested. And given that one of the major outcomes of societal reproduction is the maintenance of socio-economic inequality, it isn’t surprising that Lange’s exclusive concentration on working class and peasant labour in the Work Studies expands to include middle class subjects in the school studies. This is not the only difference between these two broad bodies of work. The studies of work tend to restrict themselves to purely observational records of the work process itself. The school studies retain this mode for the documentation of the classroom lesson, but introduce an informal, conversational interview with the teacher concerned (after viewing the classroom tape) and a discussion with a selection of students from the class. These interviews and discussions require Lange’s participation as both on- and off-screen presence in a way not seen in the previous Work Studies, even though he had contemplated doing something similar in them. Therefore the school studies possess both self- reflexive and interactive dimensions that move them beyond the purely observational mode of the earlier Work Studies.

Robert Flaherty’s evening screenings of work-in-progress to the subjects of his film Moana: A Romance of the Golden Age (1926) is a documentary precedent for this,[7] but no direct trace of the practice was incorporated into the finished film. More directly comparable is Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s “exercise in cinema- verite”, Chronique d’été (Chronicle of a Summer, 1960), which begins with a discussion between the film-makers and one of their subjects and moves towards a conclusion with a penultimate scene in which the directors and all the participants in their film discuss the material shot and its implications, after a screening inside a theatre. Chronicle of a Summer marked something of a departure from Rouch’s earlier African-based films of the 1950s in terms of its setting (the urban society of contemporary Paris) and its use of lightweight, portable 16mm film equipment (Rouch drew upon the expertise of cameraman Michel Brault of the National Film Board of Canada, a pioneer in the use of this equipment). Just over a decade later, Lange was able to benefit from yet another technological breakthrough – the advent of portable, lightweight video equipment, which not only allowed a single operator to handle both picture and sound but also had the added advantage of enabling that operator to provide on-the-spot playback for his subjects. Thus, a one-man ‘crew’ and the absence of bulky equipment, combined with portability and facility of playback, made it possible for Lange to both work unobtrusively in the classroom and establish a close relationship with his subjects.

Lange conducted his Work Studies in Schools in two United Kingdom locations, Birmingham (1976) and Oxfordshire (1977), and at several schools within these areas. The three Birmingham schools studied were: Leabank Junior School (i.e. a primary school); Ladywood Comprehensive School; and King Edward’s Grammar School. The four Oxfordshire schools studied were: Cheney Upper School (comprehensive); St Mary’s School (public school, i.e. private); Banbury School (comprehensive); and Radley College (public school, i.e. private). The lessons videotaped in the three Birmingham schools varied from school to school: they were devoted to social studies and English (Leabank), English literature, biology, geology and physics (King Edward’s) and geometry, history, physics and shorthand (Ladywood). However, in the Oxfordshire project, Lange settled on recording lessons in art, history, and science (chemistry or biology) across all the schools, with classes ranging from forms three to seven. The mix of public (i.e. private) and state schools (grammar, comprehensive, and primary) that make up Lange’s ‘sample’ of the English education system demonstrates his interest in mapping and correlating class- based differences in educational provision in the 1970s.[8]

A fundamental question to ask of Lange’s Work Studies in Schools is: what is the purpose behind them? In order to answer this question, we will largely have to make inferences from the tapes themselves because there is very little in the way of extra- artistic statements from Lange to draw upon. However, in an artist’s statement, in the catalogue for the first exhibition of the school studies at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, Lange listed his guidelines for making them as follows:

1. To investigate teaching as work.
2. To illustrate the skills of the teacher through vocal and gestural communication with the class and also the class’s response to this.
3. To illustrate the process of teaching and learning in the classroom.
4. To illustrate the social breakdown within each class. 5. I am particularly concerned to prevent what I make, whether it be photograph or video from becoming an end in itself – not dissimilar to the loved art object.[9]

… [It] is clear from Lange’s list of guidelines that his main focus is on teachers and the practice of classroom teaching, as both a form of work and a subtle disseminator of “middle class academic aspirations”.[10] The number and variety of schools studied and the combination of observational and interview-based sequences, all conducted by means of the strategy of the long take, enabled Lange to compile a comprehensive and systematic profile of classroom pedagogy in the United Kingdom of the 1970s. In a manner analogous to conceptual art’s embrace of the artless document over the crafted representation, Lange replaced the social scientist’s processed field notes with audio-visual diaries of his classroom experiences. In doing so he adopted what David MacDougall calls an “unprivileged camera style”, which avoids “singling out dramatic subjects for attention”, but rather opens “the film to a kind of anti-subject matter” that deals with “apparently inconsequential events that were more like what one would witness in ordinary experience than choose as film subjects”.[11] … When these studies were first exhibited, Guy Brett stated: “It is hard to say what final form this accumulation of material could take [for] … nobody knows quite how to categorise this kind of work.”[12] The ‘accumulation of material’ that constitutes Lange’s oeuvre now resides in the New Zealand Film Archive but the question of its ‘final form’ remains as unresolved now as it did then. However, given that Lange adhered consistently to a particularly rigorous form of process art and regarded these studies as a form of ongoing research, perhaps we should accept his work as a kind of video in perpetual motion, never finished only stopped for pragmatic reasons.

[1] Excerpt republished from Lawrence McDonald, “Exacting Reproduction: Darcy Lange’s Work Studies in Schools,” in Mercedes Vicente (ed.), Darcy Lange: Study of an Artist at Work, Ikon Gallery / Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 2008, p. 115-127.

[2] Timothy Rollins, “Art as Social Action: an Interview with Conrad Atkinson,” in Art in America, vol. 68, no. 2, February 1980, p. 121.

[3] Richard Cork, “Conrad Atkinson: Interview,” in Studio International, vol. 191, no. 980, March/April 1976, p. 179. The exhibition A Century of Artists’ Films in Britain (Tate Gallery, 19 May to 10 August 2003) showed a 10-minute section of Lange’s film Osborn Steels Ltd Bradford (1974) in the “Work” programme, alongside Conrad Atkinson’s Industrial Relations Bill (1971), 3mins. A programme note stated: “Industrial strife and the political changes in Britain in the early 1970s are reflected in the work of several artists, who used film to explore individual rights and contemporary working conditions.”

[4] Robin Blackburn, “The Heath Government: A New Course for British Capitalism,” in New Left Review, no. 70, November to December 1971, p. 26. Heath’s Conservative Government was elected in 1970 with Margaret Thatcher as Secretary of State for Education. Lange’s Work Studies in Schools were made and first exhibited under a Labour Government. The Conservatives returned to power under Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

[5] Steve Willats, “Art Work as Social Model,” in Studio International, op.cit., p. 100–105.

[6] Howard S. Becker and John Walton, ‘Social Science and the Work of Hans Haacke’, in Hans Haacke, Framing and Being Framed: 7 Works 1970–75, Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975, p. 148.

[7] David MacDougall, ‘Beyond Observational Cinema’ in Paul Hockings (ed.), Principles of Visual Anthropology, The Hague/Paris: Mouton Publishers, 1975, pp. 119–20.

[8] “In 1969 26.2% of all state secondary pupils were in comprehensive schools. In 1974 this had risen to 62%, and in 1978 the figure was 83%.” Stephen Ball, Education, London & New York: Longman, 1986, p. 21. Comprehensive schools were founded on what Ball refers to as “the integrative view,” which assumes that “… by providing one school for all, with social classes mixed together, greater tolerance and social harmony will result and class tensions will abate.” (p. 24)

[9] Darcy Lange, “To Effect a Truthful Study of Work in Schools,” in Work Studies in Schools, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1977, p. 18.

[10] Lange, op.cit., p. 18.

[11] David MacDougall, ”Unprivileged Camera Style,” in Transcultural Cinema, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 200.

[12] Guy Brett, ”Introduction,” in Work Studies in Schools, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1977, p. 3.

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Documentary, Socially Engaged Art, Experimental Film, Video Art, United Kingdom, Class
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