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Persistent Visions

Erika Tan
2005
23.48 min., looped silent 3 channel DVD
3 channel video installation using archival footage

Persistent Visions

A film term for the production of moving images from still pictures. The process of creating a moving image is dependent upon the eye/brains persistence of vision, whereby the memory of the image is retained by the viewer.

Persistent Visions marks a pause in my journey through the Moving Image archives of the Empire and Commonwealth Museum and the histories encapsulated there. My initial proposal of " illuminating hidden meanings and messages, unearthing personal and subjective histories hidden by the grander structures of empire" has not fully been realized, or indeed has changed. The actual physicality or materiality of the archive and the process of navigating indexes, accessing film clips, identifying content, moving between fast and present formats and meanings has been overwhelming. But even more overwhelming has been the question of the archive's status as historical 'evidence' and my 'take' on the imagery viewed.

A few decisions have been key to the way the work has developed. The first is the use of 'amateur' film footage held by the archives rather then 'professional' footage. In the main, this has meant working with less highly edited material and no explicitly over arching authoritative story lines. The material stretches across a time frame of about 50 years (1930's to 70's) and is geographically unbounded. The content acts as personal recordings of both the domestic and the public lives and contexts of the filmmakers. The development of film technologies and mediums such as 8mm, 9.5 and super 8 provided much more accessible and transportable cameras. This can be seen in the diversity of material and film locations.

My second decision was to try and include the materiality of the archive and the experience and process of research within the work. I became interested in both the status of the archival material in terms of its references to the past but also its material existence as fragile film, collated into 'collections', indexed, notated. Many of the film reels within collections have been spliced together, not necessarily chronologically, and jump from location to location. Without the guidance of a sound track or the original filmmakers intentions, or knowledge and experience of the specifics of a place and its history, the remaining 'film evidence' is left in a liminal state of indeterminacy.

'Who is that person?' 'Where is this place?' 'What is happening?' 'What status does this material have in terms of history and understanding?' These are questions asked, but not necessarily answered in the work.

In foregrounding the actual experience of working with an archive and placing the materiality of the film as central, it has meant that rather than going into the archive looking for material to support a predetermined narrative, I have instead sought to explore the archive with an appropriate openness and respond to the narratives perceived within the material itself. What this has actually thrown up was not the 'hidden meanings and messages' as anticipated, but instead a persistence of visions, images that kept reoccurring over time and space, and remained with me on my departure from the archives. The piece has resolved itself to become a reference to the centrality of the film medium and to history as memory.

Picture This, in association with The Empire & Commonwealth Museum Film Archive, Bristol

First shown at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, Solo Show, 2005.
Touring as part of Ghosting, a Picture This Touring project to Chapter, Cardiff, 2005 and Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, 2006.

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