David Hall: can art engage with industry?

Copyright- David Hall (1937-2014) Still from Tap Piece ( 1971) courtesy of artist estate

It was fascinating to to sift through the written and video archives of David Hall (1937-2014) , one of the unsung pioneers of British video art, at an open session held earlier this month at the Tate Archive. The terrifying onward march of inflation was evidenced by Hall’s carefully conserved £6.60 bill for six diners from an Edinburgh Indian restaurant in 1971. He was there filming as part of an inspired project to insert unannounced 60 second art videos into the BBC Scotland output. These ten works, known as T.V Interruptions (1971), are little gems each one a masterclass in economy and punchiness. One of them, the conceptually intriguing and mesmerising Tap piece, looks achingly innocent to our eyes but the project was so controversial that it was never repeated.

Also redolent of an innocent radicalism are the written materials documenting the group meetings of the Artist Placement Group (APG) which was founded in 1966 by John Latham to get artists out of the studio into the “real world” and onto the payroll of business organisations like British Steel and Esso Petroleum. The group worked on the premise that “art could help resolve problems inherent in industrial societies”. An archive document revealed to my surprise that my first boss, Tom Batho, the Head of Employee Relations at Esso was a director at the APG. He states:

” artists…are not asking for patronage …they are asking Industry to allow the artist to make a contribution”

In the current era of oil industry boycotts artists might be reluctant to establish such engagement. Mark Rylance broke his links with the RSC asserting that Shakespeare would not have taken money from BP. (I am not so sure; he was always desperate for finance for his productions). As consumers if we rein in our reliance on oil, BP would have to stop supplying it. It is two sides of the same equation. Overturning our current expectations of a reasonable living standard is the only way forward. Closing the opportunities for debate by separating us into artificially generated echo chambers is what both the xenophobic Brexiteers and the boycotting environmentalists have in common.

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