Zoe Whitley, recently appointed Curator of Contemporary British Art at Tate Britain, considers the new series showcasing the best film and video work made by artists in the last five years in Britain and why now is the time to get to grips with single-screen art

Turner Prize 2012 Comments Board Tate Britain
Turner Prize 2012 comments board at Tate Britain

‘I don’t understand video art.’ These five words still stick with me more than a year after seeing the Turner Prize 2012 nominees exhibited at Tate Britain. Complaint, boast or confession, I can’t be sure what the pencilled note intended. But it definitely got my attention. 

It was left on the Turner Prize public comments board and the comment unwittingly provides the perfect starting point for Assembly: A Survey of Recent Artists’ Film and Video Art, recently launched at Tate Britain.

So what is an artist’s film or video? And why is it being shown now in this survey at Tate Britain? 

Many of us have first come to understand visual art through traditional media such as painting, drawing and sculpture. Museums like Tate introduce a lot of us - certainly it did me - to artists working in installation, performance and other practices that can perhaps seem less accessible. To those of us not already well-versed in the subject, maybe film and video made by artists comes with the disadvantage of familiarity: most of us know all too well television, cinema and increasingly, downloaded content. Artists bring to moving image exactly what they bring to other media: a unique perspective, a particular vision and approach. Throughout Assembly, works are grouped thematically to draw attention to shared concerns, pursuits and subjects. 

Assembly is just that: a gathering. We’ve brought together a twelve week series of exemplary works to surprise, challenge, inform, and, yes, even entertain you. The final list of screenings has been compiled by asking the opinions of international experts what, for them, were the standout films and videos created in the past five years. The results span feature films, experiments in moving image that don’t have a conventional beginning -middle- end structure and many that simply defy description and must be experienced firsthand. 

It may be wishful to think the person who wrote the Turner Prize 2012 comment will see this blog post, but to anyone who may feel the same, check out the extensive programme on offer which resumes in the New Year with the aptly themed ‘Regeneration’ on Sunday 12 January 2014 at 15.00. Now’s the time. 

The series ‘Assembly: A Survey of Recent Artists’ Film and Video Art 2008 - 2013’ is at Tate Britain on Sundays and Mondays until Saturday 15 March 2014, £5.00, ticket price per screening