Jeff Keen (1923–2012) was a pioneer of experimental film whose rapid-fire animations, multiple screen projections and raucous performances redefined multimedia art in Britain.
Gazapocalypse – Return to the Golden Age, a major installation for the Tanks at Tate Modern, was conceived by Keen in response to the unique nature of the Tanks. Featuring a large, dioramic screen, the installation will demonstrate the spirit of Keen’s expanded cinema events, his early experiments in drawing, painting and animation, his fascination with surrealism and popular culture, and his radical development of multiple screen projection, cut-up soundtracks and unruly live action.
A very special live performance in the Tanks on Friday 21 September at 20.00 features projections plus live music and actions performed by Keen’s daughter Stella Starr and a range of Keen’s collaborators, including Alan Baker, Chris Blackburn, Rob Gawthrop, Michael Paysden as Mike Movie, and Jason Williams as ‘Silverhead’.
Keen was a veteran of the Second World War, and his work powerfully evokes the violence, colour, speed and noise of the 20th century. He transformed cinema into a riotous collage of comics, drawings, B-movie posters, plastic toys, burning props and extravagant costumes. His early 8 mm and 16 mm films are built for speed, combining footage of Beat-era motifs – jazz, motorbikes and car culture – with experimental animations in which the achievements and atrocities of the 20th century seem to flash by within a few short, cacophonous seconds. A single frame could not contain the frenzied energy of Keen’s imagination, and by the mid-1960s he began to use multiple screens and live action in presentations of his work.
Keen’s films and performances emerged from the 1960s counterculture and echo the climate of literary happenings and ‘bomb culture’ at Bob Cobbing’s Better Books in Charing Cross as well as Gustav Metzger's 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium. Recalling American underground films by Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs and Kenneth Anger, his work also resonates with Happenings, Fluxus and Viennese Actionism. Nothing stands still in his work, it is a constant process in which images and sounds evolve in quick succession through what Keen called ‘violently disconnected and overlapping patterns’ of destruction, creation and accumulation.
Jeff Keen passed away on 21 June 2012. The presentation of his work in the Tanks is dedicated to his visionary creative spirit.
See attached programme notes.
With special thanks to Stella Keen and the BFI.
A career-long retrospective, Shoot the Wrx, Artist and Film-maker Jeff Keen, will be on view 27 October 2012 to 24 February 2013 at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.
The BFI’s four DVD boxset, GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen is available in the Tate Modern Shop.
Part of the series The Tanks: Art in Action