Derek Boshier

Reel

1973

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Not on display

Artist
Derek Boshier born 1937
Medium
Film, 16 mm, shown as video, colour and sound (stereo)
Dimensions
Duration: 7min, 15sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased from the artist 2020
Reference
T15534

Summary

Reel 1973 is a seven-minute-long film that cycles through a fast-paced succession of different scenes and images. The film begins with a shot of a table with a radio (that provides the soundtrack for the film), an empty flowerpot, a Ricard ashtray, matches, a packet of cigarettes and postcards of royalty, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament that are revealed in turn to the camera and propped up against the radio. The first of a number of flash-frame subliminal images (a middle-aged man in a pin-stripe suit drinking a cup of tea) occurs before the final image is placed against the radio – a postcard-sized image of a pair of a pair of feet wearing Terry de Havilland silver-green stack-heeled shoes. The camera frame pulls into the image which then comes to life as the woman wearing the shoes poses and walks away (interspersed with more flash frames, this time of views of a strawberry cream cake). The soundtrack of the radio changes for the third time from music to birdsong to a report on the São Paulo art biennial. The subsequent diverse scenes of the film are linked by the shoes and what follows is a vertiginously edited sequence of found footage and photographs alongside Boshier’s own footage of different class-defined pursuits – both leisure and work – whether defined by car-driving, a village cricket match, a gymkhana or the popular culture created through a mix of advertising images, popular music stars and cinema. The film ends with a sequence of footage of a union picket line and images of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972, which then leads to a busy London street where we see the pair of shoes on the pavement and then crossing the street to the sound of a man talking about racism which then joins with the image to show an extended sequence of Speakers Corner; the film’s final sequence juxtaposes shots of London streets in colour with static unpeopled shots in black and white of the same views, and then a flash-frame of the suited tea drinker from the film’s start to a view of what appear to be homeless men grouped around a brazier.

Reel provides a view of different social and cultural hierarchies stitched together into a narrative by the punctuation provided by the pervasive presence of the shoes – a stand-in for popular culture – moving effortlessly between locations and the flash-frame images that express a soft yet effective critique of the class structure defining British culture both at leisure and at work. Between 1968 and 1973 Boshier made three films (Link 1970, Circle 1972, and Reel) and two photographic sequences (16 Situations 1971 and Change 1973), all of which take a similar assemblage approach to their material, Reel being the most politically expressed. Boshier described the structure of these three films without any mention of their mass-media content: ‘Link is a collage of objects and things that are unrelated to each other in any other way except in their basic structure … Circle deals with the notion, not of a physical circle, but of starting and finishing at the same point … Reel is concerned with the unexpected nature of change and the duality of situations.’ (Quoted in Whitworth Art Gallery 1975, pp.18–19.) He similarly described his artist’s book and installation 16 Situations and his installation of 200 images Change in similar terms as a form of filmic storyboard: ‘16 Situations is about the way in which an object changes a situation and a situation changes an object … Change consists of 200 consecutive images concerned with the notion of change – change of pace, face, alteration, variation, transformation, modulation, permutation, shift, merging or difference at different times.’ (Quoted in Whitworth Art Gallery 1975, pp.4 and 7.)

Approached in these terms, the films and photographic installations address issues of context, document and archive that lay at the heart of the turn towards a widespread conceptualisation of art practice in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Such moves suggested how art was not apart from life but was a part of everyday experience, taking pop art’s attention on mass media sources into a more critical frame. If Boshier believed that pop art was marked by its ‘ability to use anything as subject-matter’ (quoted in Whitworth Art Gallery, p.10), in his work of the 1970s the potential for meaning offered by this breadth of content was unlocked through juxtaposition and context.

Boshier had stopped painting in 1966 because he had realised that it was ‘an inadequate vehicle to contain my ideas and experiences … I couldn’t go back to painting in terms of what is going on, what one sees in everyday life, and the way one is assaulted by images, it was not possible.’ (In Whitworth Art Gallery 1975, p.10.) This realisation was a liberation and allowed him to experiment with new technologies and the ways in which this and the corresponding language and frameworks he adopted could create a new accessibility for his work. His approach to his practice was now more immediate and engaged, as he explained: ‘I worked with small stuff and photographs that I could carry around to exhibitions, make films and books – political art.’ (Quoted in Gorman 2015, p.88.)

Reel was shown with Change as part of a retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1973 that through its concentration on documentation characterised this shift in Boshier’s work. Originally shot on colour film with sound, Reel has been transferred to video and produced in an edition of six, of which this copy is number one.

Further reading
Derek Boshier Work 1971–74, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1975.
Paul Gorman (ed.), Derek Boshier Rethink Re-entry, London 2015.

Andrew Wilson
August 2018

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