Matthew Buckingham

Situation Leading to a Story


Not on display

Matthew Buckingham born 1963
Film, 16 mm, projection, black and white, and sound
Duration: 20min
Purchased with assistance from the American Patrons of Tate, using funds provided by James and Paula Crown in honour of Jim Gordon 2008 (accessioned 2010)


Created by the American artist Matthew Buckingham, Situation Leading to a Story 1999 is a black and white 16 mm film projection with sound that is composed of found footage. The installation of the work involves two darkened, adjoining spaces. Viewers initially enter a room containing a projector on a low plinth positioned close to a wall with a small hole in it, through which images are projected into the lower right-hand corner of the second space, which has grey carpeting. The twenty-minute film, which is shown on a loop, consists of silent footage from four short amateur films dating from the 1920s: the first section shows an affluent family in the garden of a large house; the second depicts a cable-car line in the Andes mountain range in Peru being built by the Cerro de Pasco Copper Mining Corporation; the third features the construction of a garage at the house seen in the first clip; and the final section shows a bullfight in Guadalajara in Mexico. The soundtrack, which is played through three speakers – one positioned by the projector and two in the space where the images are displayed – consists of a voiceover by Buckingham that combines several intersecting narratives: how the artist found the film footage and got lost during his failed attempts to locate its owner; the history of the mining corporation, and possible connections between the company and the family seen in the opening section of the film; and the growth of the home movie industry in the 1920s. The version of this work owned by Tate is the first in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof.

Buckingham discovered the home movies seen in this work in a box on a street in New York, where he lives and works, and was able to date the footage via codes on the film strips. He reprinted and spliced together the four films, slowing them down and editing a part of the third section, but otherwise leaving the footage as he found it.

In highlighting the artist’s unsuccessful efforts to uncover the origins of the footage, Situation Leading to a Story raises questions concerning the validity of the meanings and narratives that emerge from it. In a 2009 interview with the American artist Josiah McElheny, Buckingham explained how the relationship between sound and image in the work draws attention to forms of storytelling:

Situation Leading to a Story was one project where I deliberately tried to play quite a bit with the viewers’ relationship to my experience and theirs, both watching the film and in the installation itself. The voiceover is presented in such a way that spectators have to use their own memory very self-consciously. There’s almost no synchronization between what’s heard and seen at a given moment. The viewer has to ‘rewind’ and compare what they hear and see at different times in order to evaluate the story they’re being told – perhaps even at a very basic level of what might be ‘true’.
(Quoted in McElheny 2009, p.96.)

Situation Leading to a Story was the first film Buckingham created for which he specified the exact installation requirements. The projection of the images onto a low part of the gallery wall could be seen to reflect the fact that the artist found the films discarded on the street, while the carpeted space replicates the domestic viewing conditions associated with home movies. In 2004 the British artist Tacita Dean described how the installation of this work relates to its contents and title: ‘The work is about revelation: revealing the intimacies of the anonymous other. Buckingham deliberately guides his viewers through the installation in only one direction until they find themselves, as the title suggests, in a situation that leads them to a story’ (Dean 2004, p.149).

This work can also be interpreted from an economic perspective: the film makes links between the wealth and leisure pursuits of the depicted family, who live in the United States, and the exploitation of natural resources in South America. It also engages with the economics of 16 mm film, most explicitly in a voiceover section outlining how Kodak targeted affluent consumers for its home movie products. In this respect Situation Leading to a Story can be compared with works by Dean that have explored the production and distribution of film, particularly Kodak 2006 (Tate T12407), which was shot at the eponymous company’s factory in France using the last 16 mm film stock produced there.

Further reading
Tacita Dean, ‘Historical Fiction’, Artforum, vol.42, no.7, March 2004, pp.146–51, reproduced p.148.
Mark Godfrey, ‘“Every Story About the Past is More Importantly a Story About the Present”: On the Work of Matthew Buckingham’, in Matthew Buckingham: Narratives, exhibition catalogue, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster 2006, pp.27–110, reproduced p.31.
Josiah McElheny, ‘Matthew Buckingham’, BOMB Magazine, no.107, Spring 2009, pp.90–6, reproduced p.95.

Richard Martin
August 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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