Journeys 1976 is a video and photographic installation comprising three black and white videos on monitors inset into the wall, and ten black and white photographs with accompanying text panels that together wrap around the two main walls of the corridor shaped room. The installation was first exhibited in 1976 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. The photographs are stills taken at the same time the three films were made; one wall is made up of portrait photographs and texts, while the opposite wall shows three groups of photographs, separated by the three monitors. The photographs on this wall in effect echo the narratives contained within the three videos: intervention in nature; a journey between city and countryside ending at London’s Aldgate East station, with views of the Whitechapel Art Gallery; and a shopkeeper (opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery) recounting a journey of marriage and immigration.
Against an electronic soundtrack, the first monitor shows a slide sequence of breaking waves which is then followed by a panning shot across a countryside landscape of fields with roads cutting through it. Cutting from a shot of ditch diggers, the video pans across ploughed fields next to a road (the soundtrack evoking the sound of car traffic). The video then cuts to a sequence of people walking in the countryside – first a woman carrying firewood and then a couple walking a dog. This cuts to a view of a road that bisects the screen vertically, with a footpath sign at bottom left; as a car appears in the distance the camera pulls back. This then cuts to a final panning sequence moving from woodland and fields to a road with cars and then a construction site for a motorway. The video ends with a silent slide sequence of road construction workers and road-surfacing machines, followed by panning shots over a ploughed field and the finished motorway.
The second monitor also uses an electronic soundtrack and its subject is a passage through the city of London; it starts with a car on the approach road to the south terminal of the Woolwich Ferry in South East London, before panning across the John Burns Ferry vessel crossing the river and shots of a cargo vessel crossing the screen in front of the docked ferry boat. This then cuts to a view of the dock from the ferry as it arrives at the north pier, before cars then come off the ferry and the view shifts to scenes shot from the driving car as it proceeds to just opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London’s East End. This is followed by a silent slide sequence of portraits of the newsvendor outside Aldgate East tube station, of shopkeepers and waiters at Blooms restaurant, as well as different shopfronts on Whitechapel High Street.
The third monitor commences with a view from the inside of a tailor’s shop, looking out through its front window to the street outside and to the Whitechapel Art Gallery beyond. From this, the view pans away from the window and into the shop as customers come in. While the film concentrates on tailors making trousers and sewing pockets, the soundtrack is drawn from an interview with the shop’s owner, Violet Spink, as she recounts her journey from a childhood in Hong Kong – with her Yorkshire-born father, her Chinese mother and her Yorkshire husband – to London. The video ends with a credit sequence titling the work as “Journeys” to the East End of London.
Elsa Stansfield and Madelon Hooykaas began collaborating in 1972 and were at the forefront of video production in Europe during the 1970s. After making work for Dutch television, in 1975 they started producing video installations under the name Stansfield/Hooykaas. Their work centred around an interest in natural phenomena and landscape, and Journeys addresses this through its contrast between the city and the countryside, and between the road and the river. Writing in the exhibition handout for Whitechapel Art Gallery, they described this work as:
An exploration and an impression, through video, of three aspects of journeys. We see how technology penetrates into nature and transforms it, from The ploughed earth, to The road, to The City. People are the threads that link these themes. They migrate as if drawn by a magnet towards the metropolis. In London and in particular the East End, there are many generations of these settlers.
(In Elsa Stansfield & Madelon Hooykaas, ‘Journeys’ Video Work, exhibition leaflet, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1976.)
The themes described here, the principles of social and ecological change alongside with their associated phenomena, became a staple for Stansfield/Hooykaas, echoing in many ways the growth and development of the wider ecological movement through the 1970s. Journeys also exemplifies the degree to which they investigated this subject matter through a combination of media – here video, photography and text – in such a way as to offer the possibility for a multiplicity of readings of their work. Video, in many respects, was always associated with television (their first works being conceived for television) and the environments and installation works they subsequently made – of which Journeys is one of the earliest – are structured and conceived in a such a way as to distance the work from a single authoritative voice. Instead, the use of video alongside other media was fundamentally also an attempt by them to democratise the act of looking.
Journeys is a unique work as neither the video nor the photographs were editioned. It is displayed in its own space.
Else Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfield, ‘Labyrinth’ Video-environment, exhibition catalogue, ICC, Antwerp 1978.
Madelon Hooykaas and Claire van Putten (eds.), Revealing the Invisible – The Art of Stansfield/Hooykaas from Different Perspectives, Amsterdam 2010.
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