Royal College of Art
Supervised by Jeremy Millar, Senior Tutor in Critical Practice at the Royal College of Art, and Professor Pip Laurenson, Head of Collection Care Research at Tate
October 2016 –

Front cover of Film Art magazine, showing a black-and-white photograph of the top of a building's facade with lettering on it spelling FILM, against a bright, cloudy sky

Front cover of Film Art magazine, no.9, 1936

This thesis catalogues and analyses instances when film form, theory, technology, architecture, discourse and ephemera influenced artists working in the first half of the twentieth century in Britain, focusing on activity in London. It makes detailed case studies of particular works executed in the traditional media of painting, sculpture and print that result from this interest, alongside examples of artists’ work in film. In parallel, it traces the evolution of an idea of film as art in texts written by artists, critics and theorists during the period in question.

The thesis analyses films, artworks and monographic and institutional archive papers held at Tate, the British Film Institute and the Harry Ransom Center, as well as in smaller public and private collections. It attempts to resist the linearity of art history in order to make visible artists’ concern with film, and the resultant focus is on artworks, films, publications and exhibitions as ‘containers’ for cyclically shifting conceptions of film as/and art that could inform the present rubric of ‘artists’ moving image’.

Part one of the thesis explores the period 1906 to 1928 in relation to a developing concept of the ‘cinematic’. Part two explores the consolidation of ideas of an art of film through the formal structures of and informal relationships within i) the Film Society, ii) educational and iii) industrial settings during the period 1925 to 1933. Part three introduces the concept of Paracinema and its manifestation as i) text, ii) lightplay, iii) figurative and iv) abstract painting and sculpture during the period 1933 to 1939.

The thesis finds that artists and works previously considered extrinsic to histories of both art and artists’ moving image in Britain become central when these histories are considered together. It reinterprets the legacies of figures including Walter Sickert, Walter Booth, Wyndham Lewis, Dora Carrington, Roger Fry, Iris Barry, Edward Carrick, Stella Burford, Oswell Blakeston, László Moholy-Nagy, Paule Vézelay and S. John Woods, foregrounding intermedial, collaborative and experimental practices omitted from existing accounts. In this way, the thesis problematises our understanding of British modernism, and by connecting our notion of artists’ moving image to more extensive historical, material and theoretical precedents, it suggests possibilities for further research into artists’ engagement with film in the period 1945 to 1960.

How did you come to be researching this subject?

My present doctoral project is important to me because it connects the somewhat sprawling research and curatorial interests I have pursued over the previous ten years professionally. Although interdisciplinary in nature, the backbone of my topic is the development of modern art in the UK, so Tate is the instinctive home for this research.

About Inga Fraser

Inga Fraser is a curator and writer with over ten years’ experience working in museums and galleries in London, including curatorial posts at Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. Her research focuses on the impact of the emerging disciplines of film and photography on art in the twentieth century, and the convergences between art, fashion and design in the modern period. Her present doctoral project explores artists’ engagement with film in Britain in the twentieth century.

Selected publications include: Colour and Kinesis’, Tate Etc., no.48, Spring 2020; ‘From a sheet of paper to the sky’, British Art Studies, no.7, Autumn 2017; ‘Visual Culture‘, The Year‘s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, vol.25, no.1, 2017; ‘Kinomuseum? Film and Video at the Tate Gallery: the Rushes of a Relationship’, LUX Online, November 2017; ‘From a Sheet of Paper to the Sky: Pattern in the Work of Paul Nash’, in Paul Nash, ed. Emma Chambers, Tate, 2016; ‘“New Relations, Unsuspected Harmonies”: Modern British Art in Finland, 1906–1964‘, FNG Research, no.4, 2016; ‘Visual Culture’, The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, vol.24, 2016, pp.246–68; ‘Media and Movement: Barbara Hepworth Beyond the Lens’, in Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World, eds. Penelope Curtis and Chris Stephens, Tate, 2015; ‘The “English Independents”: Some Twentieth-Century Women Carvers’, Sculpture Journal, vol.23, no.3, 2014; ‘Born Fully Clothed: the Significance of Costume for the Silent Cinema Vamp’, in Birds of Paradise: Costume as Cinematic Spectacle, ed. Marketa Uhlirova, 2014; ‘Tree, Iris (1897–1968)’, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2014; ‘Body, Room, Photograph: Negotiating Identity in the Self-Portraits of Lady Ottoline Morrell’, in Biography, Identity and the Modern Interior, eds. Penny Sparke and Anne Massey, 2013.

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