Mancunia 32 min 2020 (with Michael Symmons Roberts) Mancunia is a haunting 30 minute film based around Michael Symmons Roberts’s acclaimed published poetry cycle about the myths of Manchester, with images by artist Steve Hawley, drawn from a century of film of the city from the North West Film Archive. Mancunia as a mythical city - a contemporary reimagining of the city symphony films of the 1920s. Premiered at HOME Manchester 2020, 9th International Video Poetry Festival Athens 2021 The film is compiled from moving images drawn from 100 years of Manchester history by Marion Hewitt of the North West Film Archive. Mancunia draws on the real and unreal myths of Manchester, and is the first poetry film based around a city where the film is all from archive of that city - a contemporary reimagining of the city symphony films of the 1920s. The poems read by Esh Alladi and Julie Hesmondhalgh counterpoint moving images of the city, from the Whit Marches down the Deansgate of the Edwardian era, to a 1970s student riot on Oxford Street. Together the words and pictures weave a picture of Manchester from the utopian exuberance of the opening of the Ship Canal through the depression of the 60s clearances, to the resurgence of the present.
War Memorial is one part of an ongoing project based around 60 films which remain from World War Two of soldiers sending filmed messages home from the 14th Army in Burma and India. The Calling Blighty series was nearly four hundred 12 minute films that were made in 1944-5 of servicemen (and a very few women) in the Far East recording a message to be shown in local cinemas to wives and families back home. – a sort of one way Skype of their day. Produced by the Directorate of Army Welfare, these are remarkable and moving documents. Along with Marion Hewitt of the North west Film Archive, I have traced the relatives of the men and recreated a screening at an event at HOME Manchester in December 2015 and the films were shown for the first time in 70 years to a sellout audience of 250 relatives – and two of the actual men still alive. Channel 4 broadcast an hour long documentary about the project, Messages Home, in June 2016, and I am now continuing the project tracing relatives of 200 men in the Sheffield Calling Blighty films, and making a documentary to be shown in Town Hall cinemas funded by Film Hub North. I have also edited a version of the films to be shown on Remembrance Day 2016 at the military cemetery in Rangoon, where some of the fallen soldiers who appeared in the films are memorialised. War Memorial is a different take on these strange and emotional films, where the messages themselves recede to the background and the directorial decisions of the largely unknown army filmmakers accumulate to show a different view to the reassuring and brave faces of the men. A focus on different parts of the image shows instead uncertainty and apprehension.
Politicians make speeches in the de facto world language, English. After a while they all seem to run into one. Steve Hawley has made a series of video pieces which look at language, including We Have Fun Drawing Conclusions 1982, Language Lessons 1992 (with Tony Steyger) and several others.
Trout Descending a Staircase 1990
A satire on painting and technology, made using a Fairlight CVI and a few props. This was commissioned by BBC2 for the Late Show. “In a more lyrical manner we find Steve Hawley's "Trout Descending a Staircase" which explores the coincidence of the apparently insignificant (a bunch of flowers, assorted vegetables, a fish) with the power of the computer and its representational transformative potential. Through establishing such contradictory conjunctions of information Hawley can apply a deconstructive lever to his subject, the relationship between representation and its means, in what is a surreal and poetic amalgam.” Simon Biggs A satire about painting and technology, made with a Fairlight CVI. Broadcast BBC2 1990.. German video art prize 1994. Broadcast VPRO TV Holland 1993, Meisterstein TV Germany 1993, Sudwestfunk TV 1994, SBS TV Australia 1995.
Barnum Effect 2008
Statements addressing you, the individual spectator, over a series of images of a deserted salt pans; seduction by word and picture. 2007 L’Alternativa; 14th Festival de Cinema Independent de Barcelona 2007 National Review of Live Art, Tramway, Glasgow. “You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage.” The famous showman P.T. Barnum, believed that a spectacle should have something for every member of the audience, and used the human propensity for belief in vague statements in a mind reading act. In 1948 the effect was investigated by the psychologist Bertram Forer, who used random excerpts from horoscopes and tested them on his students, who rated the personality description produced as astonishingly accurate. In the video, a series of statements are voiced by a narrator addressing the individual spectator, over a series of images shot in high definition video of a deserted salt pans, on the Adriatic coast in Slovenia. The seduction of the audience by the voice seems to question the seduction of the viewer by the hyperreal image itself. Voiceover Heidi Schaefer Camera, script, edit Steve Hawley
Ghost was made in Hong Kong just after the handover from Britain to China, when I was artist in residence at the Microwave Video festival. Commissioned by Videotage fl. 1999 Rencontres Video Art Plastique Caen Nov 99 Homeport Rotterdam 2001 Director's Fortnight,Cannes Film Festival 2000. Gweilo, or ghost, is the Cantonese term of abuse for the paler skinned westerners who appeared to the Chinese of the Middle Kingdom to be like ghosts. I made this film in Hong Kong overlooking the old Kai Tak airport, just after the handover from the UK. The collisions of scale were vast, and I felt like a ghost myself in Hong Kong, a place where even History itself was put in a museum. Performer Grace Ng Videotage/Microwave Video Festival
Yarn 2010 (excerpt)
Yarn is an endless DVD video which presents scenes and soundtracks at random in order to create a generative narrative. Australian International Experimental Video Festival Melbourne. Cleveland International Narrative Conference 2011 Manchester City Art Gallery 2013, Seamless MAO Ljubljana 2013. Funded by LabCulture; Arts Council of England; Thanks to N. W. Film Archive, Manchester School of Art In 1952 the French ‘nouvelle romancier” Michel Butor wrote a novel L’Emploi du Temps, about a young Frenchman who comes to a Northern English city called Bleston for a year, and about the difficulties and triumphs he has adapting to the cold, the rain, and the British way of life. In its strange repetitive style, part experimental narrative, part detective story, the novel seems to anticipate interactive fiction. In fact the story is based on Butor’s own experiences in Manchester, where he worked as a language assistant at the university. The Manchester of the fifties is readily recognisable, its architecture and cathedral, the awful food, the buses that the protagonist uses to criss cross the city, even the map of Bleston that Butor includes at the beginning of the novel which resembles that of the present city centre. I have made a film inspired by the novel, written by myself, as a “recombinant narrative” or generative cinema DVD video installation, using archive footage of Manchester of the 1950s, and a voiceover spoken by a computer programme, which uses the capacity of the DVD medium to present different scenes and spoken text so that the narrative never repeats itself. The experience is like the 1001 nights, in that the story has no beginning and no end, but rather an immersion in a narrative world where fact and fiction are blended. The piece is both a meditation on the nature of narrative itself, as mediated through technology, but also a series of speculations on the real and the fictional Manchester, as seen through the pessimistic eye of an outsider, a foreigner 50 years ago.
Speech Marks 2004
One of the first mobile phone videos, when the primitive cameras could only take short scenes in low resolution, reminiscent of early television. VAD Digital Arts Festival Girona 2004 (Special Award Prizewinner). Chroma 2004 Mexico City. San Francisco Art Institute 2005. Videoformes Clermont Ferrand France 2005. 11th Biennale Image en Mouvement Geneva 2005. Speech Marks was one of the first art videos shot entirely on an early mobile phone, and edited digitally. The limits of the phone as a video camera were challenging at that point; the image was low quality and small in size, and there was a maximum length of 9 seconds per shot (on that first cameraphone). To use these limitations creatively the piece builds up a collage of moving images, a series of marks that build a fragmented picture in space and time. The scenes are a collection of moments drawn from life; an art opening, a day in the garden, a meeting at work. Using the phone in this way to transmit pictures instead of speech harks back to the early days of television, when low quality images were sent by phone lines in the 1920s, by the Scottish TV pioneer John Logie Baird. These primitive stuttering images and lo fi sounds celebrate the everyday.