Display-Displaced 1981 12 x monitors. For Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. Commissioned for this one-person exhibition at the IKON Gallery, Birmingham in 1981.
The Following text was written by the curator of the IKON Gallery, Hugh Stoddart:
Any artist wanting to work seriously with video is likely to come across Stephen Partridge – either at London Video Arts, or more likely still at Lanchester Polytechnic. Due largely to his presence there as part-time lecturer, for some . . . a significant resource is now available by way of video facilities and this in turn is part of a discernible sympathy in the place for a view of art wider than ‘painting or sculpture’. Probably more than nay other medium, video requires that one be in some educational institution or other to gain access to the facilities and the relationship between tuition, practice and experiment is inevitably a close one.
It is perhaps the ‘dependence on technology’ (in itself a loaded way to put it) which tends even after so long to cause some people (including other artists) to question the validity of video, and tends to push artists engaged in video into a rather tight group. Many of such artists (Partridge certainly) are ambivalent about this: often they assert the assumption that the medium carries any substantive connection. There have been far too few exhibitions where connections are made across the ;medium .barrier’ and far too many ‘video shows’. And yet . . . as Partridge put it, “it can’t be dodged”. There are perhaps more than in the case, say, of painting common elements that have come into play when one uses video which make artists on occasions (and particularly when there are battles to be won) that they need to take the stand of being ‘video artists’.
Stephen Partridge studied in a department named ‘painting’ at Maidstone but at an early stage began to work in performance ( by way of total lifestyle rather than at the theatrical end of the spectrum). A preoccupation was time as an dimension in his work led on to film, slides and ‘time-based’ media and this led to video. He has worked in that medium or with it, for many years and has alongside other artists taken a hand in the mapping out of a formal language. The two main thrusts in the creation of that language have been, one could say, on the one hand the particular instantaneous and ‘hand-held’ qualities of video and on the other its usage as the major means of mass communication (and consequently its existence as a domestic fact of life). If either becomes absolute, then a certain aridity is liable to follow – work becomes rigid structuralism or endless analysis. (This is a very crude simplification, I’m afraid but must suffice here).
Partridge is, I think, juggling with many issues in his current work. The structural elements have been refined to a point where he permits himself some self-parody (taking a face to the frame edge for instance) as he tries to retain a structural consciousness (screen as screen, camera as voyeur etc.) and he hauls back into the pool of usable devices the conventional modes of narrational editing. The title of his most recent tape ‘Interplay’ is revealing: there is a nicely judged element of ‘game’ and what is more, the artist has lost none of the sinister edge that notion can so often have. The camera = cat; the viewed person = mouse. Partridge is working, particularly in his recent tapes, with a light and slightly ironical touch that is sometimes surprising to people and the importance of which is sometimes overlooked.
Nonetheless, Partridge regards himself as working with video in a way that derives from the tradition of painting rather than any of the sources that are primary in broadcast TV (journalism, cinema, theatre). Another point I would make clear is that he regards the making of tapes as a minor activity relative to the creation of installed pieces, which is the major one. ‘Study in Blue’, first shown at the Kitchen performing Arts Centre, New York, tales probably to the limit the concerns he has had in the area of rhythm and the interaction of rhythmic sound (music) and rhythmic image (editing). These ideas were developed in tapes such as ‘Black Skirt’.
The installation for Ikon Gallery windows ‘Display – Displaced’ is by way of being our commission (made possible by an award to the artist by the Arts Council). When I spoke with Stephen Partridge recently he was, understandably reluctant to spell out in precise terms what the piece would be ‘about’, in advance of it – he prefers to allow for elements of change in the actual shooting and editing stages. On the other hand, he is certainly aware of all the possibilities (particularly in terms of the different ways the windows can be seen by passers by at random points outside the building and at various speeds) and aware too of the pun implicit in the project (TV stockists display windows). It is, I feel, a very nice marriage of situation and artist: the piece seems likely, even on the basis of the drawing, to encompass many of the strongest elements of Stephen Partridges work. I look forward to it. Hugh Stoddart, Nov. 1980