I then decided to move from the offset-litho printing used in Working Press into the new area of digital publishing. This promised to allow colour and new forms of distribution with a lower capital outlay. To retrain in this area, and because I needed an academic qualification for my new job as a seminar tutor at London Guildhall University, I decided to do a Master of Arts in Time-Based Media in Maidstone. The digital publishing became realised in the form of video and I began to make videowork. An interest in the Exploding Cinema collective was a natural next step but I was also aware that the collective history I had been part of was not being adequately historicised. This was when I started to look for institutional support to do a PhD programme of research on the history of Exploding Cinema.

The achievements of these groups I had been part of seemed, in retrospect, to be significant and influential and yet they were almost entirely unrepresented in the published history of the arts. I wanted to interrogate this invisibility and explore the ways in which collective activity could be recorded, represented and evaluated.

The point about all these sites of production is that they were all open access in different ways. Open to anyone without qualification, they were mostly democratically run with open meetings. Administration was unpaid and they were not reliant for their day to day existence on grant aid. They reflected prevailing cultural enthusiasms of the time without the mediation of the establishment and brought sub-cultural consensii into focus.[1] They brought collective desire to the surface and found expressive forms that were often refreshingly human centred and direct.

I would not claim that the collective enterprises I was a part of from 1969 until I joined the Exploding Cinema had any special coherence as a set, or were representative of collective activity in this period. They do however show the diversity of the field and the problems that confront historical recordings and representations. These include:

The large number of members and the complex, changing and often very subjective internal relationships;

The complexity of influences that large numbers of participants bring to bear on cultural formations;

The responses to activity are often non discursive in any way that is easy to track with academic instruments;

The openness of membership and democratic structure will often serve to discount the value of cultural productions to those who work from more conventional structures. Quality is commonly assumed to be dependent on monitoring processes;

Self funding produces results that are rich due to the large resource of human labour available but often poor in other material respects, e.g. in terms of catalogues, publicity material and other presentation paraphernalia;

Sometimes the openness and autonomy leads to either political positions that are unpalatable to the status quo or to cultural designs which are aesthetically discordant.


At the beginning of my research one artist's collective that I had some passing engagements with, Hull Time-Based Arts, did publish a history of itself.[2] Hull Time-Based Arts, was established by an artist's collective in 1984, since that time it has grown to be a major promoter of experimental art in the North East of England. HTBA shared an important characteristic with the groups I have been involved in since 1969 in that it was originally open to all and control was in the hands of the artists.[3] The book mainly consists of texts and/or images by the artists who have been presented by HTBA about the works they made there. The articles by the paid workers Mike Stubbs and Gillian Dyson discuss more general or theoretical issues. At the end of the book there is finally a very short narrative account by Rob Gawthrop and a cryptic chronology by Julie Bacon.

The attempt not to unify the representation of HTBA history with a single account but rather to leave in the form of the fragmentary accounts of the participants, reflects the group's democratic ethos. It does not work as well as it might have because there is no easily perceptible sequential structure and the effect of this is heightened by an intense and intrusive magazine style design which makes it difficult for the outsider to form a coherent picture of the groups history. At least the book cannot be accused of creating any sense of closure.

Some of the above groups do have a direct relation to the provenance of the Exploding Cinema. Brixton Artists Collective preceded the Brixton based Cooltan Collective, which was as we shall see, the birthplace of Exploding Cinema. Mark Pawson who was a notable member of the early Exploding Cinema Collective had been a leading mail artist for some five or six years before he joined the collective. For other groups mentioned above, such as the Self-Build group the relation is a more diffuse one of simply being contributors to the broad ethos of DIY culture.


[1] Jurgen Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action begins to theorise the importance of such processes of coming to agreements. See later theory discussion.


[2] Out of Time: Hull Time Based Arts, 1984 - 1998, Edited by Andrea Phillips (HTBA Hull, 1998). "The main impetus for setting up HTBA came from disenfranchised experimental filmmakers working in Hull. The British Film Institute had stopped providing funding for the region. Some of these filmmakers are still members, including Tom Scott, Joanna Millett and myself." Rob Gawthrop in (Phillips, 1997 section 01.48)


[3] "The key motivation behind HTBA's structure lay in issues of access, participation, ownership and autonomy - the democratisation of culture° Membership was open to anyone." Rob Gawthrop in (Phillips, 1998 section 01:51)