6.01 Attendance at Exploding Cinema meetings

In a small collective the attendance at meetings is an indicator of the power any person has in the organisation. Of course there are other factors such as eloquence, persuasiveness, force of personality but attendance is the most basic form of democratic power in a non-hierarchical collective. Meetings are the only fora at which formal decisions can be made by vote. Presence at meetings is a key point at which future actions may be decided. Power and ownership are also closely related. Where ownership is not defined by external constraints or inner legislation it tends to operate by force of occupation and work done.[1]

The data also provides a simple fairly objective record of who was in the collective over time.

Background: There is only one formal post within Exploding Cinema that does not rotate from show to show, this is the role of treasurer. The post of Treasurer is held over periods of a year or more. The other posts in the Exploding Cinema are only held for the period in which a show is prepared. A chair and secretary are elected for each meeting from amongst the attendees. There is no elected leader although length of service and work put in does inevitably have some influence. Other forms of organisation with a committee structure can be more efficient but less democratic. In Exploding Cinema attendance and behaviour at meetings is the forum in which decisions are forged. It is also a place were collective relations can become heated, where differences can become evident, although not always explicitly articulated.

It is at meetings that shows are organised and jobs are allocated. These jobs result directly in the form of the shows. It is usually at meetings that loans of equipment, or the conditions of such loans, and other general policies are decided.

Method:  Unitisation. The units measured are simply the names as recorded at the head of meetings minutes from 1992 to 1997. These are tabulated per year. The two problems with this unitisation are that:

1.      Attendance is not recorded at every meeting leading to inevitable omissions.

2.      Full names are usually not recorded leading to ambiguity in some cases.

In each year until 1997 the number of meetings with attendance records is remarkably constant at about 50% (see summary table A). In 1997, when I began my research as a participant observer, 16 out of 17 meetings had attendance records (including two meetings estimated on records of those named as speaking). This new attention to recording attendance may have been an effect of this study, a simple example of how the process of research might begin to change the subject of research. In this case it over-weighs attendance in the post 1997 period in the totaling of numbers.

It is also likely that many early meetings especially would not have been minuted. No minutes exist for 1991 and only three meetings are minuted before the 5th July 1992. Although there were apparently very regular meetings every Sunday in early 1992 I have yet to find any record of them. However the existing records do amount to a reasonable sample, apart from that first year until mid July 1992, and the names recorded do accord with memory and other records.

The figures recorded are only an indication of attendance. It is possible that someone attended who took the job of minute taker and consistently didn't take attendance records. This scenario could lead to a regular member of the collective not appearing in the tables. It seems unlikely there are any such errors as any major omissions are likely to have become apparent from people's memories, in response to my circulation of the draft. It should be remembered that the figures are significant in a relative way. I assume that people more active are more likely to be recorded so errors are more likely with those on the margins. It is this desensitising to margins that is one of the objections to this kind of analysis.

In fact it is just as likely that visitors who were not active in the collective could be named in minutes and so appear in these records. To guard against this names had to be recorded more than once to be tabulated in the year tables. The summary table records only those who have at least four attendances recorded and so is a record of only those most active members. Taking into account omissions due to non-recording and other errors it is just possible that a person could have attended as many as 6 - 8 meetings without appearing in the summary tables.

The second source of likely error is the ambiguity of first names recorded. After cross checking there is still some ambiguity about the names Roz, Andy and Mick. There was a Roz Grainger and Roz Gilchrist from 1993 to 1995 currently recorded as attending nine meetings in total. A 'Mick' confuses the attendance of the better known Michael Faralley in 1994. Andy Smith and Andy Johnson who both seem to have joined in Spring 1995 are also conflated, recording six attendances in 1995 and 1996 between them.

In addition to these sources of error there are possible inaccuracies due to: the minute takers not picking up on people who regularly come late or who pop out to the toilet; and my own 'coder fatigue' whilst recording this data from the minute books. The main victims of these errors seem to have been Rob Stanley who joined September 1993 but was unrecorded in my data although noted by Duncan Reekie as an active member and Anne Cooper remembered as an 'intermittent member' who is unrecorded.

In spite of all these sources of possible error the results do seem to be the best that can be done to empirically track collective membership and seems to be accurate for those most active in meetings after mid 1992.

Results:[2]

With a little help from other sources the results can also be turned into a simple narrative: The early collective before minuted records included: Stephen Houston, Kathy Gibbs, Duncan Reekie, Danny Holman, Jenny Marr, Anne Marie Barlow, Anthony Kopieki, Laura Hudson, Suzanne Currid, Jennet Thomas, Lorelei Lisowsky, William Thomas and Lepke B.[3]

Some time early in 1992 Anne Barlow and Laura Hudson left and about May, Jenny Marr and Donal Ruane joined. As the year progressed the group grew with the addition of Londie H, Andre Stitt, Mark Pawson, Katia Rossini, John Carr and Tara Babel. By October meetings were regularly being attended by an average of eight people with about 20 people in the collective, about 12 of who were active.

Over the next year, 1993, the collective grew to have about 30 members of whom 19 or so were active. In this year Paul Tarrago, Colette Rouhier and Caroline Kennedy all joined and are seen to be active, forming the kernel of the collective that survived the split of 1994 along with the founding members Jenet Thomas and Duncan Reekie. Other notable additions this year were Ghisli Bergman and Rozalind Grainger who later left to form their own group 'Films That make you go Hmmm' in 1996. Throughout 1994 meetings were large often having 9 to 15 people. By mid 1994 this had settled down to about 8 to 10 per main meeting.

1994 saw arguments split the collective resulting in Donal Ruane, Anthony Kopieki, Suzanne Currid, Andy Lowe, Rob Stanley and Jenny Marr leaving the group. The total collective membership gradually declined and it can be seen that the current core collective was putting in most of the hours in meetings along with Ghisli Bergman and Danny Holman. After an arduous run of 15 shows at the Union Tavern on Camberwell New Road, the collective officially split, reforming in October 1994. Many of the names signed to the new agreement in the minute book at this meeting are unfortunately illegible.[4]

1995 begins with about 10 in the collective and this new collective now has a stable core which maintains about this number through 1996 and 1997. 1995 meetings were attended by an average of six people although at least two meetings had 11 people. Notable new members this year were Fiona Lord, James Stevens, Sheik and Andy Johnson.

The 1996 collective had about seven key members and meetings were attended by four to seven people. In some ways a low point of membership. But it was also the year that the independent film groups, that had been springing up all over London in the wake of Exploding Cinema, came together to put on the first Volcano! festival. The Volcano coalition seems to have taken up a fair amount of the Exploding Cinema Collective's productive energy from 1996 to 1998.[5] For half of the year the energy of the collective now seems directed to this greater collective enterprise resulting in fewer shows.

In 1997 I joined the collective with German artist Thomas Zagrozek and Australian Sandra. Attendance at meetings went up from six to eight and there were up to nine key members.

In 1998 the total number of meetings went down from 15 in 1997 to 11. Sandra went to college and stopped attending meetings although she still occasionally helped out at shows. Paul Motel had joined the group at the end of 1998 and was a regular during 1999 providing the groups transport with his old short wheelbase LandRover. Three new women separately came to two or three meetings in 1998. These were Kirsten, Vanessa and Boot. Caroline Kennedy, the only member to live in North London, was only recorded attending three meetings in 1998, and only one in 1999, although she maintained a strong presence at the shows.

In 1999 Colette Rouhier dropped out to have a sabbatical after doing an enormous amount of work in 1998. Duncan managed to continue to attend as much as anybody in spite of doing a Ph.D. in Falmouth. Damon Herd joined in 1998 and soon became an active member taking charge of the web site.

Interpretation: The charts show the size of the collective, the intensities of attendance at meetings and even how these two factors might correlate to the number of shows produced (see Summary Table B). The advantage of a collective of artists over an individual or small group of two or three is based to a large part on the simple resource of labour power.[6] The charts show the kind of hours that people are putting into the meetings and we can assume this is an index of the general creative energy of the operations as a whole.[7] Of course to be very effective this labour has to be concerted. A large collective is also a resource in the number of personal connections to the wider society. These connections help find films as well as an audience; helping to build a vibrant orally networked base. A larger collective has advantages in being able to distribute publicity by hand with ease as the collective tends to be dispersed over a wide area in terms of the location of their homes, jobs and leisure activities. A large collective is also likely to make inter-group communication and agreement more difficult in some areas. The minimum number necessary to crew an event may define the optimum size of the core collective.

The attendance at meetings does seem to accurately record those who were most influential and predict the rise of the recent core collective from the time they join. (see Summary Table A). They are soon putting in more hours in meetings than anyone else. Duncan and Jennet have been there since 1991 - Paul, Colette and Caroline join in 1993. This commitment along with the personal liaisons that arise (two couples - Duncan and Colette, Jennet and Paul) give rise to the core group that can survive the emotional implosion that seems to be almost inevitable in large non hierarchical open collectives.

The errors of such a content analysis are likely to effect those on the margins of collective activity. At least it is clear how the figures have been derived. Of course the influence of some of those on the margins who do not attend many meeting can be considerable. James Stevens is an example of such a person who through his commercial work can act as a modest resource provider, outside the mainstream institutions. Amongst other things he has supported the Exploding Cinema web site as a service provider, funded the first Vacuum and provided event space at his Thameside cyberclub Backspace. His influence is greater than would show up with this particular form of analysis although it is an atypical sort of influence.

As I have said the fundamental problem of content analysis is data reduction, which is likely to affect the kind of representations that might result from this method if used on its own. As the positive nature of any open collective is its rich inclusivity then a historicising representation should perhaps celebrate this. The problem with a reductive analysis is that certain people's contributions become invisible and the emphasis is on those who have an abundance of energy and commitment. However it is difficult to see how this problem can be solved without a greater awareness of the need for thorough documentation amongst the collective from the beginning. Self consciousness and pedantic paperwork is probably not consistent with the spontaneous excitement that gives an emergent collective energy and in fact Exploding Cinema may be relatively ordered with its minute books, programme format and website.

A benefit of producing a historical record of a contemporary group is that this analysis can be circulated as a draft amongst the participants. In a sense it will only become 'historical fact' when it is published or the key members are dead and many of the primary materials available now may be lost. Historical certainty or the illusion of it, can more easily be achieved in retrospect.

Conclusion:  That this method gives an empirical basis for a representation of who was part of the Exploding Cinema Collective and when they were active from around July 1992. Assuming the minute books will be publicly archived this should constitute a verifiable historical record. The resulting tables also allow analysis of the flows of individual and subgroup influence within the organisation. There are yearly tables for 1992 through 1997. The Summary Tables A and B cover 1992 - 1999.

52 people recorded at least 2 meetings since mid 1992 when records started. 22 of these were women. At least 29 people took a substantial role, being recorded for more than four meetings, which could imply 8 or more actual attendances in the period before 1997 when only 50% of meetings had attendance records. (see Summary Table A).

This does show the impressive scale of involvement which Exploding Cinema generated. The numbers represent a significant cultural reach into the population. It also indicates the individuals who were most influential although somewhat masking the range of influence of those who entered the Exploding arena for a short period or who shunned meetings.

Although there are areas of error there is no better method of deriving this data. The margins of error are not excessive and were reduced by further external checks.

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[1] See the seminal essay: 'The Tyranny of Structuralessness' by Jo Freeman, which was first printed by the Women's Liberation movement in the USA in 1970. The copy I have is reprinted by the Kingston Group of the Anarchist Workers Association, Hull, England c1973

 

[2]  The raw results are tabulated in tables 1 - 8, plus Summary Tables A + B

 

[3] efile: 'Family Tree' (There were no minutes available for this early period. My content analysis starts in April 1992).

 

[4] A more detailed account of the split is provided later in Chapter 10.

 

[5]  Although some collective members were more heavily involved with the Volcano Festival than others.

 

[6]  As we shall see later a show requires an active crew of at least six and preferably eight or more persons.

 

[7] As we see above this is contradicted by Caroline who whilst she didn't make meeting was a strong creative force in the shows themselves. She also maintained social connections with some of the other collective.