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The State of Things: Stuart Croft
Moving Image Studio, Royal College of Art

Moving Image Studio, Royal College of Art

Stuart Croft speaks to APEngine about future trends in training and the Royal College of Art’s new Moving Image Studio.

When did you start working at the RCA?

In 2004, as Tutor in Time Based Arts, principally to teach across the four Fine Art departments – Photography, Sculpture, Printmaking and Painting. The role is about working with students in those departments who are making video, film, screen-based media, performance, audio – this is often as part of their wider practice, sitting alongside a student’s sculpture or photography, for instance. But increasingly, moving image is becoming a student’s sole or dominant medium.

There used to be a Film MA at the RCA?

There was the Film & TV Department, from the early 1960s up to 1997, and back in the 1980s there was the well-known Environmental Media course. After these departments were closed, moving image was and is sited in Animation, across the Fine Art Departments, and in Communication Art & Design, which has a moving image elective. The Animation Department is the only stand-alone department that solely teaches the practice of moving image – within a fairly broad outlook of what animation is. 

But moving image also exists in a more hidden form right across the College – in Design Interactions, Curating, Ceramics, Architecture… I’ll see an architecture student who’s making a documentary about trees… and they come here for some advice and support.

What’s the thinking behind the development of the Moving Image Studio?

Over the past five years or so, it’s essentially been about responding to the activity of moving image in student practice and in contemporary practice, which, as we all know, holds a highly dominant position. And yet somehow, largely because of various historical events here, moving image seemed, to me, to reside on the periphery of the RCA. In particular it was about responding to what wasn’t being provided within the Fine Art School – there was no substantial base for moving image when I arrived.

So we’ve now got an autonomous building in Battersea – next door to the Sculpture Department and opposite the new Painting Department. Before, I would move around departments, giving tutorials to students and trying to find them in various corners, and I’d develop good academic relationships with some, but with others, we would just never meet in the middle. Structurally, the medium held a marginal position, and yet, in some departments, like Photography, we’d have a significant proportion of the students making moving image, and in the final shows, many students would be presenting installations, projections, or film and video in some form.

So the practice was clearly there in the student cohort, and yet the focus on the medium and the discipline needed developing and pushing more to the surface.

You’ve used the term ‘moving image’ rather than any of those terms like ‘film’, ‘video’ or ‘digital’.

I don’t think there is a perfect term – all the terms that we use carry one issue or another. For instance, the problem with ‘moving image’ is that it doesn’t suggest a relation to sound. It suggests that the image is the priority. But I thought that in some ways, perhaps this is the appropriate description – an artist will often come to moving image from a ‘retinal’ practice such as photography or painting. ‘Film’ isn’t perfect – it has become such a wide term, it’s really just a verb now, and it certainly doesn’t mean ‘celluloid’ anymore. ‘Film and Video’ suggests an era of dogmatic separation between the two formats, which simply doesn’t exist anymore.

So one of the things you’re aiming for too, is to try and preclude that kind of dogmatism?

It’s about being clear. Before, there was the term ‘Time Based Arts’, and most students – at the age of 25 or 26 – don’t know what that means; it’s become an historical term. On my first day at the RCA, a student asked me to fix their laptop, others said “so do you just teach us how to use the internet then?”, or they’d make jokes about clock making! I think other terms like ‘artist’s film’ or ‘experimental film’ are also difficult. They imply a narrow culture, and I’m always interested in trying to impart a range of languages, an availability of processes and positions. We needed a term that was unequivocal and clear. And ‘moving image’ sounded unequivocal to me.

What do you want to be happening here?

We are open to Fine Art students to come and use this as a hub for moving image. Essentially we’re built around a shooting studio – a high, sealed, more-or-less professional level studio, with a full lighting rig and store. Students shoot their work here, use it to test or try out installation ideas, or to screen their work at gallery-scale, and it’s basically used every day.

Upstairs we have a series of edit suites, which are enclosed rooms with a door you can shut – it’s gestures like this that I could control by designing something bespoke, from scratch. It was important not to have the standard art school ‘digital room’ where everyone is thrown in together to edit. It’s almost the traditional idea of editing where you come in, shut the door, and sit there editing for ten hours. I wanted to use the building to encourage that kind of focus. And I wanted very simple gestures, such as having two really good chairs in every edit suite, so you can always have a student and tutor discussing work, or two students editing together – collaborating.

One of the most important things we offer is in-house technical support in post-production, five days a week, so there is always advice on hand. I continue to have one-to-one tutorials with students on their practice and development, and then on top of that I’ve built a new programme of production and academic events. And we have visiting speakers, group crits, guest tutorials and so on.

It’s not a department; we’re not recruiting a student cohort. I never wanted it to be a department in the form of the other Fine Art Departments, in the classical sense that the RCA can sometimes hold dear to itself. I wanted it to be a place where students come and feel like it’s relevant to their practice and that it can support their practice, in a specialised sense, but I didn’t want it to be some overbearing infrastructure with city walls and a drawbridge. It has to be fluid and open.

And supporting a practice not just in practical terms?

Both in academic terms and production terms. I’m interested in these two elements crossing over, I think it’s always a horrible mistake when art schools separate the technical, production and theory aspects of practice. So I have a workshop programme which is led by Anna Lucas – a practising artist filmmaker – which at points intersects with our theory seminar programme delivered by Steven Eastwood, also an artist filmmaker.

For instance, we’ll have some thorough-going seminars about Deleuze, and then follow them up with a workshop about editing – not a ‘how to use the ripple tool’ workshop – but shooting footage, then swapping the footage around between students, and asking the student to think about what editing means, about what happens when one makes certain decisions, and I’ll bring both tutors together, to invoke Deleuze, at the same time as talking about production.

On the practical side, I’m often producing guides for students on how they might follow a more expanded shooting or post-production process after they leave – again it’s not something that art schools do and I always found that very limiting.

The College has other ‘Centres’?

Yes – the Drawing Studio is similarly a College-wide facility. In some ways we’ve used this as a model – the Drawing Studio doesn’t recruit its own students, but has a programme of events looking at drawing in a very wide sense. I looked at that model and built our new space according to what I thought was relevant for moving image.

Do you see a Moving Image MA being introduced in the future?

The new Moving Image Studio is perhaps an initial, concrete point in a journey that may lead towards a new Filmmaking or Moving Image MA. I carried out a Teaching Fellowship during 2008, and in that period I wrote a strategy for moving image for the RCA. In the short term, there are the various compartments for film and video across the College, and now there is a discussion taking place about a new MA in Filmmaking or Moving Image, which may sit alongside Animation, within a proposed School of Moving Image. I don’t know whether it will happen, but we should know by summer 2010.

But what kind of filmmaking?

The rationale for the new MA is essentially to start with the notion of context.  It’s a broad outlook – we would look at the cinema, the gallery space, the haptic space – and new contexts that will emerge for the moving image, during the climate of transformation we’re undoubtedly moving through. Essentially, the course would bring together fiction filmmakers, documentary filmmakers, filmmakers engaged with the gallery space, practitioners engaged in screen-based dance, and instead of separating them into tightly controlled spaces, the MA structure would encourage them to exchange and collaborate with each other, allowing for what I think will be a very fertile process of pollination and inflection.

Why not specialised courses for those different areas?

I think they mainly already exist. You can go and study fiction direction or documentary filmmaking or make film as an artist in any number of places.

Is it a sense then that there are changes in practice – where people aren’t just working in specialist ways?

Absolutely, and that’s why I’ve taken context as a starting point for the course model, even to the point that there will be changes – future contexts that don’t even exist at the moment. There will undoubtedly be some very powerful context for the consumption of moving image in the next ten years that we don’t really know about. And yet the cinema will probably still exist and the gallery space will probably still exist as sites for moving image. So it’s important to look at those sites and start with that diversity.

I want an exchange to take place within a single, diverse, cohort. The model does actually use some traditional film school ideas like peer crewing and collaboration, ideas that don’t exist in the art school paradigm – one that is, I think, increasingly tired and irrelevant.

 So, in my mind, you might have a situation where an artist filmmaker works together with a fiction filmmaker and a documentary filmmaker, on a first year film on an MA. We will have an almighty argument going on, but something very interesting coming out of it.

What did the Moving Image Studio space used to be?

It used to be a pornography distribution centre. Thanks for asking!

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