On March 22nd, director Mark James visited the gallery to introduce his film FREEZE, prior to the screening of it to a sold out audience.
“The film was made a few years after the now infamous exhibition ‘FREEZE’ organised by Damien Hirst whilst still a student at Goldsmiths in 1988. The exhibition featured new and unknown artists, most of whom were students. The show was later seen as the start of a ‘big bang’ in the art world, initiating a series of warehouse shows organized by artists themselves. New artists and new galleries emerged to overturn the traditional commercial art world establishment that was based mainly in Cork Street.
Commissioned as part of the BBC arts strand ‘Omnibus,’ “Freeze” was broadcast in a prime time slot on BBC 1.
I had been a student at Goldsmiths myself and was fascinated by the movement now known as the ‘YBA’S’ who sprang up largely as a result of the Freeze exhibition and I knew many of the protagonists. At the time of making the film, a number of the original Freeze artists were gaining success and notoriety; Damien of course being the most celebrated. But even at that time there was some uncertainty about just how significant the artists were and it took considerable persuasion to convince the BBC to commission the film. At that time, the term ‘YBA’ had not been coined.
I was particularly drawn to the idea that many of the artists used unconventional working methods and processes that leant themselves to a film narrative outside the traditional ‘artist at work’ in the studio format. Artists were working in flower markets, abattoirs, on the beach, in a shop and so on – their works were part of everyday life – not made from distant observation of it.
The artists that appear in the film are those who were involved in projects that had a particularly filmic narrative. Not all the artists in the film were originally in the Freeze exhibition, but most were and all were connected in some way with it, or the other artists who were.
Damien Hirst at the time of making the film was very accessible and a great ‘character.’ He was very open to ideas and I suggested the idea of the film being his dream, induced by an anesthetic at the dentist. This scene was dramatised with Donald Pleasance of ‘Halloween’ fame playing the dentist, evoking a horror film. In the ‘dream’ we follow Damien as he works on various projects, including a ‘divided’ cow and calf piece that is installed in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale. As Damien travelled about, he linked various works in progress of other artists featured in the film.
At the time new lightweight but high quality ‘DV’ cameras became available and we used them to enable speedy coverage of a number of spontaneous events and activities the artists were involved with. All the main interviews and other elements were shot on 16mm film – The TV standard at that time.
Looking back at the film now I cringe slightly at aspects of it, but overall it is amazing that we were able to produce such an innovative film about quite ‘edgy’ art activities for the main BBC broadcaster. It is also a unique record of some now very well known artists on the cusp of success. It is hard to imagine anything like this being commissioned today.
Artists featured in the film include: Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Michael Landy, Abigail Lane, Liam Gillick, Anya Gallaccio, Angela Bulloch Angus Fairhurst.”
Prior to the screening of FREEZE, we will showed the short film JOHN HOYLAND – 6 Days in September. First transmitted in 1979, Arena profiles John Hoyland, seen by many as England’s finest abstract painter.