Luke Fowler (b. 1978) is an artist, filmmaker and musician based in Glasgow. Recipient of accolades such as the 2008 Jarman Award, Fowler is currently a Radcliffe-Harvard Film Study Center Fellow. Combining aspects of structural cinema with documentary techniques, Fowler’s films shatter the limits and conventions of standard nonfiction filmmaking. Working with archival footage, 16mm film shot by himself and sound recordings made in collaboration with renowned sound artists, he complexly constructs and weaves these elements into film portraits of various “outsiders” such as radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing, experimental composer Cornelius Cardew, Marxist historian E.P. Thompson and environmentalist recluse Bogman Palmjaguar. Fowler’s own films and influences draw equally from experimental music, the British Free Cinema movement of the 1950s, and 1970s structural film—in particular the work of Robert Beavers and Gregory Markopoulos. Fowler has cultivated a strong body of work that continues to rapidly grow alongside a multifaceted artistic practice that makes him one of the more dynamic and exciting artists working today. – Jeremy Rossen
“The sensibility behind many of these works is that of the auto-didact. The work begins with self-reflection, intuition, research. It then fans out into several encounters; with an archive, a place, individuals or a community. The works often revolve around a specific landscape or cultural milieu that I invite the spectator to inhabit, at least for the duration given.
In the various portrait films I have made, I reject conventional narrative trappings- substituting them instead for a dialectical montage that recognizes the contradictions and complexities of social and psychological life.
During the editing, I am striving to find a form which is an equivalent for the content, the nature of the material and my own experiences, during filming. In these works I hope to transmit to the viewer my own convictions about an individual or movement whose values have largely been dismissed, marginalized or mis-recognized by society at large. Within the two programs you will find variously; meditations on ideology, memory, politics, listening, physical phenomena... and the whole messy business of representation.” – Luke Fowler
Program curated by Jeremy Rossen. All films directed by Luke Fowler.
This program is presented in collaboration with the Film Study Center of Harvard.
Special Thanks: Luke Fowler, LUX, The Modern Institute and Eric La Casa.
UK 2009, 16mm, color, TRT: 42 min
Fowler’s dynamic three-part Grammar for Listening is a series of collaborations with sound artists focused on creating a meaningful dialogue between looking and listening. The collaborations take the form of joint expeditions where various locations are chosen either for their proximity to the artist’s residence or for their acoustic or symbolic merits. Made partially in response to Western culture’s attempts to classify noise, music and everyday sounds—such as John Cage’s works on silence—Fowler’s collaborations construct fascinatingly unique juxtapositions between sound and image in truly revelatory ways and create, as Fowler says, “a more engaged way of listening to the world and to our surroundings.” Grammar for Listening Part I is a collaboration with noted Manchester sound artist Lee Patterson, a frequent artistic associate of Fowler’s, who mines a rich array of environmental sound by using contact microphones on or below surfaces. Grammar for Listening Part II features Parisian-based composer Eric La Casa, who renders sounds of wind, moorings, steel barriers and aural architecture in rich micro and macro detail. The end result of Fowler’s Grammar series is a newfound appreciation for everyday sounds, as well as new ways of hearing, seeing and being present in the world.
UK 2006, digital video, color, 44 min
Pilgrimage from Scattered Points examines the role of the artist, asking how one can cultivate a radical artistic practice and ultimately change society. Fowler turns his focus here on English composer Cornelius Cardew, who founded the Scratch Orchestra, as he proposes and celebrates the idea that anyone can play music by constructing communities wherein both the non-musician and the professional musician come together to perform avant-garde music. Fowler employs varied and disjointed materials—juxtaposing archival footage with his own Super 8 diary films and interviews, commissioned films and sound recordings—into a compelling and, at times, psychedelic portrait. The film follows Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra as they tour Britain in the late Sixties, bringing their radical yet inclusive message to the disenfranchised and underserved communities of northeast England and Wales. Pilgrimage from Scattered Points begins by tracing the original formation of the orchestra—with the setting of Confucian texts to music in Cardew’s masterpiece The Great Learning—through the Scratch's adoption of Maoist politics, which ultimately divides the members and brings about a turbulent and melancholic end to the project. Fowler concludes the film by asking difficult questions about the commitment to both political responsibility and formal experimentation, presenting the struggles of the orchestra as a timeless reflection on universal artistic dilemmas.
UK 2014, DCP, color, 25 min
Depositions presents a critical reflection of British television’s representations of Scottish Highland and Island life, with particular emphasis on the culture and plight of Travelling people. Fowler takes as partial inspiration for this work the German sociologist Theodor W. Adorno's book Stars Down To Earth, a study of irrational and consumerist tendencies in mass culture that centers around a groundbreaking analysis of the Los Angeles Times astrology column.
Fowler's work is a lyrical collage of archival sound and image gathered from both BBC archives and the School Of Scottish Studies. These variegated materials are juxtaposed alongside recent footage shot by Fowler and combined with field recordings by longtime collaborator Lee Patterson. Within Depositions, Fowler notes “the denigration and extinction of both a way of seeing the world and a way of life that was traditional Scottish culture.”
UK 2012, DCP, color, 61 min
The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott is a stunning portrait by Luke Fowler (with cinematography by Peter Hutton) that examines the early work of Marxist historian E.P. Thompson (1924–1993), who taught night classes for the Workers’ Education Association (WEA) from the late 1940s to the early 1950s. The WEA initiative aimed to promote a “socially purposeful” education for working-class adults in the industrial areas of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Fowler draws together archival material from television, the University of Leeds department of extra-mural studies and WEA archives. Of these elements, he draws largely on two sources: Thompson’s class reports and a fascinating internal memo circulated by Thompson among his WEA colleagues entitled “Against University Standards.” The lucid and provocative texts are narrated by artist Cerith Wyn Evans and incorporated into dreary present-day shots of the former locations of Thompson’s classes. Like many others from the New Left, Thompson sought to promote a progressive manner of teaching Marxist political history without neglecting the lived experience of his beloved adult learners. Fowler contextualizes Thompson’s work and politics, and he contrasts them with our contemporary perspective, asking what can be learned in our current social and political climate of instrumentalized and marketized education.