Preserving Citizenry: Derry Film and Video Collective and the quest(ion) for institutions

Harbison, Isobel. 2022. Preserving Citizenry: Derry Film and Video Collective and the quest(ion) for institutions. In: Bridget Crone and Bassam El Baroni, eds. The Edinbugh Companion to Curatorial Futures. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Book Section] (Forthcoming)

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Abstract or Description

This chapter proposes the Derry Film and Video Workshop (est. 1984), a historically important Northern Irish feminist, socialist, activist group of filmmakers who first assembled for the Channel 4 Workshop scheme, as an example of citizen-up (rather than state-down) institution building. This chapter outlines DFVW's genesis, their work, activism and peer affiliations, methods of collectivised payment, screening endeavours and community training activities as interconnected actions schematised to overcome various political, media and institutional biases of the period. It identifies how a citizenry of individuals, including curator Sara Greavu, have more recently sought to safeguard, archive and preserve DFVC’s work in the absence of any appropriate public (national or regional) institutional infrastructure, archive or collection.

Here, taking Ariella Azoulay's notion and formulation of the ‘citizenry of photography’ (2008), as ‘anyone who addresses others through photographs or takes the position of a photograph’s addressee, even if she is a stateless person who has lost her “right to have rights,”’ the essay asks how the DFVW self-constituted through the capture of moving images of their everyday – the social, the sororal, the communal, and the quotidian – encouraging in anyone who encountered them what Azoulay describes as the ‘contemplative gaze’. The chapter asks how DFVC, and those who currently work to preserve their by-now distributed body of material (including correspondences, dossiers and original tapes), present a model for active instituting that is driven and maintained by invested citizens rather than supported by and serving the historically inconsistent and often conflicting interests and agendas of the nation-states between which Northern Ireland is set. The claim here is that DFVC thus presents a model for re-imagining what we currently perceive to be the foundation, remit or ambition of the public or national institution.

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Book Section

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'Through this example of the DFVW, I consider the possibility of a citizenry of moving image, and the curatorial, archival work of preserving its contract. Vital to my identification of a curatorial citizenry is that at different points of its undertaking, it might contain or reveal a fractious, antagonistic or dynamic relationship to the state, and to the institutions, media policies and government administrations that operate under its name. Essential to it is that it allows for relative motion, absorbs the shock of tension or abandonment; that despite this, it maintains a sense of community, sometimes at odds with the society or state; that it is connected (now, more than ever) to international endeavours each anchored in their own community; that it is intergenerational and relational, a mode of attention, of attending to the shortcomings of the state and the vastly greater and more immediate task of caring for a common world.'


Derry Film and Video Workshop, citizen-up institution building, citizenry of photography

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1 October 2021Submitted

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Date Deposited:

10 Jan 2022 11:04

Last Modified:

04 May 2022 17:35


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