Art in a bunker
Videos in a disused WW2 bunker in East London
Tucked away underground in one of London’s hippest enclaves is an unlikely reminder of London’s war time past- a World War Two bunker, untouched for over 60 years but recently rediscovered and opened as an event space.
Though little is known about it, the Dalston Bunker is available to hire from Bootstrap Company, a development trust, social enterprise and charity who operate a complex of nearby studios and creative spaces like The Print House and the Dalston Roof Park.
While this may be the first bunker in London to get the creative make-over, in some countries, like Switzerland, which by law must ensure each citizen has access to one, it is fairly common, with bunkers being revamped into slick music studios and club spaces.
In contrast, the Dalston Bunker’s five labyrinthine rooms are a no-frills affair, with sections of flooded floors that wooden pallets allow you to cross, low lighting and a general lack of health and safety contributing to an air of mild menace.
However, this slightly edgy air, and the industrial, even military feel of the space was the perfect setting for a video exhibition that took place there recently, fittingly called Bunker Mentality.
Featuring artists working with video montage, or collage, of found footage, the exhibition makes links between original ‘Scratch’ artists of the 80s like The Duvet Brothers and George Barber- who showed a brand new piece of work here- and their influence on a younger generation working with appropriated video material.
After finding the inconspicuous entrance down an alleyway and descending into the darkness on an unusually sunny day in London, its obvious why this space works
Indoor riot footage
Once my eyes had adjusted to the gloomy light, the first thing that greeted me was a video installation complete with aggressively loud soundtrack and a pile of smashed up furniture and pallets. Further investigation revealed this to be Riot Act, described as a 'live destructive flat screen performance' by Tom Bresolin and Alexis Milne, in which utilized CCTV footage of last summer’s riots in London.
Unfortunately I had just missed the performance but it the video and installation managed to evoke the tense atmosphere of last summer, and its representation in the media and on police cameras.
The press release states that the title, Bunker Mentality, ‘refers to a defensive state of mind, needed in order to resist and compete with the pervasive media spectacle of advertising, television and film’, positioning the work of these artists against mainstream media and its effects. With this idea underpinning the show, Riot Act seemed to suggest that the riots were turned into a spectacle for the benefit of the media- who played the ‘shocking’ footage on repeat, mostly to a soundtrack of moral outrage.
Mash-up & Cut up
Meanwhile other works explored different ways of using video footage that subverted the intention of the original material. The Duvet Brothers were responsible for some of the most iconic videos of the Thatcher era, like War Machine in which they remixed newsreels, underground music and graphics to launch scathing attacks on the climate of conservatism and conspicuous consumption (one inter-title reads ‘Rich Get Richer, Poor Get Poorer).
It was great to catch some of their videos here, whose fast-cutting edit style has arguably spawned two of the most visible aesthetics on the internet today: the mash-up, and the super-cut.
Same, same, but different
This classic work was offset by more contemporary work, like Nicola Woodham's Suitable Management (2010) which ‘uses found footage to reflect coercive uses of technologies'.
The premise of the show seemed both that nothing has changed in terms of the over-arching conservativism- as per The Duvet Brother’s text- but also that ‘video detournement’ (as they call it, drawing on Situationist practices of subverting found material) is still a pertinent way to resist and critique mainstream media spectacle.
Of course the fact that this style of video is now common across adverts, TV shows and the internet might suggest otherwise. Still, it was an interesting combination of a very specific setting with the idea of resistance- the bunker mentality.