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In the early and mid-1980s, against a backdrop of the political and economic tensions of the Thatcher/Reagan years, the sudden arrival of (relatively) cheap and widely available video editing equipment saw an explosion in visual artists’ and musicians’ experimentation with these new technologies. Responding to the politics and events of the time, artists made use of pre-existing footage – recorded from television, or borrowed from other sources – to create collages of incongruous, sometimes clashing imagery, set to sound and music. The malleability of the VCR format liberated artists in a way often compared to the record-scratching of hip-hop – leading to the coining of the term ‘scratch video’.
Frequently humorous, often overtly political, this work was distributed via videocassette and screened in clubs or as concert visuals or music videos for bands like Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo and The Human League. Shefﬁeld City Polytechnic (now Shefﬁeld Hallam University) was an early adopter of the video editing suites that brought this technology into the hands of artists, and much of the Scratch Video activity was centred around Shefﬁeld’s art and music scene of the time. A number of these artists and works have long been overlooked, but their inﬂuence on both younger artists working today, as well as the broader visual culture, is clearly visible.
Art Shefﬁeld 2016 presents a number of these rarely seen ‘scratch’ videos by ﬁlmmakers including George Barber, Nick Cope, Jeffrey Hinton, Duvet Brothers, John Scarlett Davis, Gorilla Tapes, John Maybury, Kim Flitcroft and Sandra Goldbacher.
Scratch Video is presented in association with LUX and the BFI National Archive, as part of major touring ﬁlm project THIS IS NOW: FILM AND VIDEO AFTER PUNK.
Still from Duvet Brothers, Virgin, 1985. Courtesy the artists and LUX.