Image from the motion picture Tissues Image from the motion picture Tissues

Nicola Tyson: Super 8s from the 80s

Experimental, Documentary, Comedy | 1981-1993 | 60MIN


Nicola Tyson


Nicola Tyson
Bertie Marshall

Nicola Tyson: Super 8s from the 80s presents a selection of both documentary and narrative short films directed by artist Nicola Tyson. The films prominently feature Tyson and her longtime collaborator Bertie Marshall, known then as ‘Berlin,’ who had been a member of the seminal punk Bromley Contingent (1976-77), which spawned Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin and Billy Idol. Tyson and Marshall began collaborating artistically in 1980. Operating outside of the club scene of the time, they explored self-representation with gentle irony, salvaging found themes and clothes in intimate portraits of their London underground scene in the early 1980s.

The documentary film portion of the screening, “Posing and Party Footage 1981-1983,” comprises four sections: Bromley (1981); Ealing (1983); Braithwaite House (1983), featuring Alan MacDonald, member of furniture making duo Fric + Frack and the crafts collective House of Beauty and Culture, and John Moore, shoe designer and founder of the latter collective; and Judy Blame’s Birthday Party (1983), featuring the film’s namesake accessories designer, in addition to John Moore and Dave Baby, fellow House of Beauty and Culture member, designer and provocateur. These collected films chronicle London youth, appearing in both smoky close-ups and quick cuts, regaling in candlelit fêtes and forest frolics that reflect the eccentric ethos of the 1980’s DIY subculture. Partially filmed in the flats of her friends and co-conspirators, Tyson’s documentary shorts offer intimate bites of the burgeoning New Romantics and early UK punk movements. In Bromley, a robed Marshall dances with abandon in a dark woodland alongside Tyson and a friend; Tyson and Marshall later play and pose with light and shadow in Ealing, gazing through the camera with rogue focus. Braithwaite House features an entourage first roaming the streets, then dancing, smoking, and mingling in a flat on Bunhill Row. Judy Blame’s Birthday Party closes the suite with a glimpse into a gathering at the eponymous, iconoclastic punk designer and stylist’s flat, an atmosphere abundant with jubilant debauchery.

The screening continues with Tyson’s narrative films, including the Tissue (1984), Bishops and Gardens (1984), and Pascal (1984), in addition to later films Do you prefer it Longer or Shorter (1987), and Fishes (1993). The first three films were shot throughout 1984 in a “make-it-up-as–you-go-along, handheld kind of way, sporadically,” as Tyson notes. Tissue (1984) was shot in the basement of London City Studios, Aldersgate Street, a nondescript building where the manager of the Siouxsie and The Banshees had his office. Tyson ventured down into the vaulted little office basement one day and loved the look of the patchy, crumbling plaster. Marshall had the idea of sticking strips of tissue paper to the ceiling with saliva on camera, the scene from which the film unfolds. Bishops and Gardens (1984) features Tyson’s mother’s garden in suburban Northolt, Middlesex–since built over by developers–but captured here in forever late summer: apple trees, Tyson’s father’s bonfire, a heap of compost. A soundtrack-dialogue, written and performed by Marshall and Tyson, plays over the footage. Pascal (1984) was filmed on a misty trip to Paris, shot in the same location as Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris” on the Pont de Bir Hakeim. Marshall enacts a camp parody of the forlorn, brooding Brando, swinging his umbrella (in the absence of rain) as the film’s grounding motif and guide.

Made while Tyson was a student at Central Saint Martins, Do you prefer it Longer or Shorter (1987) features Marshall and friend Brigid Falconer opposite each other à la Beckett, the former engaged in a soliloquy, both wearing enormous paper mâché heads and shoes. Fishes (1993), the latest of the films, was shot spontaneously at the dining room table in a friend’s flat. The film features Angela Lyras and Tyson, who, at the time of the film’s shooting, had co-founded Trial BALLOON–a project space centering women and lesbian artists from 1991-1993. A playful riff on the erotic–and often pejorative–association between the fish and the female, each character caresses a real dead fish, and then embraces. An extension of Trial BALLOON’s mission of promoting lesbian visibility, it was shown at the gallery in 1993, but has not been screened elsewhere since.

Tyson’s Super 8s from the 80s revel in self-expression, absurdist experimentation, and unbridled deviance from mass-culture norms, carving out gender-queered, avant-garde Edens in friend’s flats, gardens, and even the streets of Paris. Part-documentary, part-reverie, Tyson’s films present a snapshot of London’s 80’s subcultures, sharing an attitude as committed to counter-aesthetics to alternative ways of being and making.

Upcoming Shows

View All