Luke Fowler

2009 FutureGreat, selected by Hans Ulrich Obrist

Luke Fowler is one of the most interesting artists working in Europe today. Born in 1978, Fowler lives and works in Glasgow, and in 2008 he won the first Film London/More 4 Jarman Award in collaboration with the Serpentine Gallery, which will be exhibiting the first major survey of his work in May.

The first time I saw Fowler’s work was at Manifesta 4 in 2002, where his film What You See Is Where You’re At (2001) profiled the renegade psychotherapist R.D. Laing and readdressed, through documentary collage, the history of oppressive psychiatry.

Like the legendary Jean Rouch, Fowler continually finds multiple new dimensions of documentary filmmaking, challenging its conventions and exploring its limits. The result of much research, his work questions the idea that documentary can offer us a single objective truth, taking us on a journey in which we are surrounded by many truths worth exploring. Fowler’s films are a super-dense layering and enmeshment of archive footage, photographic material, images, sketches, sound, music and interviews, quests for information that move in waves with highs and lows, intervals, pauses and silences. His films don’t tell a story; they are part of one, and suggest self-organisation. As Jean Rouch told me in our last interview, “I believe that from the moment there is organisation there is no more poetry. It is therefore important not to organise.”

Fowler is also a musician and runs his own record label. His work’s many parallel realities often reflect this collaborative practice, spanning roles of artist, musician, historian, filmmaker and curator. The significance of time is an equally pivotal aspect of his work. The film Pilgrimage from Scattered Points (2005), a multidimensional portrait of composer Cornelius Cardew, works as a kind of protest against forgetting; the once ‘neglected’ found footage of Cardew ‘rescued’ by Fowler’s recovery of it. Duchamp long ago argued that art is ultimately a game, a continually articulated struggle between the present, past and future. In this model, the only constant is change itself: a vision of history under perennial negotiation. What of the future? Let’s remember that almost all phenomena evolve over time and are many. Fowler shows us that the future is both variant and plural. 

This article was first published in the March 2009 issue.