Tate Modern: Jeff Keen
18 September – 23 September 2012
Part of the series The Tanks: Art in Action
Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Jeff Keen (1923-2012) was a pioneer of experimental film whose rapid-fire animations, multiple screen projections and raucous performances redefined multimedia art in Britain.
This major installation for The Tanks at Tate Modern was conceived by Keen in response to the unique nature of the Tanks. Featuring a large, dioramic screen, the installation will demonstrate the spirit of Keen’s expanded cinema events, his early experiments in drawing, painting and animation, his fascination with surrealism and popular culture, and his radical development of multiple screen projection, cut-up soundtracks and unruly live action.
A very special live performance in the Tanks on Friday 21 September at 20.00 will feature projections and live music and actions performed by Keen’s daughter Stella Starr and a range of Keen’s collaborators, including Alan Baker, Chris Blackburn, Rob Gawthrop, Mike Movie and Jason Williams as ‘Silverhead’.
Keen was a veteran of the Second World War, and his work powerfully evokes the violence, colour, speed and noise of the 20th century. He transformed cinema into a riotous collage of comics, drawings, B-movie posters, plastic toys, burning props and extravagant costumes. His early 8mm and 16mm films are built for speed, combining footage of Beat-era motifs – jazz, motorbikes and car culture – with experimental animations in which the achievements and atrocities of the 20th century seem to flash by within a few short, cacophonous seconds. A single frame could not contain the frenzied energy of Keen’s imagination, and by the mid-1960s he began to use multiple screens and live action in presentations of his work.
Keen’s films and performances emerged from the 1960s counterculture and echo the climate of literary happenings and ‘bomb culture’ at Bob Cobbing’s Better Books in Charing Cross as well as Gustav Metzger’s 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium. Recalling American underground films by Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs and Kenneth Anger, his work also resonates with Happenings, Fluxus and Viennese Actionism. Nothing stands still in his work, it is a constant process in which images and sounds evolve in quick succession through what Keen called ‘violently disconnected and overlapping patterns’ of destruction, creation and accumulation.
Jeff Keen passed away on 21 June 2012. The presentation of his work in the Tanks is dedicated to his visionary creative spirit.
With special thanks to Stella Keen and the BFI.