Thursday, 28 June 2012

Tom McGrath and the Rotterdam Arts Foundation

As the archive becomes searchable through the index it's beginning to throw real light on the origins of the Third Eye Centre and the research conducted by Tom McGrath when he was shaping the institution. As he had spent much of the 1960s in London it seemed safe to assume that proto-art centres such as Jim Hayne's Art Lab in Covent Garden had a vital influence on his thinking. While this may be the case, the archive points to other locations and much more explicit dialogue about the future direction of the Third Eye. Following a research trip to the Netherlands, McGrath writes to Felix Valk at the Rotterdam Arts Foundation:

15th March 1973

Safely back in Glasgow, I am now trying to do something about my visit to Rotterdam.

First, let me thank you for your hospitality while we were there, and all of your interesting though and explanation. I learned a tremendous amount from it all, and will probably be taking over some of your ideas in total, e.g. I might well have a toy-making exhibition here too. 

I am getting a basic video unit within the next two weeks and will be able to make and play back ½” black and white material. Rob Breen has details of your equipment, and I will make sure that my own is compatible with yours.

In this case, would it be possible for me to use some of the video material you have in Rotterdam? Would there be a hiring charge for it and how would it be transported from Rotterdam to Glasgow. Would it be safest to have someone actually take it from one place to the other?

The other possibility was with regard to the colour video tapes made by American artists that you showed us during our visit. The Fine Arts Society of Glasgow University are interested in helping run programmes of video in Glasgow and, through them, I would be able to get 2” American colour video re-processed to ½”, thereby making it useable here. I am not sure if the material you showed us was 2” and would be grateful if you would let me know about this. What kind of financial arrangement would there be in this case?

Will you be interested in tapes in exchange once we get things going here? It really is a completely new field here, and none of the artists have used video before, so it will probably take some time before we start producing our own art video, but we should soon be able to produce video records of poetry readings, art events and the like, and I will give you details of these as they emerge. It would be a good way for us to keep in touch with events in each other’s countries. Let me know what you think….

...The other idea which I would like your thought on: During our visit you mentioned a Rotterdam artist who was heavily involved in drugs. There has been a lot of drug use by creative people in this country too, and I am sure it has had both positive and negative results in their personalities and their work. I wonder if it would be possible for us to carry out a two-country survey (or even two-city survey if this is more manageable) on drugs and creativity, and the use of drugs. We could then publish this as a joint Rotterdam/Glasgow venture/ What do you think.

This letter is interesting as it reveals a more continental influence on the Third Eye. It also marks a key moment in the development of video art in Scotland that can be traced through other material in the archive. One of the satisfying aspects of video art is the way in which founding moments of the medium can be more easily identified as they are linked to the specific, and relatively recent, development of technology or the purchase of equipment. McGrath's letter to Valk seems to mark one of those moments.

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