A Kind of Self Portrait

I have been making film and video since the late seventies. I also write, draw and produce work that combines different media in my role as an artist. As a founder and member of the influential HOUSEWATCH group, formed in 1985, my work has involved multi-screen film projection, sound and performance, in projects designed for architecture and the urban environment. Last year, collaborating with filmmaker John Smith, I created The Kiss video installation in Tokyo.

Perhaps what I'm best known for, however, are the series of single-screen videotapes that include titles like Lenny's Documentary (1978), The End of the World (1982), Sick as a Dog (1989) and most recently Monolog (1998).

When I've used moving image media, it has always been a choice based on what I thought was best suited to the ideas I wanted to express. It was never a decision based on a pure love of the technology. It was based on my perception of that technology and what I thought were other people's expectations of it.

In 1978 I made Lenny's Documentary, a 45 minute videotape that was to typify many aspects of my working method from then on. My single-screen video work has come to be a kind of portraiture that examines role-play and the viewer's relationship with people portrayed on film. I usually act in my own work, in roles that are a mixture of fiction, social observation and autobiography, seeking to explore the nature of identity and identification, authorship and authenticity. Described in the Arts Council Directory of Film and Video Artists, as having a talent for "low key drama that reflects its times", my work deliberately focuses on what mainstream cinema would regard as minor players and marginal plots but which for me are real people in real situations, often struggling to make sense of a world from which they feel excluded.

"Through camera framing, dialogue and a supremely good ear for the language of lower middle-class life, Bourn gives us a bilious, funny and understated view of ourselves pitched perfectly to capture both the comic and the desperate." Michael O'Pray The Elusive Sign

One possible reason I make the kind of work I do is the particular route I took through art education. "Integrated Design" at Ealing School of Art was an amalgamation of Industrial Design, Fashion, Graphics and Printing: an experimental art course that put no emphasis on specialisation and that placed students learning different disciplines alongside each other in the same studios. "Environmental Media" at the Royal College of Art was designed for students working across a range of different media, including performance, video art and on projects of a purely theoretical nature. Important for me as these courses were, if only to keep me off the streets for seven years, I think of my work as beginning at a much earlier stage, in the years before I left Junior School.

Of all art media I found still photography the least interesting (or possibly the hardest to understand), because the artists who used it seemed to be hiding. I thought clicking a button and walking away seemed a sneaky, almost cowardly thing to do. My mental image of photographers was of men under black hoods, looking through peepholes. In contrast, I understood straight away the people and processes of cinema, with its directors, actors, writers and musicians working together, building ideas and atmospheres through sequences of images, actions and sound.

My father was responsible for this. At the end of watching a film he made sure that I was aware of the credits and who had done what, even that someone had designed the credit sequence itself. When I was seven years old, he was already saying things to me like: "A clever kind of film is the one where you don't even notice the music". Through him, I could feel the film moulding and modulating time, space and ideas, actually telling me something, like I was in a conversation with the author. Most kids (and adults come to think of it) thought of films as "a John Wayne" or "a Marilyn Monroe" and chose what they went to see on that basis. So did I, but it didn't spoil it for me, knowing that John Wayne, real as he was, was only acting under orders...

Ian Bourn, January 2000

Full article published in Filmwaves - Issue 10, Winter 2000. Subscribe now!