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David Lamelas

He moved to London on a scholarship to study an MA at St Martins School of Art. Part of the attraction of this move to London were the artists working in a similar way to him, some of whom had studied at St Martins: Gilbert & George, Victor Burgin, Jan Dibbets and Barry Flanagan. Whilst at the Venice Biennale he had befriended Marcel Broodthaers who introduced him to Anne De Dekker and Bernd Lohaus, the gallerists of the Wide White Space in Antwerp; who would support his work in Europe. Whilst at St Martins, Lamelas' concerns continued to develop beyond the object-based work favoured by the school. In fact Anthony Caro had insisted he drop his idea of making a film for his MA in favour of making a piece of sculpture or he would not obtain his degree. Lamelas' response to his demands was to re-create a piece he had made in Argentina. Increasingly, his desire was to '…produce sculptural forms without any physical volume.' Lamelas talks of his move to England as 'very fruitful', and that learning a new language.'…helped me to think of my work as a 'deconstruction,' and then a 'construction', like a language'. It is the limits, of language to express the truth of experience, and of film to capture reality, that is at the core of his work.

In, A Study of Relationships: Between Inner and Outer Space (1969), his starting point is the description of the interior dimensions of the gallery at Camden Arts Centre. He expands upon his examination of the space to include the day-to-day activities that are necessary for the functioning of the gallery, interviewing the people that fulfil these tasks, from the caretaker to the curator. The film then places the gallery in the context of London and then London in terms of its physical and social geography, ending with another series of interviews, this time asking people on the street for their thoughts on the recent Apollo moon landing. The film's voice-over has the tone of a public information broadcast, as each piece of information is contained and held up for us to assimilate. However this work has a deceptive charm to it. As the facts are expounded they articulate a rhythm, which only serves to highlight their inadequacy as vehicles of truth. The awkwardness, vitality and flawed humanity of the different interviewees bounces out of the screen, disarming the barrage of fact and figures.

Lamelas uses this documentary style to great effect in his ethnographic documentary/road movie Desert People (1977) which also marked his move from the UK to the Los Angeles. The film is a collision of documentary and narrative fiction styles. It's construction is based on quite simplistic, straight to camera testament, which relates the individual experiences of a group of young white Americans who have 'experienced' living with Indian families on the Papago Indian reservation, and that of Manny who was born there. The result is a reflection on cultural difference and imperialism. It is Manny who seems lost, disconnected from his own people and yet on the outside of the American mainstream. Whereas one feels for the other characters the experience will become no more than an anecdote. Desert People reveals the inherent fiction that is at the heart of the documentary process in much the same way that the earlier pieces, A Study of Relationships…and Office… highlighted the inadequacies of information to convey experiential truth. The difference with Desert People being that it is a fictional documentary.

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Still from The Desert People by David Lamelas,1974
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