Neil Cooper, 'Moving Pictures' (The List, 667, 23/09/2010)

The first solo show in Scotland by filmmaker Babette Mangolte explores her working relationship with performance artist Yvonne Rainer. Neil Cooper assesses the impact of their collaboration.

Performance, film and photography have always made a perfect threesome. Capturing the ephemeral in pictures, after all, can make the ebb, flow, whirl and burl of something staged come alive in an altogether more personal, warts’n’all kind of way. The working relationship between cinematographer and photographer Babette Mangolte and dancer, performance artist and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, then, was a match made in 1970s New York, which has only recently stepped out into the 21st century limelight to be reassessed anew.

Twin poles of this living retrospective of such a seminal encounter are the first ever solo show in Scotland by Mangolte at Sorcha Dallas, which runs alongside a week of screenings of Rainer’s dance-based films at Tramway. While the Rainer showcase features moving images shot across the last four decades, the still lives contained in the Mangolte show focus on the years 1972–75 when Mangolte worked as cinematographer on Rainer’s feature-length films Lives of Performers and Film About a Woman Who …, both scheduled for Tramway. At Sorcha Dallas, however, viewers are allowed backstage to see vérité shots of the former piece being filmed alongside images taken during a performance of the stage version of the latter. These images aren’t merely production shots but works of art in themselves.

‘She’s such a seminal figure,’ Dallas enthuses. ‘Rainer’s work is probably better known, but Mangolte’s practice is just as important. She was the main cinematographer and documentarist, not just of Rainer’s work, but of Chantal Ackerman and Trisha Brown. But it wasn’t just a case of turning up and taking pictures. With Mangolte it was a real collaboration, and there was a real cinematic approach to what she did, so you got this beautiful thing between the two women, and some of the images are the only documents that exist of these events.’

Born in France, Mangolte became one of the first women to study at L’Ecole Nationale de la Photographie et de la Cinematographie in Paris founded by Louis Lumiere. Decamping to New York, Mangolte’s subjective approach chimed with post-1960s experimental theatre and dance scenes, and the first of Rainer’s performances she documented was when she appeared with the Grand Union troupe in 1972. Mangolte’s feature film debut came in 1975 with the experimental What Maisie Knew, which features Rainer in a lead role and also forms part of the Glasgow show.

With some 40 images from Mangolte’s extensive archive on display, Dallas’ show is a significant coup, and continues the gallery’s championing of feminist icons, including the production of the recent 13-hour performance by post-punk collagist Linder. As with Linder, though, despite Mangolte’s pioneer status, her work is more than a matter of gender.

‘As a female artist Mangolte’s influence is huge,’ Dallas concedes, ‘not just in terms of how she showed that female artists could be in control of their own work, but that they could also be judged on equal terms as male artists. So that’s part of the legacy, that work wasn’t just judged on whether the person who made it was male, female, black, white or whatever, but that in Mangolte’s case, at least, they were judged on being a great artist.’