artist / participant
Turner Prize nominee Luke Fowler explores the limits and conventions of documentary filmmaking, bringing together new and archive footage to create narratives with complex sets of historical and contemporary connections.
The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott focuses on the work of the eminent Marxist historian, Edward Palmer Thompson. In 1946 at the age of 24 he was employed jointly by Leeds University Extra-Mural Department and the Workers Education Association (WEA) to teach literature and social history to adults in the industrial towns of the West Riding, a role he continued for twenty years. Adult education night classes thrived in post-war Britain and were held in various public buildings rather than on formal university premises. Three-year tutorial classes were established to provide non-vocational, liberal education to a part of society who had historically been denied access to higher education.
Fowler's film explores the issues that were at stake for educationalists at that time, a struggle that resonates today within the current market-led higher education system. Many, like E.P. Thompson, wanted to use teaching to create 'revolutionaries' and pursue the original WEA values of delivering a 'socially purposeful' education for working class communities. This was opposed by those who wished to foster within students an 'objective,' 'calm,' and 'tolerant' attitude. Fowler's film centres on this argument, set out by E.P. Thompson in an internally circulated document entitled 'Against University Standards' (1950). This is set against extracts from his Class Reports, read by artist Cerith Wyn Evans, which describes in fascinating detail the teaching of adults in the West Riding.
Fowler's new film draws together archival material from British television and radio alongside photos and documents from Leeds University, WEA, and private archives. These archival documents are edited together with contemporary footage recorded at the locations of the former classes, in the former West Riding region of Yorkshire where The Hepworth Wakefield is situated.
Collaboration is an integral part of Fowler's practice, and during the making of this film he has worked with, amongst others, New York-based filmmaker Peter Hutton, Yorkshire-born writer and filmmaker George Clark, and musicians Richard Youngs and Ben Vida.
The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott