Work Studies in Schools

An exhibition exploring Darcy Lange's research and work, which examined the processes of teaching and learning


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Pedagogy
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Cabinet

Contributing Institutions



Mercedes Vicente


Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Darcy Lange Estate and New Zealand Film Archive, Cabinet magazine, Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Society of Friends of Slought

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to present Work Studies in Schools, an exhibition of the work of video artist Darcy Lange (New Zealand, 1946-2005) in collaboration with the New Zealand contemporary art museum Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. The exhibition will be on display in the Slought galleries from April 30, 2010 - June 14, 2010, with an opening reception on April 30, 2010 from 6:30-8:30pm. The exhibition is curated by Mercedes Vicente of Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, who will speak on Lange's work in conjunction with the exhibition opening at 6:30pm. This exhibition program is presented in partnership with Cabinet, and builds upon the exhibition presented there in December 2009. It takes its name from the original title of the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford in 1977 and at Ikon Gallery in 2008.

In the 1970's Lange documented the labor of British workers in factories, mines, and schools. The exhibition will survey Lange's work, primarily his videos from the series Work Studies in Schools (1976-77) which examine the processes of teaching and learning. In 1976, Lange videotaped a number of classrooms at three schools in the English city of Birmingham, carefully choosing institutions that would represent different social classes. Focusing on the teaching of art, history, and science, Lange first filmed each class in action. Afterwards, he would watch the tapes with the teachers and then the students, each time recording their reactions. The following year, Lange continued the project, this time in four Oxfordshire schools. Lange saw his tapes as material for "research," an "educational process" in which the reactions of his subjects to the footage were just as important as the original films.

Through these videos, Lange explored new dimensions within a realist, socially-engaged documentary tradition, and tirelessly examined the issue of labor in Britain, New Zealand and Spain. Instead of taking a conceptual approach to video like his contemporaries at the time, Lange stressed the "responsibility to keep questioning the nature and power of realism," using video to meditate on and engage directly with laborers and their activity. Reflecting this attitude, the unique style of video making that characterizes Lange's "Work Studies" series employs real-time, unedited, unmediated, extended observations of people at work. Through these videos, Lange sought to "convey the image of work as work, as an occupation, as an activity, as creativity and as a time consumer."

In these works, Lange notably explored the capacities of early portable video to provide live and taped feedback, experimentation that shows the influence of his conversations with artist Dan Graham. This process allowed him to incorporate the reactions of his subjects into the video, enabling them to view themselves within their own environment with a degree of distance that might foster critical reflection. Through this self-reflexive process, Lange's videotaping is in turn examined as work. Indeed, Lange often included himself as a protagonist, and never edited out his questions or physical presence from the tapes. Thus Lange activates documentary video making as a democratic process that can engage its subjects as active participants, and invite them to become critical viewers as well.

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The development of Lange's work suggests someone dissatisfied with the condition of art, probing at boundaries not only of his own work, but that of the documentary genre and the orthodoxies of art in 1970's Britain. He felt that art had become isolated, divorced from the world around it, and sought instead to develop a practice that reflected a greater social conscience. His videos were produced largely for the sake of the participants, and incorporated their own voices as fundamental aspects of the work. His "process of looking, thinking, and questioning," notes critic Helen Legg, "was intended above all to empower those he filmed."

Lange's positioning of himself within an institution might be seen as akin to the work of the Artist's Placement Group (APG), which organized the placement of artists within industrial or governmental institutions. However, while the APG's philosophy proposed the artist as an inherently creative being, whose insight might impact in a socially progressive way upon the processes of larger institutions, Lange was skeptical of this conception of the artist as a privileged being; instead, he looked to art as an activity to be practiced by everyone, across all fields. It is this radical skepticism and his subsequent positioning of himself—which was to lead him further away and ultimately beyond art's institutions—that demands Lange's serious reconsideration.

A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, New Zealand and the Royal College of Art in London, Darcy Lange (1946-2005) established a career in the late 1960s as a sculptor with large, hard-edge abstract works but soon turned to photography, film, and video. In 1972, he began videotaping and filming under the general theme of "people at work" in English factories, mines, and schools and continued documenting workers' lives after returning to New Zealand.

In the late 1970s, Lange joined Maori activists' struggles to establish land rights during what became known as the Maori Renaissance when bicultural policies in New Zealand fully came into place, and developed his ambitious Maori Land Project (1977-1981). Beginning in the 1980s, Lange became increasingly involved in the study of music, especially flamenco, and created several multimedia performances involving music, poetry, and art. He died in Auckland in 2005.


For audio recordings of two panel discussions organized by Cabinet magazine related to "Darcy Lange: Work Studies in Schools," see "Art Education: A Study" and "The Art of Teaching."

Download introductory essays by curator Mercedes Vicente by Helen Legg, curator at Ikon Gallery, on Darcy Lange the Schools Studies project (Courtesy of Camera Austria).