RCA Society

Darcy Lange: Enduring Time

Darcy Lange studied Sculpture at the RCA and graduated in 1971, the same year as I did. So it was shocking to recently hear that he had died in 2005. How easily we all lose touch with each other. I knew him as a fellow student who would occasionally come by the Fashion School and ask me to sew up some canvasses for his installations. Sometimes, in the Student Bar, he treated us to his playing of wonderful flamenco guitar, or just say hello in passing. So it was good to hear about Mercedes Vicente's Doctoral research on Darcy's work as a sculptor and see a special showing of his social documentary videos at Tate Modern (October 2016). 

My recollection of Darcy's work at the RCA was of 'scenario installations' illustrating 'suburban' situations. He hadn't at that time moved towards producing video works, though the close proximity of the RCA Film School 'across the yard' from the Sculpture school studios in Queensgate may have triggered this practice. Some forty-five years later it was intriguing to see the videos he had made in the early 1970s… a tentative observation of shop doorways and the comings and goings of street people - reminiscent of Warhol's marathon observations of pensively staring at the empire state building… visual recordings in raw 'real time'. In the early days Darcy's works appear grounded in banal urbanism. 'Fly on the wall' observations of family gatherings in suburbia, of punctuated conversations, or a 'house wife' repetitively hanging out the washing. Early on his output in this technique was a combination of learning and experimenting with visual material through the economy of 'video' which, in contrast to 'film', was well suited to an instantaneous production of visual evidence.

Radical approaches in all disciplines marked out the RCA from other arts institutions at that time and during the crossover of the decades (1960s-70s) the established boundaries were constantly challenged. At the time it was 'in the air' for traditional approaches to be jettisoned and new technologies embraced (particularly time based works). In 1970 there were moves at the RCA to establish a school of 'environmental / time based media' as a conduit between the 'academical' practices of the schools of Fine Art and design/engineering disciplines. The edges were becoming fuzzy and there were occasions when students effectively challeged the sterility of habit.

Contrary to Mercedes Vicentes' thesis - Darcy's work, during his time at the RCA, had strong 'social' sensitivity but was not 'pioneering' time-based practice within the fine art context nor 'conceptual'…. However, from the materials and videos presented by Mercedes of Darcy's work, post RCA, it is evident that he took on more experimental documentary formats, delved further into the lives of working people and (the mechanical monotony of) their daily tasks: teachers, housewives, cattle farmers, miners and agricultural communities. His pensive real-time observations of the seasonal burning of fields, or, dualistically, the destruction of land, leads us into another facet of his work which dominated later years - the plight of the Maouri's and issues of (their) land rights in New Zealand. I wonder if he found a correlation here between the historical persecution of Gypsies and expressed this through his devotion to Flamenco music?

Having lost track of him for nearly fifty years I was not surprised to learn that flamenco music remained hugely important to him and appears to have overtaken his work as a sculptor … but as with so many graduates of the RCA although life takes them in a myriad of directions their creativity remains constant and quietly influential.

The Tate Modern's programme (20-22 October 2016) of Darcy's documentary films shows there's a lot more to discover about Darcy Lange's work during the 'missing years'. Mercedes Vicentes' research is invaluable and it is enthusiastically appreciative of a relatively unknown grass roots artist from New Zealand whose poignant social documentaries are being unearthed and intensely reviewed. 

It would be interesting to hear members' comments and recollections about Darcy Lange. You can also make public 'Comments' on this page. Contact Mercedes Vicente at the RCA or alternatively get in touch with her through the RCA Society.

Note: Mercedes Vicente is a curator and writer, currently undertaking an AHRC-funded PhD at the Royal College of Art  on the work of Darcy Lange. Prior to her current studies Vicente was Curator of 'Contemporary Art and Darcy Lange', Curator-at-Large at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. She earned her Masters degrees in Film and Arts at New York University and in Curatorial Studies at Bard College, she was a Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. Vicente has organised numerous exhibitions on Lange at institutions such as Moderna Galerija Ljubliana, Cabinet, Yale University, Camera Austria, EACC Spain, and NTU CCA Singapore. Her extensive writing and editorial credits include books, exhibition catalogues and art magazines. She is the editor of 'Darcy Lange: Study of an Artist at Work' (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Ikon Gallery, 2008), published in conjunction with the exhibition 'Work Studies in Schools' at Ikon Gallery.


Photos: Darcy Lange 'Enduring Time' - Tate Modern Starr Cinema - Tate Film Pioneers event 20 - 22 October 2016 • Darcy Lange's son recollects his father's work, life and death. (above)

Mercedes Vicente (curator) (r) talks with  ...... (below)