Embracing the ephemeral: lost and recovered video artworks by Elaine Shemilt from the 70s and 80s

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Abstract in English

This article explores Elaine Shemilt’s video artworks from the Seventies and early Eighties. Generally known as a printmaker, Shemilt started to use video in 1974 as part of her installation and performance work. Shemilt aimed to use video - a relatively new medium at the time - as a performative element within her installations.

Since that time, her artistic practice has conveyed feminist themes as well as the re-elaboration of intimate and personal experiences.

She destroyed her Seventies videotapes in 1984, considering those tapes as part of ephemeral installations. Photographs taken during the shootings and series of prints are the final artwork from those projects and act today as the remaining existing documentation of those videos.

Only two of Shemilt’s videotapes from the early Eighties, Doppelgänger and Women Soldiers, are today available. They were both remastered during the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project Rewind in 2011.

This article, based on documents, existing videos and interviews collected during the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project EWVA ‘European Women’s Video Art from the 70s and 80s’, discusses and retraces Shemilt’s early video artworks.

Abstract in italiano

Questo articolo indaga le opere video degli anni Settanta e dei primi anni Ottanta di Elaine Shemilt. Più generalmente conosciuta nell’ambito della stampa, Shemilt ha iniziato a utilizzare il video nel 1974 come parte delle sue opere di installazione e di performance. L’artista intendeva utilizzare il video – un medium relativamente nuovo in quel periodo – come elemento performativo nelle sue installazioni.

A partire da quel periodo, la sua pratica artistica ha veicolato temi femministi e rielaborazioni di esperienze intime e personali.

Nel 1984 l’artista ha poi distrutto i suoi videotape degli anni Settanta, considerandoli parte di installazioni effimere. Le fotografie scattate durante le riprese e alcune serie di stampe costituiscono l’unica documentazione esistente di quelle opere. Solamente due dei videotape della Shemilt datati ai primi anni Ottanta sono oggi disponibili: Doppelgänger e Women Soldiers, entrambi rimasterizzati nel 2011 nell’ambito del progetto di ricerca Rewind, finanziato dall’ Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Questo articolo, basato su documenti, i video ancora esistenti e le interviste raccolte durante il progetto di ricerca EWVA ‘European Women’s Video Art from the 70s and 80s’, anch’esso finanziato dall’AHRC, discute e ricostruisce le opere video degli anni Settanta della Shemilt.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Issue numberJan-June
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016



  • Women artist’s video art
  • Installation
  • Performance
  • Early British video art
  • Art and feminism

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