A. L. Rees: 1949-2014.

Very sad to report that Al Rees, educator and writer on artists’/experimental film and video, died on November. 28th Al studied philosophy and politics at Lancaster University. He became interested in experimental film through visits in the 1960s to Better Books and subsequently the Arts Lab and the London Filmmakers’ Co-op. After David Hall’s retirement in 1988 (David also died recently), he ran the Time Based Media course at the newly created Kent Institute of Art and Design, Maidstone, from which numerous graduates have made careers in film and video, both as artists and commercially, and in related areas. Al was a rigorous tutor, and Crits would often last all day, running into the evening, with only a short lunch break. Students were expected to discuss and defend their work in detail. The experience was often grueling, but most came to appreciate how much they learned in the process. In 1996 Al moved to the school of Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art, to become Research Tutor there. He had put in very long hours at Maidstone and was frustrated by the lack of understanding and support among management. At the RCA he successfully supervised many MPhil and PhD projects, several in the growing area of ‘practice based’ projects, about which he had misgivings, but was always supportive of the students doing them. Al had a vast and detailed knowledge of C20 culture, embracing philosophy, politics, history, critical theory, Fine Art and music, as well as cinema history and theory, which he had taught as a visiting lecturer in a number of art schools around the country (and in which he had begun an uncompleted MA at the RCA previous to joining the staff there). The learning was worn lightly, and one would sometimes be surprised by unsuspected areas of knowledge, as when, walking down Queensgate one evening, he identified a rare Lamborghini: Al didn’t drive but it turned out he knew a lot about cars. He was very good at spotting, or rather defining, trends. One of his recent bugbears was what he called ‘cultural studies’ art: art, often film, which picks ready-made references and cultural phenomena and forms them into an undigested melange that usually fails critically to transform or examine its own constitution or status. He blamed this trend on the way cultural studies and so-called theory has replaced the teaching of art history among other things. Al published many essays and book chapters, but will be best remembered for his A History of Experimental Film and Video, which has been through two editions and many reprints since it was first published by the BFI in 1999. Its breadth and detail attest to his vast knowledge. Al was a wonderful, loyal friend, mentor and colleague: supportive, argumentative, acerbic and funny. He will be missed by the many generations of students he taught, as well as by friends, colleagues and admirers and not least Angela Allen, his partner, also a highly knowledgeable teacher and wonderful painter. Between the two of them they once effortlessly convinced me why Lucien Freud was not the great painter that most critics take him to be.

Mid 1980s Circa mid 1980s.


13 thoughts on “A. L. Rees: 1949-2014.

  1. Pingback: A. L. Rees: 1949-2014. | Yen-Ting Cho

  2. I last saw Al several years ago at a friends lunch party.It was lovely to see him after so many years had passed since we stood outside my block of flats in Maida Vale along with Peter kennard and discussed anti-Vietnam politics and art and politics
    He was very clever then with a rare critical intellect which for a 15 year old was really cool. We followed different paths, with Al going to Lancaster and me to Leeds and when we did bump into each other from time to time in the late 60’s it was to swap stories about all night shows at the Arts Lab and how to chat up the blondes at Bob Cobbings bookshop
    A lovely man who will be missed by many.

  3. Dear Nicky,

    This is the most terrible shock, I can’t think what to say from the time I first met him at the LFMC in 1980 hiring his beloved Hollis Frampton Zorns Lemma, Nostslgia, Lemon, Joyce Wieland Sailboat, Stan Brakhage Sirius Remembered and Window Water Baby Moving, Martha Haslanger Frames, Cages and Speeches and Circus Riders, George Landow who became Owen Land and his all American favourite Ron Rice Chum Lum – we don’t realise that without such a knowledge and such an educator many many of us would never have had the joy to see so many many of these LFMC
    distributed works or even known of their existence and availability in London and then his quiet affirmation and encouragement now so long ago for my multi screen pieces – Broken Pieces for the Co-operative at Lux, Train Pieces at the RCA and more recently anslogue material film (writing on 35mm) meets digital superimposition on Final Cut in Paul’s Poem for the Dilston Grove event. And I suppose I owe it to Al to have found and fallen in love with uncle Jack Smith and all that rolling around in dressing up clothes performance (swanning about) on film or performance with film in Little Stabs at Happiness of Ken Jacobs and the nefarious washed out Flaming Creature and Taka Iimura “Are you looking at me seeing a shadow of me projected?” – such magic moments of black box ecstasy – oh now there is an abyss – much love Anna xxx

  4. I heard Al had cancer and tried to contact him but he had left the RCA he was my teacher at maidstone in 1990, I was a terrible student! he will be sadly missed by all in my year- Marisa xx

  5. Such kind words Nicky. Al (and yourself) very much formed my visual thinking back in 94-97 in Maidstone, and has remained a huge inspiration to this day (I have engorged myself on visual music since then). The legend lives on, and the person will be sorely missed.
    Condolences from Denmark, and all the very best, Sebastian

  6. When Mr David Bate let me know that Al had gone yesterday, I feel so shocked. I am a Japanese translator of his A History of Experimental Film and Video. When I contacted him 5 or 6 years ago saying that I had difficulty translating his book and asking if he could help me, He quicly responded to me. Since then I visited London several times until I had finished. He was honsetly answering my questions. I remember eating with him and his wife in an ethnic restaurant and enjoying talking. I miss him so much, but the Japanese version of his book is already something like a classic concerning experimental film and video. I will read it again aournd the end of this year remembering talking with him in his study room in RCA.

  7. Facebook’s a ‘funny’ thing! Now that the hoo-hah of Xmas has died down I wanted to find out how Al was doing. I never saw this ‘shared’ post on my timeline.
    I can’t adequately express my regret at Al’s passing. He really was the great man you describe; understated and unforgettable.
    You may remember how shocked I was to hear of his illness at Simon and Andrew’s screening evening. I did however manage to send Angie a message for him shortly, as I now know, before he died.
    A big loss in my life. Although I didn’t see him very often I always looked forward to a screening hoping he would be there.
    He will be much missed.

  8. I was at Maidstone until ’92. Al was a great inspiration; he encouraged me to visit NY to research my dissertation on avant-garde film, which I duly did. Great man, very sad to hear he’s gone. I remember you too from Maidstone! I was looking Al up as I am applying to Goldsmiths to do an Art Psychotherapy course. I currently teach photography and art in a psychiatric hospital school and run a social enterprise.

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