Luke Fowler’s art brings together personal associations with social and political subject matter. In his films he often combines self-shot 16mm footage, specific to his chosen subjects, with archival material in order to reveal his own relationship to historic moments. Fowler is also involved in experimental music and it forms the focus of several of his films. In music he works with Richard Youngs and runs the record label, Shadazz.
Fowler’s trilogy of films What You See Is Where You’re At (2001), Bogman Palmjaguar (2007) and All Divided Selves (2011) examines the work of iconoclastic Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing (1927–1989), and the legacy of his teaching. Laing called for a radical transformation of conventional medical models of mental illness. Bogman Palmjaguar builds a portrait of its subject, an isolated man, with a passionate interest in nature. What You See Is Where You’re At and All Divided Selves make use of a wide range of archival footage taken from documentaries, news and television programmes to explore the persona of Laing and his fluctuating representation in popular media including the news and national press.
Fowler’s recent 61-minute film The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott (2012) builds a profile of the Marxist historian EP Thompson (1924–1993). Thompson was a prolific writer, and was recognised as a key figure in the New Left in Britain. Fowler’s film looks at Thompson’s early work with the Workers’ Educational Association, an initiative promoting and supporting adult education for the working class in Yorkshire. The artist uses archival material from a variety of sources alongside material shot by himself in the areas around West Riding, where Thompson taught his progressive approach to education. The film contextualises the historian’s work and politics, contrasting them with our contemporary perspective. Like many of Fowler’s films, The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott reflects on the value of such approaches and political beliefs and asks what can be learned from them in our current social and political climate.