Billingham’s TV debut pushes you so close to his fighting, drinking, low-income family that it hurts. His photographs have always wrong- footed any neat interpretation, and now Fishtank uses a camcorder to up the emotional ante with an often excruciating, sometimes exquisite fusion of intimacy and objectivity. — Louisa Buck, Artforum, 1998
Fishtank features hi-8 footage of Richard Billingham’s family at home in their council flat in the West Midlands. Filmed almost entirely within the claustrophobic confines of their flat, Billingham’s film features his mother Liz, brother Jason and alcoholic father Ray as well as various pets. A natural history film of a dysfunctional family, it alternates between alienation, altercation and affection. Following Billingham’s acclaimed book of photographs Ray’s a Laugh (1996), Fishtank was Billingham’s first film and was considered a groundbreaking work for television. Screens appear throughout the film, reminding us of their power to absorb and create opportunities for escapism whether it be through television or a computer game. Dispassionately yet compassionately, Fishtank crafts a terrible beauty from the landscape of family life.
Image: Richard Billingham, Fishtank, 1998 (detail)
Colchester, 24 February – 25 March 2017
Fishtank was shown at Art Exchange as part of ‘Order out of Chaos’ an exhibition that focused on Billingham’s early work. The film was exhibited alongside other short film works and Instamatic photographs, all of which were created during a period when the artist was directly documenting his family at their flat in the East Midlands in the 1990s.
Image: Richard Billingham, Fishtank, 1998 installed at Art Exchange in 2017. Photo: Douglas Atfield