Regent Street Cinema became the birthplace of cinema in the UK in 1848 when the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe machine was demonstrated to the press and these earliest of moving images given their first presentation to a paying audience the following day. The theatre was purpose-built for the ‘optical exhibitions’ for which the institution had become famous. Early shows included demonstrations of the latest scientific and technological innovations, lantern slides as a backdrop to live music and drama, and full theatrical performances.
In 2015 the art deco features of the building’s 1920 design were restored and re-opened to the public.
Cinema has become an industry under threat in light of Covid-19 and siting cinema celebrates this ‘social practice’ by drawing the audience’s attention to the physical space in which they are seated. The cinema audience is forced to actively look, engage and experience the site. Siting cinema attempts to interrogate the physical and perceptual relationship to the cinema as site, where the cinema screen, the mechanical rig and by extension the position of the viewer are all part of that equation. As such, the audience is reflexive.
This diagram documents the design of the rig, using two motors to independently power two 360 degree rotations.
A 360-degree device turns both vertically and horizontally in synchronized time, the choreographed movement of the camera records every detail of the architectural site.
The cinema is first filmed using the 360-degree rig, recording every detail of the empty architectural site, with the house lights on and the curtains closed.
The pre-recorded film of the auditorium is then projected onto the cinema screen.
The same rig is then used to track the movement of the recording device, by replacing the camera with a laser. As the audience ‘maps’ the projection to the laser within the ‘physical’ cinema space, a complex relationship occurs between artwork, audience and site.
Site performance at Regents Street Cinema. The installation was shown before each film screening for a week, as the audience walked into the auditorium their attention was drawn to the site around them via the projected film and red lazer.
I was trying to understand if it was a live feed and trying to negotiate my position within the film. Then, when I realised it wasn’t, I was caught in the experience of the video and feeling my body moving with the “camera eye”, leading me to wonder if I was experiencing the essence of a place from a human or machine point of view. (Audience feedback)
When I noticed the laser pointer, leading my eyes to the point the camera had once filmed, I started to negotiate my relation not only to the film but also to the space. What first seemed to be about a machine and site became a triangle: machine-site-human. I was therefore constantly negotiating the limits between illusion of film and reality.” (Audience feedback)