Rio cinema

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Reference Rio (2018)

Reference Rio is a single screen projection and live performance made in Rio Cinema in Dalston. The Rio is a Grade II listed Art Deco cinema in east London. It is an independent cinema with a history stretching back over 100 years, constantly under threat of closure.

Reference Rio could also be seen as a wider comment on the contemporary screen culture that we live within, the way we mediate and experience our existence through handheld multiple screens and images, removed from physical space.

Traditionally the cinema audience is lost in narrative time, which traditionally favours represented time over the passage of actual time. “Everything possible is done to reduce awareness of the actuality of the screening time and space … the seats are soft, the sound surrounds, the screen fills the visual fields, all reducing awareness of our actual physical presence to the minimum”. (Le Grice, 2001, p.67). Reference Rio reverses this priority responding to the actual cinema space, a traditional 1930’s auditorium with plush velvet seats and long red curtains that swish back and forth before the film starts.

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. This diagram documents the design of the rig, using two motors to independently power two 360 degree rotations.

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.

There is a curious interaction between the camera’s monocular viewpoint and the space through which it moves. Rather than considering these mechanical rigs in terms of what they mean for the camera, this work argues for an understanding of how it allows for new explorations and perceptions of the site.

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.

The cinema auditorium, typically a motionless entity that one can passively inhabit, is transformed into ‘activated’ live space. The primary experience of watching and the secondary experience of representing are merged. The audience becomes aware of their position within the room and within the filmic space depicted in the projection, through a machine that records the space in the past and acts in the present. The device is a major part of the site-specific construct; rather than being merely an invisible tool, its performance is the subject of the artwork.

The 360-degree movement of the field of vision affects the audience’s relationship with physical space and time. This work questions the act of perception and the definition of time, space, surface, and material, and it forces the spectator to return to her/his own capabilities for meaning-making.

Reference Rio creates a tension between space, time and the medium by discarding the anthropomorphic view of the architecture and by constructing a new visual representation of the physical site in which the audience is seated. It forces the viewer to actively look, engage and experience the site, as opposed to the passive consumption of space, answering Parveen Adams’s wish: “what we need is respite from an entire system of seeing and space that is bound up with mastery and identity. To see differently, albeit for a moment, allows us to see anew” (Adams, 1998, p.56).

Reference Rio film clip.

Reference Rio 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 reflexively engaged in the production of meaning, directly challenging the convention of traditional cinema.

“I honestly thought the film was live, I was expecting to see myself on the cinema screen, I’m so used to live surveillance type work.” (Audience feedback)

The audience become aware of their position within the room and within the filmic space depicted in the projection. Thus, physical space, typically a motionless entity that one can passively inhabit, is transformed into ‘activated’ live space. This lived experience is often lost when we do not attend to the actual space of the cinema when watching a film.

“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 space became a triangle: machine-space-human. I was therefore constantly negotiating the limits between illusion of film and reality.” (Audience feedback)

“It is interesting to feel how the presence of the machine changes the essence of space. Its sound and automated movement makes its presence striking to me, and I believe this adds immensely to the experience”  (Audience feedback)

“I was at first trying to understand if it was a live feed and trying to negotiate my position within the film. Then, when I realized 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 site from a human or machine point of view.” (Audience feedback)

Winspit quarry

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Winspit (2018)

Winspit explores the physical terrain of an old quarry in Dorset. In the early stages of this research I had been drawn to Winspit, mainly due to the quarry floors moonlike terrain. I had wanted to capture the materiality of the site, in contrast to how the site had previously been filmed as a background location for TV productions.

 

In Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in art, Architecture and Film (Verso, 2002), Bruno discusses ‘this shift away from the long-standing focus of film theory on sight, towards the construction of a moving theory of site’. This movement from optic to haptic reflects film’s position within the spatial arts, sitting more comfortably next to architecture and theatre than many of the visual arts. Traditional theories of the ‘filmic gaze’ fail to address the effect of spatiality, the act of crossing or inhabiting space are not explored or explained. In order to draw attention to the moonscape interior, an iPad was mounted on a motorised buggy that travelled across the quarry floor recording the detail of the terrain. The results were interesting but it was difficult to control the speed and direction of the buggy so it was developed using a fixed track.

An iPad mounted on a motorised track spans the length of the quarry floor recording the detail of the terrain, scanning the site, like a forensic instrument. The iPad slightly magnifies the actual site underneath; this in turn creates a physical effect for the viewer, as the screen appears to ‘open up’ the ground below. The noise of the motorised rig and the illuminated screen guides the viewer deep into the site. The audience experiences an activation of site, a curious interaction/dialogue between technology and nature, a scientific investigation. Winspit fundamentally questions the relationship between image and so-called real space, and likewise attempts to present moving image in dialogue with natural form.

Film documentation of site performance.

The site was open for audience feedback at strategically positioned points in the project. In most cases the feedback dramatically informed the practical and technical development of the work. An example being that during one of the open sites the feedback gained from all participants suggested that the speed of the iPad motorized installation was too fast, as one participant wrote, “It is hard to really see the image on the screen, it is moving so fast that I tend to look at the iPad as an object rather than a screen”(Audience Feedback). This feedback was fundamental to the development of the piece as the phenomenological effect only worked when the speed was fast enough to be seen as a surface texture but slow enough for the viewer to be immersed in the screen image.

“This is my second visit, I came back now it is dark…I much prefer the work in the dark, the iPad appears from nowhere, it draws me into the cave. I now feel part of the work, before there were too many distractions, I couldn’t focus upon the machine, plus now I have to look through the screen to see the ground underneath, this makes me think more carefully about the ground I am stood on, if it is safe.” (Audience feedback)

“I feel in-between technology and nature, a scientific investigation or experiment. Could there be more than one, maybe two or three could be running at the same time, scanning different sections of the cave?” (Audience feedback)

“I feel like I am holding a torch and lighting my path. I wonder what would happen if the track went around the walls of the cave rather than just the ground, would it have the same physical impact?” (Audience feedback) 

“It’s like an explorer and observer in one. The cave looks like a moonscape, I see it differently through the screen” (Audience feedback)

Lokomotywownia train depot

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Lokomotywownia (2018)

Lokomotywownia is a site-specific installation located in a disused train repair depot in Krakow, Poland. The history of the region, its old technologies, its witness to the passing of time and the transient, are bought back into conversation through the rediscovery and intervention of the site. The train’s previous life and its trajectory of motion are mimicked in the reciprocal motion of the iPads – they are alive, the train is now stationary. 

In Lokomotywownia the audience involved were train workers who had no prior experience or understanding of site-specific art. A number of the train workers that became involved in the project didn’t even know that the old carriages existed prior to the project and they had been working half a mile away for 10 years.

Established in 1927, the depot is somewhat in the shadow of modern train travel. The history of the region, its old technologies, its witness to the passing of time and the transient, are brought back into conversation through the rediscovery and intervention of the site. The iPads take on the form of mechanical beings, and their sensory domain is given up to us as they serve as a vehicle by which we are transported into the culture of old Eastern Europe. The train’s previous life and its trajectory of motion are mimicked in the reciprocal motion of the iPads – they are alive, the train is now stationary.

Lokomotywownia attempts to present moving image in dialogue with sculptural form as tracks are built as a shell of the carriage – the viewer experiences the materiality of the train carriage from the inside out, as the reading of detail builds the comprehension of architectural space.

Motorised tracks were built inside one of the abandoned carriages, allowing the materiality of the site to define the structure of the recording device.

The captured footage was then played back on eight iPads that move around the space mapping the carriage interior and re-tracing the exact path of the camera, spatially and temporally. As the iPads drifted slowly across the surfaces of the abandoned railway carriage, the exact representation in scale is seen on the screens, highlighting the architectural site below.

The site performance brought light into the domain of the foreboding, symbolic, dark space, literally through the lit display of iPad screens, whilst simultaneously invited the audience to illuminate the space with ideas and possible meanings. In Lokomotywownia the viewer was reliant upon the moving iPad screens to reveal elements of the architecture, in which to construct their awareness of the site and locate them in physical space. This is particularly effective as the iPads move across the carriage floor; the missing wooden planks reveal the ground below. Suddenly the floor no longer feels stable; the audience’s habitual reading of the carriage surface is questioned and their safety in the site doubted. This de-materialization of the filming apparatus is particularly effective in the moment where the iPad glides over a hole in the train carriage wall – as the film is pre-recorded the image on the iPad reveals an empty space and the motorized track appears to vanish. In darkness the iPad reveals aspects of the physical site via the moving iPad screen, the audience locates themselves via the screen image.

“It’s a strange place to do this, I can’t imagine many artists walking all the way here to see this. It is like a fish-eye lens, magnifying the site. The sound of the motor is really interesting. I like the movement, it feels alive.” (Audience feedback)

“Is the recorded image a ‘window’ into the recorded site or a heightened reality of the site? – the virtual seems more real than the real. At first I was trying to work out if it was filming or had already been recorded. I placed a pen in the carriage, it didn’t appear on the screen. Then I knew it had been pre-recorded.” (Audience feedback)

Detail: film documentation of ipad screen in site performance.

“I must have walked past these carriages every day, but never really paid attention, you have made them look beautiful, alive again” (Audience feedback).

Film documentation of the site performance.