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)

“As I was watching the installation of the projection with the synchronised motorised rig, 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 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. 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)