Thursday, September 29, 2005
Overheard Overhead was the final show at the Vestry staged the bleak mid winter of February 1997. Having turned my back on all things Film CO-OP some six years before I was nonetheless working with a form of what might be called expanded cinema. In Overheard Overhead however the whole apparatus of lens-based projection is abandoned in favour of a “lens free” moving image practice with all the surfaces of the exhibition space becoming a continual screen.
The idea behind the piece was partly inspired by walking through Leicester Square in the early evening when one could hear a mass of birdsong coming from the branches above but not actually see any of the feathered singers. In a continual quest to make the audio visible and vice versa I experimented with a circuit that produced changes in light intensity between four bulbs synchronised to the rising and falling birdsong. Using the lights to cast shadows on branches produced a network of overlaid filigree patterns that in some way seemed to visualise and plot the intricacies of melody and communication.
These patterns were projected onto walls floor and ceiling, creating a sensation of walking inside the sound. The birdsong’s volume inside rather than out also worked a reversed non-diegetic effect with off stage (in the wings so to speak) becoming centre stage. A short QuickTime movie of the piece can be seen here.
There were the usual mishaps in setting up the installation not helped by the budget of £200. Firstly there was the issue of where to get the branches from. I contacted Lambeth’s park authority and was told that some tree felling was taking place in Brockwell Park that week and that I was welcome to any number of branches, they would even deliver them. I was told to arrive at 8.30 sharp on a Monday morning to pick out the branches I wanted. I turned up at the designated point only to find a few logs and a large pile of sawdust. After much walky talky work, one of the park rangers told me that unfortunately some volunteer workers had over the weekend been rather zealous and had pulped all of the branches. The pile of sawdust I was standing by was indeed the branches in question. This setback was probably a blessing in disguise as despite the high Vestry ceiling I had probably overestimated the size of branch needed. Chopping a few branches down from the overgrown church garden I soon found that quite modestly sized pieces easily filled the space and accomplished the effect I was after.
The branches were suspended from the high ceiling, the windows blacked out and the lights and speakers installed. The card for Overheard Overhead was printed for £35 by the possibly dubious Alpha printers. Dubious because they were clearly a front for something, as no printing ever seemed to be taking place at the works and the door was always opened with great reluctance. The private view aided as ever by copious amount of gin supplied free by Gilby’s was a success and more importantly the piece seemed to accomplish the mix of menace and romantic sublime I was seeking. As ever attendance at the sub zero Vestry throughout the course of the exhibition was small but appreciative, boosted when Time Out printed a review.
Though not planned as such this was to be the last DIY exhibition at the Vestry. I had invited David Leister to the opening and he suggested I might want to help him promote a screening in the old town hall just off Hoxton Square. As this was part funded by the LFMC I was once more reunited with the organisation. The Lux project was well advanced though chaos reigned, as there was no permanent administrator or up to date accounts. I was offered work initially for 3 months but ended up staying till November just prior to the Lux centre’s opening. It was already becoming clear by that stage that the underlying financial projections for the new Lux Centre did not in any way stack up. I was doubly uneasy that several new staff had bee recruited whose salaries somehow had to be paid. However the total grant support of both the LFMC and LEA at the time was little more than £90,000 and given that the ICA was receiving in excess of a million in support it seemed reasonable to expect that the BFI and the Arts Council (who had invested over ten years of time into the project) would increase the funding to meet the new costs. The funding did indeed increase in the next two years but never in line with what was needed. The Lux was not badly managed it was simply starved of funds and limped from crisis to crisis from the moment the doors opened. A proposed rent hike by the landlord brought on by the soar away success of Hoxton, which in part had been caused by the opening of the Lux itself, was the final straw and the plug was pulled. London still has no dedicated centre for the screening of artist moving image work, though the BFI have something planned for the revamped south bank NFT site.
Update 2012: Goodness the blog entry starts off with a nice piece about Overheard Overhead and then becomes reminiscences about the last days of the Film Co-op. Interestingly the BFI did open a space dedicated to Artist Moving Image, but subsequently closed it as part of cost cutting measures.