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Review: Frames of Reference exhibition

Projection perfection at The Marsden Woo Gallery, London


It’s full steam ahead on the digital bandwagon in today’s film industry. An exciting time for film fans who crave the latest technologies and crystal clear cinematography. But what’s going to happen to good old film? Not a product that’s uploaded from a hard drive or USB stick. Actual film, that’s been printed and processed to be projected in the traditional way.

While film reels are often used to market movies, the majority of UK cinemas are now fully digital. Hollywood studios are decreasing their film stock and film laboratories worldwide are closing down. Many projectionists are finding themselves out of work, meaning this century old profession is heading towards its end credits.

Alexa Raisbeck, a professional projectionist believes that digital technology shouldn’t replace traditional cinema, there’s actually room for both. Launching her exhibition Frames of Reference she looks at the overlooked characteristics of film. Four exhibits made from celluloid explore film’s body as material, the structure of the frames and also its content as language.

The largest exhibit, The Cave requires participants to wear a hard hat. After wading through a curtain of film you are invited to take a seat within the installation. The exhibit resembles a mini auditorium which is draped with two hours’ worth of film. The light from the hard hat allows self projection of transitory patterns on the screen which is both hypnotising and oddly relaxing. The subjective piece draws upon Plato’s allegory of the cave, the idea of sitting in a dark room and watching a reflection of reality. It explores the idea that the audience is deluded from editorial and narrative technique, and subsequently questions self delusion as you take on the role of the projectionist.

A bright and funky piece comes in the form of Visual Tension. Hand painted film creates a tie dye effect on a blank canvas. The funky film is send through rollers on the canvas and continues through a projector to be projected back onto itself. The film explores loops but also the place between art and film. Alexa describes the piece as self indulgent, reflecting the battle with categorising herself as either an artist or a film maker. The manipulation of oranges, reds and yellows looks fabulously mesmerising against the bright white canvas and project space.

I Am Celluloid is an interactive piece actually built into the gallery. The installation is created with scrap pieces of celluloid known to projectionists as “gash” *looks innocently.* The different elements are spliced together in a traditional way creating one single art piece. The exhibit discusses its own death using projectionist terminology and asks questions such as, “Content is meaning?” The mechanism used to move the film over the gallery space is around 70 years old, highlighting how iconic traditional projection is.

A light box, untouched film frames and splicing tape makes up Untitled which Alexa describes as, “A love letter to film.” Vintage frames sourced worldwide all containing the single word “Picture” are married, creating one great picture. The idea is that the longer you look at the piece the less your brain is unable to interpret it. In the midst of the hundreds of film frames the actual word itself loses its meaning. If the exhibit was to be renamed we cleverly pointed out it could be called Picture Perfect. Just saying.

Film lovers should experience this unique exhibition whilst they still can. As the digital medium dominates, it’s questionable how such material can be sourced to create future pieces. If you’re not a film fan the exhibition is completely free, so why not channel your inner Charlotte, Sex and the City anyway?

Frames of Reference is open until 29th March at The Marsden Woo Gallery, London. Marsdenwoo.com

Words: Benjamin Spence (@BenSuspender)

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