Confounding projections

Anna Dzenis: Paul Rodgers, Projection Machines

The project started off with my interest in some wooden towers and concrete structures in the wasteland area near the West Gate Bridge and my background with Loophole Cinema (UK). When I was with Loophole we used to do a lot of filming with Bolex cameras for site specific installations and performances which we did around Europe and where we met a lot of people with kinetic machines and expanded cinema.
Paul Rodgers

There is a scene in the great Brian De Palma film Blow Out where the main character, sound artist Jack Terry (played by John Travolta), tries to reconstruct an earlier crime scene of a fatal car accident which he heard and partially witnessed. He cuts out from a magazine the still images of this accident, which were apparently captured by a photographer working on location when the car spun out of control. Jack edits these still images together, turning them into a montage of movement as he adds his own sound recording. He then projects his film, bringing this earlier scene back to life, reanimating this moment and the magic of cinematic projection.

The installation Projection Machines also plays with the magic and meaning of film projection. Paul Rodgers’ work crosses the mediums of experimental film, video, site specific performance and installation, digital media and construction-based projects. Projection Machines presents 2 kinetic machines—The Dome and The Beacon—which (in their own ways) project captured images of Melbourne’s industrial wastelands. The experience they offer is of an expanded cinema that encourages contemplation of how we read and understand images and their referents in all of their fleeting, magical, incandescent materiality.

The Dome dominates the space, as if it were the centre of a darkened cube, a multi-projection machine allowing many points of view. Its hemispherical, translucent structure functions as both container and contents: projector and reflector. Rodgers describes it as a “biosphere: a container of select Melbourne landscapes” whose surface also plays host to a scattered montage of fragmented wastelands and refracted industrial scenes. The images are projected from within, sweeping across the dome’s skin, like interrogating search lights. Yet the interior workings, its logic, remains opaque. What is left of these emanations are confounding, swirling and fleeting images, partially recognisable as a pylon or a neglected, overgrown patch of earth. They defy our efforts to read them into complete images, or to recognise them as narrative or formal patterns.

This relationship between the machine and its projected images reveals a number of interesting contradictions, the most obvious being that between the container and its contents. While the biosphere represents a life-affirming force, what it projects are places that have been left behind, remnants; a vision that has run its course or remains incomplete and unresolved. What is preserved and archived is the evidence of decay or dissolution. The second contradiction has to do with the beauty of light projections that render fragmented images of emptiness somehow magical and whole. And so, quite surprisingly, the refracted looping projection of endlessly repeating and abstracted images creates mesmeric, though fleeting, beauty out of ephemeral records of waste and desolation.

The Beacon represents a sentinel at the entrance to the cube (gallery) and offers an alternative way of entering this space. In appearance it is like a projection booth, pieced together from found material. It is a private site, unlike the communal circumnavigation of The Dome, and it works on the principle of exclusion—a projection machine for one. Inside The Beacon a small 4 to 5 second loop of grainy 16mm footage of industrial wastelands can be viewed by hand cranking the machine’s projection forwards or backwards.

As we enter, a heat seeking surveillance detector toggles on the machine’s power, illuminating its projection. And then, just as we settle into viewing the loop of film, our stillness, our physical inaction, suddenly turns the projection off and disrupts the process of reading.

With its hazy, indistinct and intermittent projection, The Beacon returns us to the age of the kinetiscope, as if it were a time machine. But its primitive mechanism simultaneously renders us outside of, and lost to, the process of projection itself. The result is that this sentinel, this portal to the past, remains essentially mysterious. Is this a time machine from the future where the past (today) is so wasted that we would not want to travel back to our time, or is the future so opaque and uncharted that we hesitate to go there? In the end it is only our action (activity) that keeps the promise (of projection and vision) alive.

These kinetic machines remain landmarks on a map—locations meant to help us find our way, or to discover where we are. Yet they equally dislocate, separating us from the images they project. Despite circumnavigating The Dome with its visions of a post-industrial future, and stepping inside The Beacon to journey into an industrial past, we are no closer to reasoning the bits and fragments that are seen and heard, remembered and projected, into a history beyond our own; we are left stranded amongst these magnificent machines.

In Blow Out, Jack Terry believes the film that he has so dexterously pieced together provides an answer, a revelation about the accident that took place. But the film disappears. It is erased by mysterious conspirators leaving behind only the static of the screen. The message in De Palma’s film is that the more we try to employ images and sounds as evidence, solutions and answers, the more that resolution will escape us. What we are left with is the dissolution of those images and sounds; hazy memories of something that has now passed us by. It is in this dissolution of images and sounds of a world of waste that Paul Rodgers’ Projection Machines so precisely places us.

Projection Machines, Paul Rodgers, producer Keely Macarow, Mass Gallery, Melbourne, April 4-21

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 22

© Anna Dzenis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001