Megan Broadmeadow: Astro Raggi

Megan Broadmeadow: Astro Raggi

Astro Raggi is in the PAC Galleries until January 7th 2017.

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This exhibition begins with the story of Pasquale Quadri. Or rather a story about him. Megan Broadmeadow first heard of the Italian optician, who was also a cinema projectionist, and member of a band, from a lighting designer friend. Already pieces of the narrative were drifting into myth — he was a chemist, not optician — but it is well documented that his frustration with the poor quality of stage and nightclub lighting in the early-1970s led him to invent the Astro Raggi, the first disco light with motorised optics and lenses that cast beams of moving light around the room. It is said that his mother used to help him build prototypes and mirror balls on the kitchen table, and gradually this homemade DIY endeavour evolved into Clay Paky, one of the world’s leading lighting companies. The exhibition does not tell the story of Pasquale Quadri’s life, but rather imagines his relationship to the machines he invented.

The Astro Raggi begins and ends the exhibition. Scenius (no.1 on the floorplan) is a domed sculptural installation that positions visitors inside the Astro Raggi, giving a disco light perspective of a dance floor. Could this be what Quadri saw in his mind’s eye when he created the Astro Raggi? Each ‘lens’ is a porthole covered in scrim onto which a video of a breakdancer is projection mapped, beams ghosting through the screens onto the floor to create a multiplicity of colours, shapes, and body parts. A classic Italo-disco song plays and the dancer’s repetitive moves have a machinic quality and at times he appears to be wearing a Cyclops mask which flares when he looks directly at the camera. Scenius captures the sensation of being on the dance floor in a dark club, so immersed in the atmosphere it is as if individual identity starts to merge with, or take on the characteristics of, the immediate environment.  

Upstairs in Gallery 1, Cybernetic Love (no.8) develops the idea of desire creating an identity that is a fusion of the body, space, and machines. The video’s point of departure is the anecdote of Quadri’s mother assembling components on the kitchen table. A dancer performs a series of folding and kneading actions from the domestic realm that gradually morph into a robotic and industrialised hallucination. Her movements begin to echo those of the projector which throws the image around the room, as if video, dancer and projector are joined in ecstatic unison. The camera viewpoint becomes more and more immersive until, again, she is suddenly wearing a Cyclops mask emitting a beam of light.

Broadmeadow’s research for this project included a residency in Venice studying carnival costumes. The Cyclops mask makes reference to the 18th century Servetta Muta (meaning mute servant woman), a strapless mask with large eyes but no mouth — its wearer held it in place by biting on a button or bit — making pointed reference to the relations between the liberating anonymity and temporary identities conferred by costumes and carnival, but also the silent role of women’s labour in the domestic sphere and how it supports, even performs, the work of acclaimed men.

Be There Or Be Square (no.3) is a large sculpture made from lengths of metal truss used in lighting rigs. The mechanical sound of an attached robotic arm is offset by the percussive clank of suspended metal plates as they are dragged slowly across the floor. This mechanic assemblage takes on bodily qualities, its sound like rasping breath while the angles and shadows imply movement, perhaps shapes on the dancefloor. The metal plates are like industrial versions of the African masks so fetishised by Picasso and the surrealists, their anthropomorphic qualities implying either a tangle of bodies or a series of freeze frames recording a body in motion.

The possibility of bodies becoming machines and objects implying bodies is confirmed by the realisation that the plates are, in fact, fascias to another classic Clay Paky disco light, the Golden Scan, but also the same shape as the dancer’s masks in Scenius and Cybernetic Love. This oscillation between bodies and machines is perhaps most pronounced in the sound piece SuperCallibrateOrganicMotionLightExposures (no. 5) that fills the space with the sound of moving-head projectors. There is something not quite right about the whirrs and buzzes — instead of clean robotic cuts, certain sounds end with a vocal quality betraying their source: they are a lighting technician’s impressions of his machines, rendered with the accuracy and affection of an ornithologist mimicking birdsong.

In the same gallery is Expo (no.6), a reconstruction of Clay Paky’s futuristic lighting booth based on an archive photograph of a 1970s trade fair. The final work in this gallery is When The Lights Go Down (no.7). This video, and Super Scan Zoom (no.2) downstairs in the cafe gallery, were both shot in the Clay Paky factory near Bergamo. These more documentary elements of the exhibition are supplemented by footage of Quadri’s band Scalo Farini, with him visible playing the Hammond organ.

The final gallery is only visible through a peephole. Having started the exhibition from the perspective of being inside the light looking out, Are You Dancing (no.4) imagines the mind of its inventor. The machine itself is privileged: an original Astro Raggi light that would normally be mounted high up on the ceiling is up close on a plinth. Its’ optics and lenses are so precise that in moments of clarity the lightbulb and filament are visible on the wall, bringing to mind the modernist machinery of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s 1930 electrical kinetic sculpture Light Prop for an Electric Stage (light-space modulator). But the smoke machine also hazes the room, transforming light from an immaterial projected image into an opaque sculptural form that occupies space much in the way of Anthony McCall’s minimal 1973 installation Line Describing A Cone, but for the disco generation. The peephole gives us a partial view of these shafts of angled light spinning around the room, evoking the futuristic aesthetics of 1970s sci-fi and alluding to the fact that while we can speculate based on the objects he left behind, we will never really know what this Italian chemist/ cinema projectionist/ musician intended when he imagined a nightclub of the future.

Ben Borthwick – Artistic Director

FILM REVIEW: Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals is screening at the Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from 9th – 15th December. Tickets available here.

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Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals opens with an actual parade of naked obesities. These startling images feel like a warning shot to those expecting more of the lithe and impeccably tailored sombreness of Ford’s debut, A Single Man. The shot pulls back to show it is in fact all part of an art exhibition by Susan (Amy Adams) for the art-crowd of Los Angeles to sip wine and snigger at. Yet for all the wealth and plaudits her work brings, Susan is bored and disillusioned with where life has taken her.

Finding herself at home alone one weekend while her aloof and two-timing husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is away, Susan receives a mysterious package. While opening it up, she gets a papercut – it actually draws blood – in a telling (if not particularly subtle) indication of what lurks within it. The transcript inside, “Nocturnal Animals”, is by Susan’s former husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and is dedicated to her. From here the film cleaves in two as Edward’s novel comes to life and tells us the story of Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal again) and his family as they travel through the Texas plains at night. Edward’s story is markedly different from the superciliousness of Susan’s world and she soon becomes enraptured by it. Tony’s story is more like a noir-thriller, which quickly becomes fraught following a violent confrontation involving a gang of thugs, led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. When the law has to intervene, Tony becomes paired with Detective Andes (Michael Shannon) as they plough together into the dark heart of the rural south.

In spite of one story being notionally “fiction” and the other “reality”, both narratives are given equal weight and, the more each story reveals, the more they become twisted and entwined with each other. This all heads to a climax which, in spite of the brutality that has come before, deals instead more with grief and loss in a powerful but restrained way.

Nocturnal Animals, as a whole, is gripping in places and yet seems more about bold statements and primary colours than leaving low-key impressions. This gives it the feeling sometimes of being superficial, although I do wonder whether this is intended by Ford and, like the crude and gaudy images at the beginning, there is really more going on here that repeated viewings would disclose.

The performances carry the film, which are expectedly strong given the talent here. All the main performances hit the right notes (including a spot-on cameo by Laura Linney as Susan’s mum) but the film belongs to Shannon as the bullish but brittle backwater lawman. Showing himself once again to be one of the best actors around right now, the film is always gripping and queasily tense when Shannon is on screen.

Ieuan Jones

FILM REVIEW: The Blue Room

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On the surface Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric), lives in a large modern home, has a perfect wife, wonderful family and a successful job. Yet, this all changes when he has an ‘accidental’ encounter with Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau) who went to the same school as him.

Esther berates him for kissing all the girls except her, and making up for this lapse they swiftly indulge in a short-lived but passionate affair. The film opens with their bodies entwined in the confines of a blue-walled hotel room where, like a vampire, she bites him on his lip drawing blood that drips onto the crumpled bed sheets.

Julien is arrested and interrogated about a murder. We do not know who is the victim, but through flashbacks we see how the affair started and how his life unravels through this period. We slowly get pieces of the puzzle that show him getting away on holiday with his daughter and his wife Delphine (Léa Drucker), though even at the seaside the affair still haunts him and they return under a cloud.

Making things worse Esther starts sending him cryptic postcards that he destroys. Was he conspiring in a murder plot with Esther? Or is he the victim of circumstances engineered by Esther? The details are forensically laid out and Julien makes no attempt to defend himself or explain events. His dull life was spiced up by the affair and he accepts that he is guilty. Ironically, his fate and Esther’s is decided in a blue-walled courtroom. They are literally and psychologically trapped in blue rooms, which exist in their memory and in the present.

The pace of the film is slow and methodical, which is faithful to Belgian author Georges Simenon’s psychological thriller ‘Le Chambre Bleu’ written in 1964. Its structure breaks down  to reveal how little Julien knows about his existence and his control over events that seem to have been orchestrated by Esther from the beginning.

Amalric’s direction leaves us with many questions, which underlines the ambiguity and difficulties of relating to the demands of bourgeois existence.

Nigel Watson

FILM REVIEW: I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake has it’s final screenings at Plymouth Arts Centre on Tuesday December 6th and Thursday December 8th at 8:30pm

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Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is an unmagical mystery tour through the wilfully-labyrinthine world of benefits.
It’s an unsettling game of snakes and ladders where, even if you actually did fall off a ladder or were bitten by a snake, the DWP “decision-maker” would likely deem you fit for work anyway and have you at a CV writing workshop quicker than you can say Employment and Support Allowance.

The film’s central performances are stunning, lives of quiet desperation writ large. Comedian Dave Johns is the eponymous Dan – played as an intriguing mix of naïve and world-weary – a carpenter whose heart attack has rendered him temporarily unable to work. He is tossed, like a pinball, into the vagaries of a box-ticking system which can seemingly override a consultant’s advice that he is not yet recovered enough to get a job. A chance meeting in a benefits office leads him to meet a young mother Katie (Hayley Squires) with whom he forms a touching, avuncular relationship as they both attempt to navigate the system.

A special mention is merited too (especially given my interest in child acting http://www.jemimalaing.tumblr.com) for the touching performances of youngest members of the cast, Dylan McKiernan and Briana Shann, as Katie’s children, utterly blameless flotsam in the eddies of the welfare state. Dan and Katie’s stories show how easy it is to stray unwittingly from the path, courtesy of a wrong bus or a harsh word to a benefits advisor, with a sanction the penalty and the resulting challenge of surviving with no money.

This modern-day Catch 22 leads to the film’s central and most affecting scene in a food bank – exquisitely rendered by Hayley Squires’ Katie – where I finally gave in to the angry tears which were already brimming. It’s unflinching polemic, doubtless, but it is an important film which begs the question how a prosperous country like ours can tolerate queues at foodbanks. It’s hard to think of anyone better able than Loach – at his Palme d’Or winning-best – to ask it.

Jemima Laing

GALLERY: Preview night of Megan Broadmeadow’s exhibition Astro Raggi

A selection of images from the preview evening of artist Megan Broadmeadow’s exhibition Astro Raggi.

Astro Raggi is available to view in the Plymouth Arts Centre galleries until January 7th. The exhibition is free and open to all.

This exhibition takes us inside the mind and machines of Pasquale Quadri, the Italian inventor who revolutionised the world of disco lighting from his mother’s kitchen table. Broadmeadow’s installation of sculptural and video works is inspired by disco lights such as the Astro Raggi, AstroDisco, Golden Scan and Sharpy, which were the first to synchronise to rhythms with their extravagant multicoloured beams.

Photos courtesy of Bethany Ditchburn

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FILM REVIEW: American Honey

A review of American Honey from Eve Jones

American Honey is screening in the Plymouth Arts Centre Cinema until Thursday 24th November

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American Honey is an indie coming-of-age narrative without the softness of classic Hollywood. Star (Sasha Lane) is a rough-around-the-edges 18-year old who abandons her burdensome life for days spent road-tripping with a bandit of American youth, earning money by selling magazines door to door. The honest portrayal of millennial development and disparity of wealth in America is hard-hitting, moving and bizarre: a film you will not quickly stop talking about, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

The 163 minute feature length is complimented not by a dynamic, fast-paced plot, but one of repetition. This works to provide insight into an America often bypassed by cinema as the lawless crew drive, arrive, sell and move out of neighbourhoods that cross-section modern America’s class and state divides, it fails to provide enough character development to warrant true exploration of these social regions and retain complete attention.

Almost everyone in the movie fulfils their stereotype; from the token gay girl and white, rich Texans to the unempathetic upper class and Shia Labeouf’s portrayal of angry Shia Labeouf. Director, Andrea Arnold, provides viewers with a van-full of troubled misfits yet there is disappointingly more exposure of their genitalia than their complex reasons for turning away from nuclear American life.

However, one character who does impress is raucous teenage protagonist, Star. This was a debut role for Lane who was initially approached by Arnold on Panama City Beach during Spring Break. This, and the largely improvised dialogue of the film, gives Lane an edge – she is, like the character she portrays, raw and unpretentious. Her character is neither heroine nor victim but a real representation of what it is like to be a millennial misfit. She holds moral values, but can quickly discard them – calling out Labeouf’s character, Jake, for lying to customers yet is remorseless when stealing a car by armed robbery. She is simultaneously kind and cowardly – running from the children she loves to pursue her hedonistic lifestyle, knowing they will be left with their uncaring mother. Lane admirably makes this character’s division of traits plausible and reminds us of real people’s contradictions amidst the wash of one-dimensional ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ that often occupy our screens.

Riley Keough’s character, Krystal, also has a lot to offer as a strong female and the boss of the mag crew. Keough holds her own with intensity and authority that ties you to each word she utters. This is heightened by her attire, often only a bikini – a reflection of the character’s untouchability; she is exposed but never vulnerable.

Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is as indie as predictably possible. For the most-part filmed on handheld 35mm film cameras and in natural light where available, no one could deny the beauty of American Honey’s aesthetic, even down to the entirely instagrammable square format. The natural tones and undulating focus sweep you along far more than the plot as you slide from scene to scene – the dream-like frames also allow more surreal scenes such as a grizzly bear coming face to face with Star, to fit seamlessly with the more ordinary shots of the suburban Midwest.

The score is similarly split. The contemporary R&B and rap booming from the white van in every other scene becomes relentless and seems strangely outdated – a cliche of teen music in what is otherwise a progressive film. Yet, it also doesn’t seem out of place – reflecting more accurately the ruthless courtship of the modern American Dream: drugs, dollar and debauchery. Wanting everything, having nothing, trying anything.

Arnold, however, holds off all music in the start-to-finish sex scenes between Labeouf and Lane, and with great effect. They’re brimming with lust and this is unromantically emphasised – somewhat uncomfortably for the audience’s sake – by the prolonged silence from which emerges their own obtrusive sounds. More disturbingly, this absence is continued as Star prostitutes herself to only the white noise of gas flare crepitation, a parallel that implores audiences to compare the interactions.

Amongst the indulgent editing, Arnold tantalises the audience with glimpses of mastery: a toddler stabbing a packeted chicken from the dumpster; Star stumbling into a marsh of abattoir blood that the truck she just exited supplies; a neglected child singing Dead Kennedys’ ‘I Kill Children’. The fleeting nature of these stories is both disappointing and what makes them great – biopics of the human condition wonderfully sealed for an audience eager for a complexity and irony that much of the film lacks.

Overall, what Arnold is attempting is brilliant: she calls out contemporary ignorance to poverty and the lack of opportunities for young people without using Hollywood plot lines. The way Arnold attempts this is also brave, giving her actors freedom to improvise and forcing them to truly understand what they’re portraying by replicating it themselves. Where her vision is let down is in the light-touch editing that leads many scenes to stretch beyond the limit of audience focus. American Honey is undeniably beautiful, but for many it will also be, fatally, exhausting.

 

Eve jones

FILM REVIEW: My Scientology Movie

A review of Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie

by Nigel Watson

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In the opening voice-over, Louis Theroux says he’s always wanted to make a film that takes a positive view of the Church of Scientology. We all know he’ll dish the dirt, especially since they reject all his attempts at getting access to them.

We get an introduction to Scientology through their own promotional videos that feature glitzy Hollywood Scientology events and a description of their belief that we have immortal souls (Thetans) that we can only discover through numerous levels of initiation. But, Louis isn’t interested in the belief-systems of this cult founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Instead, his focus is on David Miscavige, the head of the Church who took over its leadership in 1986 and has only made a few media appearances since then.

To explore the allegations of bullying, intimation and criminality conducted under his rule, Louis interviews ex-members of the cult who explain why they joined and what it was like to live as a Scientologist.

Mark Rathbun the top Scientology enforcer tells Louis how he escaped the cult and is doing everything in his power to unmask its veil of secrecy. Going beyond the ‘talking heads’ approach, Mark and Louis audition Hollywood actors to speak lines from a TV interview Miscavige had with Ted Koppel in 1992 , and for good measure they audition actors to do the same with Scientology’s most famous supporter, Tom Cruise. These highlight the strange power of their pronouncements that are riddled with scientology terminology.

The selected actors then go on to play out scenes written and supervised by Mark, showing how Miscavige humiliated and bullied cult members. Andrew Perez playing the part of Miscavige compellingly attacks the role with vigour.

Not surprisingly, these activities soon come to the attention of the church and they send people to film them outside the studios. When Louis approaches them they don’t want to answer his questions, and just say they are making a documentary. Later, Louis and Mark are travelling in their car when a Scientology vehicle follows them, emphasising that the cult is on to them.

Beside that storyline, Louis turns up the heat by going outside the organisation’s Golden Base to view their razor-wire fencing, security lights and motion sensors that keep the public out and its members in. It is not long before the Scientologists tell him this is a private road and he should go, and they even call out the police to move him on. It turns out, one of them is Catherine Fraser a high-ranking member of the group who is the ex-wife of Scientology’s former head of PR who has now left the cult. When Louise returns he finds the road has been closed outside the base and ends up in a camera-to-camera confrontation with Catherine.

At the moment Mark is feeling smug and friendly with Louis, he is verbally attacked by Scientologists outside the studio. Upset by this, he tells Louis this is what he has to put up with day-in-day-out as an ex-member of the cult. Like taking a pin out of a grenade Louis observes that this is the type of behaviour Mark condoned and instigated in his many years as a leading Scientologist. Mark can only fume at this and cross Louis firmly off his Christmas card list.

My Scientology Movie plays with the processes of media and manipulation, what is truth and fiction? What can we believe? Even our guides like Mark have feet of clay. Perhaps its those damned Thetans inside us that stop us from seeing unalloyed reality? Whatever the answer I’m sure they’d enjoy this quirky peep through our limited windows of perceptions.

Nigel Watson