Challenging preconceptions about the purpose of cinemas and the role of the audience is a really big thing for Small Cinema Liverpool. In part the cinema’s very existence, as an inexpensive, independent alternative to corporate picture-houses, is a call for change beyond the project itself. Not that this intrinsic innovation has been taken for granted by Deep Hedonia, the artist/producer duo behind ‘BROADCAST’ − a new series of events at the venue that presents audiovisual offerings from around the North West. It’s hoped that their programme will help motivate and accommodate creativity and collaboration among local practitioners, and so far it seems to be working.
Some of the video work on show negotiated the role of the viewer and listener, independent of curatorial intervention and staging: Jon Barraclough and Madeline Hall’s ‘Ghost Duty’, for example, implied the culpability/vulnerability of the audience by framing the video as a first-person shooter, exploring the sofa (or cinema seat)-bound fetishisation of warfare as channeled through popular gaming franchises such as Call of Duty. Other works seemed to appeal to the audience directly: in Sarah Hill’s ‘Dream Machine’, the inner-workings of a grand abstract machine drone on, while a voice on the accompanying soundtrack whispers, insidiously, “who are you working for?” What are we, as onlookers, producing (if anything), and why?
Despite the emphasis on video-work, ’BROADCAST’ featured two exclusive live music performances. Rosen presented a kind of contemporary inversion of Debussy’s ‘La cathédrale engloutie’, in a performance that seemed to envelop and submerge audience, artist and cinema room. With pepperings of drum and bass breaks, deep house textures and field recordings swimming in and out of focus, the work − and Rosen’s unassuming presence on stage − encouraged quick scans around the cinema space at the walls, audience, and back at the artist to see how everything was holding up under pressure.
JC (presiding, monk-like, over a small analogue audio workstation) produced sonic impressions of surface-textures, tensions and a spatial surround transcending the cinema, with interim silences suggesting a code or process of creative evaluation. While there was no video imagery, produced in real-time or otherwise, to accompany Rosen or JC, theirs were perhaps the most obvious and successful ‘misuses’ of the cinema space. The music was relied upon to intimate the visual in its absence; although this did conflict with Deep Hedonia’s stated intention of shifting the focus back to the video components of audiovisual collaborations.
There was some talk, from audience members, of closing one’s eyes throughout as being the most authentic way to experience the musicians’ performances. Deep Hedonia themselves, in a recent interview, also talk about wanting to ‘sit down and appreciate’ what the North West has to offer, suggesting a kind of attitude toward cinema experiences as validatory and expansive and yet, at the same time, more about passive consumption than other modes of presentation. Approached in this way, perhaps a work can be more intense and hypnotic; on the other hand, it risks being soporific. To give the organisers and artists credit, they made it as difficult as reasonably possible to imitate the subjects of hi-fi-themed stock images, sprawled on DFS sofas, grinning and presenting their lashes. With Broadcast’s programme of diverse and conceptually subtle material inviting us to listen, look and think our way in the dark, hopefully more audiences will open both their eyes and ears to audiovisual collaboration and start to appreciate the whole.
Jake Thorne is a writer based in Liverpool.
Liverpool Small Cinema, Victoria Street, Liverpool