Hammer Projects: Lucy Raven
Review by Siofra McSherry
Current Hammer artist in residence Lucy Raven has installed two pieces in the museum that reflect her interest in film projectionists’ calibration charts and the hidden structures of standardisation in cinema. As the artist’s interest in the test patterns grew, it became apparent to her that little or no attempt has been made to professionally archive these materials, and her work is in part an attempt to establish such an archive.
This exhibition constitutes two new pieces: 29Hz, a sound installation that floats de-contextualised, randomly sequenced test audio through the gallery vestibule, and RP31, a 4:48 minute animation composed of 31 test patterns. The images flick past rapidly at varying speeds and combinations. The artist has standardised the film prints to 35mm which, until the rise of digital projection, was the preferred motion picture format of commercial cinemas worldwide.
Projectionists use test patterns and calibration charts to refine focus, aperture, field steadiness and framing before a movie screening. Produced by the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) in Hollywood, they constitute patterns, lines, colours, and sometimes numbers, with a bold functionally-led design. The cross-hatching, grids and geometric patterns represent a pure manifestation of line; the colour tables present the richest and densest potential of Technicolor.
As they are in service to nothing but technical demands, the test patterns achieve a functional minimalism that translates within the work to an unexpectedly sophisticated aesthetic. Entering the darkened installation room, the viewer meets a large film projector and several seats arranged before the screen. The film strip itself emerges from the projector and runs through a neighbouring apparatus, with the effect that several feet of the moving film is exposed, glistening in the reflected light of the projected animation.
The piece has something of the atmosphere of a darkened cinema, but the naked equipment and sparse whirr of the film leave it perhaps more intimate, but less enigmatic: the cinema has been turned inside-out, and its mechanical structures placed at the centre of the box of dreams. Display changes the meaning of the charts, which removed from a testing context no longer appear as the projectionists experienced them, but as their own hypnotic, mysterious event. In the process of collating, archiving, arranging and projecting these images and sounds, Raven provides the viewer with an experience of cinema that no one, projectionist nor audience member, has ever had.