Entering ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ one is confronted by the surreptitious glare of two projection cameras. Like machinic eyes set within steel blue rotocaster cages, their gaze slowly rotates in diametrically opposed figures of eight, illuminating and animating the darkened chamber. This oddly anthropomorphic sculpture, ‘Casters’, sets the tone for Lucy Raven’s first solo show in the UK, a diverse collection of works which identify and re-animate marginal spaces of cinematic imagery.
The optical menagerie is arranged as individual site-specific installations within a series of blackened rooms. These encircle a central cinema chamber and are enhanced by a stark environment that amplifies abstracted elements of sound and vision.
In ‘RP31’ a bare room contains a lone, rattling projection camera which displays a flickering montage of test card patterns. Used by projectionists to calibrate and adjust cameras prior to screenings, presented here on looped 35mm film, they present an archive of visual standardisation – yet one teetering on the edge of obsolescence. The display is hypnotic, rivalling that of ‘Curtains’, a video which lies at the heart of the show. Donning anaglyph 3D glasses, viewers face a fuzz and jumble of wires and office workers, lit by the blue and red hues of two slowly merging images. In their brief moment of intersection, a dramatic visual pop is experienced, as a third dimension appears. This lucidly executed work echoes the stereoscopic vision alluded to by ‘Casters’, yet overlays this with the haze and tedium of labour which goes into the construction of 3D film, amid increasing international demand.
The outsourcing of movies for conversion into 3D format in 21st Century Hollywood relies upon a global assembly line running from Los Angeles through Bombay, Beijing, London, Vancouver and Toronto. The painstaking process through which images are remapped and binocular vision simulated, frame-by-frame, is expanded upon in ‘The Deccan Trap’. Here, Raven pairs glimpses into the post-production studios of Chennai, India, with a composite montage of machinery and urban geometry. The carving of depth into pixels is drawn into a visual dialogue with the bas-relief sculptures and ancient rock-cut monasteries of the country’s Deccan region.
In working with what could be called cinematic blueprints, Raven’s show provides an interesting pairing with the late Zaha Hadid’s early stage renderings of architectural concepts, in calligraphic drawings and paintings of architectural structures and plans on display in the Serpentine’s neighbouring Sackler Gallery. Curator Rebecca Lewin writes that Raven’s show is above all an exploration of the time. The temporal space most critically explored here is that between the still and moving image – the space of works she terms ‘animated photographs.’ As in ‘The Deccan Trap’ and ‘Shape Notes’, these are often composed of thousands of photographs documented on location, selected and re-sequenced at varied frame speeds. The method parallels earlier techniques of hand-drawn animations (and is echoed in the flip-book style exhibition catalogue).
Here, too, is an implicit sense of the artist’s own labour in the construction of works, in the selection of images and amplification of aesthetic and political themes therein. Indeed, Raven has cited ‘exhaustion’ as central to many of the works. This is powerfully conveyed through the animated photographic work ‘China Town’, where images (selected from over 7000 documented on-site) trace the movement of raw copper from an open-pit mine in Nevada to the ingot smelters of China, where they are converted to electronic circuitry. The frame speed varies but remains under the 24/second pre-requisite of simulating real-time movement. Their stilted and somewhat painstaking passage at points makes an impact through sheer banality. It elucidates the movement of materials which underlie the ubiquitous circulatory system through which digital information and images (or light) are conducted and disseminated.
The audio accompaniment to the work takes a format termed ‘wild sync’ – whereby ambient sounds recorded on location correspond to the images but are not synchronised in the smooth illusory mode we are used to. The sonic element takes centre stage in Raven’s most recent animation, ‘Shape Notes’. It is based on audio and visual documentation of a 2016 performance of experimental composer Earle Brown’s ‘Chef D’Orchestre’, which explores the intersection of musical composition and kinetic sculpture. Red flashes of an Alexander Calder sculpture (used here as a gong) oscillate with darting percussionists, accompanied by the continuous soundtrack which Raven uses to steer and punctuate her own visual ‘composition’.
The complex weave of sound and vision which makes up the show is complemented by an abundance of references to Hollywood history. From the black velvet room dividers – which recall those used as a proto-blue screen by early special effects artists – to the brief appearance of Jurassic Park’s soundtrack at the end of ‘The Deccan Trap’. In one room, a puzzling variety of found objects include photographs by Walker Evans, scribblings by Aby Warburg and a pendant of items collected by animator Phil Tippet. These refract Zeno’s arrow (a paradox of movement in which no motion occurs at every moment) in a mode echoed throughout the filmic elements of the show. Like Tippet, who notoriously declared his professional extinction on the set of Jurassic Park, amid Spielberg’s decision to switch to CGI but was retained and celebrated through the film nonetheless, Raven explores technologies which lie at the edge of obsolescence. These retain, however, a potency of aesthetic interest and socio-historic commentary.