Installation curated in response to the symposium Writing Histories of the Moving Image at Central Saint Martins on the 26th of March, 2015.

Five Projectors in a Room (To Say Nothing of Moving Image Histories)

by Carly Whitefield, Sandra Wroe and Alexandra Anikina

Five Projectors in a Room presents a series of artistic approaches to historical reconstruction. Each grounded in archival research, the film and video works in this installation grapple with the traces of lost, destroyed or contaminated records. Employing techniques of collage, re-enactment, fictionalisation and storyboarding, these artists offer new points of access to historical documents. Viewed collectively, this selection of works speaks to the vulnerability of film as document, and brings to the fore the formal and methodological strategies through which artists simultaneously address and inscribe gaps in the archive.

Serving as prelude to this investigation, John Latham’s Erth (1971) invokes the perspective of the “whole event”—the history of the universe—to bring into relief the inevitable impossibility of containing or representing history through conventional systems of knowledge. The film presents itself as a countdown through time and space, with an accelerating succession of glimpses of Earth eventually giving way to views of its surface. The faded, illegible pages of an entire volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica rush past the viewer at the surface, offering further glimpses, and many more gaps, in the history on view.

Hito Steyerl’s Journal No. 1 – An Artist’s Impression (2007) enlists a sketch artist to storyboard citizens’ memories of Filmjournal No. 1 (1947), the first Bosnian newsreel ever produced, several years after the film’s disappearance amidst tumult of the 1992 Bosnian war. As alternating accounts of the film’s content and its journey from archive to bunker to barn unfold, fragments of past and present cultural politics emerge. In addition to her retroactive use of the cinematic technique of storyboarding, Steyerl culls scenes from feature films made in the same decade at the same film studio as the newsreel to evoke both the cinematic aesthetic and social climate of its time.

This employment of the image stand-in is similarly mobilised in the Jane and Louise Wilson’s The Toxic
(2012). After viewing extracts salvaged from the radiation-laden footage shot by filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko immediately following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and interviewing former nuclear power plant workers, physicists and Shevchenko’s film crew, the Wilsons developed a script and cast local actors in Kiev to tell the story of how Shevchenko’s camera became a lethal weapon. Supplementing scenes from the camera’s burial site in Kiev with footage shot at a now-abandoned bomb testing site on the island of Orford Ness, Suffolk, the film extends its implications across the continent.

Polish avant-garde filmmakers Stefan and Franciszka Themerson’s joint practice produced some of the most significant experimental works in pre-war Europe. Of the five films made in this period, only one survived the German occupation. Adopting its script from Futurist writer Anatol Stern’s 1929 poem of the same title, the photomontage film Europa (1931–32) foretold the conflict to which it was subject. Pairing surviving stills from the original film with a reading of Stern’s poem, Europa Collage was conceived as a tape-slide reconstruction of the work by the staff of the London Film-maker’s Co-operative in the 1980s in concert with the Themersons.

Two more of the missing works were recreated two decades later by American artist Bruce Checefsky, who,
through near-obsessive research, has dedicated his practice to remaking the lost and destroyed avant-garde films of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Based on the surviving notes, drawings, letters and reviews of the
Themersons’ first film Apteka (1930), Checefsky produced Pharmacy (2001), a re-enactment of the movement of light sources over objects laid atop a “trick table,” shot from beneath using a 1930s single-frame camera. In reperforming the Themersons’ innovative “moving photogram” experiment, Checefsky not only gestures toward to the significance of preservation and access, but imbues the lost film with new layers of contemporary significance.

1. Erth (John Latham, UK, 1971, 25 min.)
2. Journal No. 1 – An Artist’s Impression (Hito Steyerl, Austria/Germany, 2007, 21 min.)
3. The Toxic Camera (Jane and Louise Wilson, UK, 2012, 21 min.)
4. Europa Collage (The distribution staff of the London Film-makers’ Co-operative with Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, UK, 1980s, 9 min.)
5. Pharmacy (Bruce Checefsky, USA, 2001, 5 min. silent)

Our sincere gratitude to Claire M. Holdsworth and Colin Perry, Lucy Reynolds, LUX, Jane and Louise Wilson, Forma, sixpackfilm, Hito Steyerl and Judi Willcox for making this installation possible.