Performance at ATA Gallery, San Francisco, May, 1997
In a show that revives multiple obsolete technologies, Public Works, the ‘media collective’ formerly known as the Tape-beatles, is unleashing Matter, a three-projector found-image barrage based on an abandoned silent-movie format from the 1920s. The decidedly analog, noncommercial event, showing in San Francisco this week, marks the first in a series of West Coast performances.
Public Works was inspired by the story of Abel Gance, the inventor of the PolyVision technique which anticipated the wide-screen formats of the ’50s by placing three synchronized images side-by-side, but was never adopted by the film industry. ‘He was working against the odds with a lot of commercial obstacles,’ says Works member Lloyd Dunn. ‘We’ve remained relatively obscure by self-sabotaging any PR move we’ve ever made.’
Matter was presented on Saturday along with the Tape-Beatles’ 1994 film, The Grand Delusion. In both pieces, the central of the three image is a continuous reel, while the flanking ones consist of repeating loops, which are constantly changed throughout the show to fit the rhythms of the soundtrack. All the images are cobbled together from found 16mm footage, with Matter’s coming largely from post-’50s educational films, and Delusion’s from American military training and propaganda productions.
The result is an incredibly rhythmic and kinetic whole that suggests split-screen video or digital multimedia without the grainy electronic coldness of either, and with image and sound building on each other. The band stands out from other politically motivated multimedia collagists like EBN, says Peter Conheim, a programmer for Free Radio Berkeley and member of Wet Gate, another musique concrète band. The difference is in ‘the way Public Works meld the visual with the audio so well that the two are completely inseparable.’ And though many artists have addressed the subjects that Matter and Delusion deal with — the commodification of culture and militarization of society — Public Works does it with a rare depth, adds Conheim.
The Tape-Beatles were formed in Iowa City in 1984 by students at the University of Iowa as a band that used ‘the tape recorder as our instrument.’ The multimedia shows were the group’s solution to the problem of ‘performing’ recorded music in public. The film-loop style fit their cut-and-tape métier, and the semi-obsolescent format fit their budget. ‘We can’t afford video projection. We can afford old 16mm projectors; we can afford 16mm film people have thrown away.’
from Wired News
by Mike Tanner