BY Ross Sinclair in Reviews | 05 MAY 00
Featured in
Issue 52

Peter McCaughey

BY Ross Sinclair in Reviews | 05 MAY 00

The cinema where Peter McCaughey exhibited Coming Soon/Arc (2000) is in the middle of the bars and bistros of the new 'Euro-Glasgow'. It used to house the largest screen in Scotland, (one of the few especially designed for 70mm surround sound), but will soon be demolished, another victim of competition from the multiplex media-shopping experience. At the time of McCaughey's show, the cinema had only been closed for six weeks - the seats were recently ripped out and the cinematic fixtures and fittings could still be found in skips on the street outside.

McCaughey's project was split into two sections, shown a week apart. The first, Coming Soon, re-contextualised the everyday minutiae of cinema vernacular with illuminated poster panels which the artist had hauled out of the skips and re-installed on the outside of the building. Plastic letters used to advertise films hung forlornly on a shabby brick wall, juxtaposed with pictures from inside the projection room. These illustrated the somewhat basic, chaotic conditions which produce Hollywood's magic - hand written lists, instructions, reminders etc. Coming Soon effectively functioned as a trailer to the main presentation.

Arc, one week later, marked the building's transition from cinema into nothingness. Amongst other things, its title refers to the name of the lamp which lights the projector. The arc was originally made by sending a current between two carbon rods, which produced the brilliant light needed to project the moving image. But McCaughey's project looked further back than the building's cinematic history - 100 years ago it housed 'Hengler's Circus'. Deep in the heart of the city, a full complement of wild animals from every corner of the globe would be led up from their basement lairs into the glare of the public gaze. They were also taken into the Mackintosh building of the Glasgow School of Art, which sits behind the ABC site, where the bemused students were required to draw the exotic creatures.

McCaughey negotiated access to this building in the grey period between the end of the cinema's lease and the sale and 'regeneration' of the building. He persuaded the cinema to sell him the 70mm projector and leave the quadraphonic sound system in place. The audience for Arc entered through a side fire-exit, which necessitated a disorienting, subterranean crawl through the 'backstage' of labyrinthine passages. McCaughey made a short looped film on 70mm, projected it into this space and miked up the sound of the projector into the auditorium - which, with the seats ripped out and the audience displaced, was cavernous, echoing and soulless. Walking around this strange non-space conjured up feelings of watching a movie during a wartime emergency - the audience were not present to see a film but to be with other people, even if words were never exchanged. The novelty of being able to walk around as the film was screened was a simple but significant re-addressing of the usual cinematic paradigm.

McCaughey's film presented a flying sweep around the building itself, shot from high above the city in a lyrical arc which ended the loop above the cinema where it began. It takes a very keen eye to see that the image is, in fact, still: McCaughey's film is the result of some supple rostrum camera work. As the camera spins away from street level, soaring into the city sky, it has both the feel of a classic movie opening and a classic end shot. The noise of the whirring, clicking projector piped into the auditorium slowly became the sound of a helicopter, and when the faint strains of Wagner began, it suddenly became clear we were listening to fragments of soundtrack culled from Apocalypse Now, one of the last movies shown in the space. McCaughey identified two points in the film where the word 'arc' is mentioned and he looped a version of the soundtrack between these two points, fading in and out, distant and abstract one moment, clear and focused the next... 'incoming, incoming'.

There are no simple conclusions to the various components of Arc, more a poignant marking of the movement of time and the memories it leaves behind. While the work was showing, McCaughey proffered an open invitation to any projectionists who had worked in the cinema to come in to be photographed. The day I visited I saw a small group in the projection room waiting to have their portraits taken. One of them had begun working in the building in 1947. Together, these half a dozen unassuming characters had projected the greatest and most awful films imaginable, charting the breathtaking rise and fall of the last 50 years of cinema history.