Rhiannon Lowe's picture

Artist Richard Bowers painstakingly revisited Antonini's era-defining film, Blow Up for Experimentica at Chapter Arts Centre. Ric Bower looks at how film can be performed, outside the context of its original time.

Last November Richard Bowers stoodin a projection room at Chapter, surrounded by computers, wires, rows of knobs and a bewildering array of complex diagrams waiting for the audience to get comfortable in the cinema below. He was preparing to present a performance, but one in which the audience would never see the performer. Over the course of the one hour and 51 minutes running time of the film, Bowers would remix Michelangelo Antonioni s seminal counter-culture masterpiece, Blow Up, on the fly, as it was being watched.

Blow-up described an era littered with now familiar motifs, the misogynistic fashion photographer anti-hero and the impossibly skinny, barely legal, wannabe fashion models could all easily be pegged to well known, real life figures from swinging sixties London. The original film does lack the authentic hallucinogenic patina of the era though. Bowers rectified this with his introduction of visual echoes and discombobulating auditory layerings, which encapsulated the experience of coming up on a couple of shit hot acid tabs.

The audience never got to see behind the scenes of Bowers performance and this was, in some ways, a shame. It is the convoluted structuring of Bowers thinking, delivered through Heath Robinson-esque technology, custom software and good, old-fashioned knob-twiddling, which offers a key to engage with what he is really up to.

Moving image editing has always appeared to be a secretive process; undertaken in crepuscular technology suites by homunculi, huddled round luminescent screens, conspiring to define our perspective on any given narrative. It is a slow process too. Like a trip to Narnia, a minute of edited film can expand to fill a month of real-world time. With this in mind, what Bowers is proposing, to edit the movie as we are watching it, seems both radically candid and just simply an impressive feat, physically. It means also, that every time you watch Bowers' performance,An Essay on Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 Film, 'Blow Up', it will be different.

Bowers balances the predictable familiarity of the film s progression with a series of predefined interventions. The technological complexity of real time editing is cleverly distilled so that it can be intuitively controlled. It is the horizons that lie between familiarity and chaos, that Bowers so effectively explores. The artist has been a regular feature of the Experimentica programme in recent years and Chapter's annual celebration of all that is experimental and risk-taking in performance is exactly the right context to experience his work.

Richard Bowers interviewed George Barber , one of the founders of the scratch video movement for issue 7 of CCQ magazine.

Barber's exhibition, Akula Dream, is at Chapter until 10.01.2016

All images: An Essay on Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 Film, 'Blow Up', (installation image) Richard Bowers, 2015