|Type of Research:||Art/Design Item|
|Creators:||Ellard, Graham and Johnstone, Stephen|
Machine on Black Ground is a 16mm film that fuses archival and original footage, combining images from early 1960s industrial documentaries, a concert by Tangerine Dream at Coventry Cathedral and original abstract material of modernist stained glass architecture (shot in the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, Berlin; Coventry Cathedral; and The Meeting House, Sussex University). In doing so, the film suggests a utopian architectural project viewed from an imagined subterranean space or vantage point.
At the same time the film proposes two simultaneous formal analogies between modernist sacred architecture and cinema; i.e stained glass as filmstrip and the modernist cathedral as a projector of light.
In one sense Machine on Black Ground addresses the question of how to make a film of a building by positioning itself as a continuation and extension of three previous and very different films (about one of the most significant post-war buildings in Britain; Coventry Cathedral) of disparate genres and dating from 1958 to 1976 - a BFI funded film essay, an industrial documentary and TV coverage of a rock concert. This combined with original footage shot in the Kiaser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin; Coventry Cathedral; and The Meeting House, Sussex University.
In another sense Machine on Black Ground emphasises the potential of the modernist church space as a vast light modulator, by imagining stained glass windows as an optical printer, or film projector, and in so doing revealing the overlaps between the formal qualities of modernist church design and those of abstract film and how filmmakers have intuited this relationship.
Archive material and original footage is combined in a film which is largely abstract, and is principally concerned, with the way film can register or produce architectural space. In this case; post-war Modernist sacred space, the aspirations of reconciliation and renewal, and science fiction narratives of escape and utopia.
Machine on Black Ground suggests both the construction of a utopian building and the world viewed from some kind of subterranean space or vantage point.
The film switches from the poetic style of the late post-war architectural documentary (the films used are Dudley Shaw Ashton’s BFI Experimental Documentary Coventry Cathedral of 1958 and The John Laing Film Unit Coventry Cathedral of 1962), to live video effects material taken from Tony Palmer’s BBC2 outside broadcast of German progressive rock band Tangerine Dream playing in Coventry Cathedral in 1976, to extended sequences of immersive expanses of abstract coloured glass that suggest a sequence from a science fiction film in which a camera sweeps around and across a vast structure or space.
Even the documentary elements begin to suggest science fiction narratives and it is entirely unclear exactly what is being built. In the same way the Tangerine Dream footage, which consists of early live video vision mixing becomes ambiguous and the musicians appear to be at the controls of something.
Recurring sections suggest an abstract colour field film, entirely shot through full frame blocks of stained glass. They create the illusion of looking out at a world from a contained space that might be deep underground or deep under water – as if, in this context, the viewer is looking out of the subterranean space through some kind of viewing device or occluded window. These sections also produce an immersive spectacle of their own as they flood the viewing space with colour.
At the same time the film undercuts this spectacle by developing a formal relationship between modernist stained glass and the film strip in which the stained glass cell becomes an analogue for the film frame suggesting that the viewer has taken up a position inside a projector or an optical printer.
In this way the film blurs the distinction between the projected light from the fenestration within the church, and the projected light through the film frame within the viewing space.
The film’s title, Machine on Black Ground, is taken from the title of a Graham Sutherland painting from 1962 in which a large organic machine like object seems to float in deep space.
As with our previous recent films Machine on Black Ground explores the interrelationships between architecture and cinema, and the capacities of visual spectacle and structure, point of view, and parallax; common to both. The work’s premise is that both architectural design and our experience of built space each play into and are understood through the conventions and formal characteristics of film. It is of importance to the work that such ideas find a resonance in intimately linked buildings, both charged with enormous historical significance.
Coventry Cathedral was badly damaged and reduced to ruins during Luftwaffe bombing on the night of 14 November 1940. The building of a new Cathedral, the first to be built in England since the Reformation, represented a hugely significant symbolic act. The decision was apparently made the day after its destruction and defined not as an act of defiance, but as a “sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world”. The Cathedral characterises itself as a centre for reconciliation, and the design of the building, and its use of art – most notable Sutherland’s alter piece and Epstein’s St. Michael and The Devil, play a large part in this. The consecration on May 25 1962 heard the first performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem composed for the occasion.
On the same day in Berlin the consecration of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church took place. The history of the new church in Berlin runs in almost exact parallel with that of Coventry’s. RAF bombing in 1943 destroyed the original church and like in Coventry, the new church stands alongside the remains of the old. As in Coventry, its modernist design caused much discussion, but on opening to the public it rapidly became a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain. On the altar in Coventry is a cross made from nails from the roof trusses of the old Cathedral. Another cross of nails was made and donated to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
In December 1974 Tangerine Dream were invited to play in the grand setting of Rheims Cathedral, a move seen at the time as groundbreaking. Subsequently they were invited to perform in the cathedrals of York, Liverpool and Coventry. The tour attracted the media’s attention, especially their performance at Coventry Cathedral, Tangerine Dream being first a rock band, but crucially, also German.
As with the previous exchanges and collaborations, this event can be seen as part of the series of gestures between the two countries, through these churches, where the acts, embedded in the buildings, serve to perform a process of renewal. Combining the impetus of the liturgical movement, developments in new materials, and the desire to integrate new art and architecture into a more democratic participatory sacred space, church building across Europe became an unlikely site for avant-garde architectural activity. In Germany the need for a new departure in religious architecture was most keenly felt as the new churches that emerged out of the devastated landscape embodied the principles of a new democratic nation.
Dudley Shaw Ashton’s 1958 film Coventry Cathedral was produced by the BFI Experimental Film Fund and the British Council, describes the processes of designing the building and the works of art commissioned for it’s interior. Notably the film features none of the on site building process – the corner stone was only laid in 1956 – but instead uses numerous shots of a large model of the Cathedral. At times the camera tracks through and around the model, which is not presented as such, and is in fact reasonably convincing as a simulation of the real building.
A reciprocal relationship between architecture and film is of central importance to Machine on Black Ground and is suggested in Shaw Ashton’s film and reinforced in the BFI’s catalogue notes: “Coventry Cathedral was probably the first film to show in detail how a building, not then in existence, would appear when completed. It was a measure of the film's success that architect Basil Spence made substantial modifications to the design after he had seen the first rough cut”.
The John Laing Film Unit’s 1962 film Coventry Cathedral exists as a substantial and at times beautifully shot documentary of the building and consecration of the new Cathedral. Made by the building company themselves, it appears never to have been broadcast, and stands as what seems to be form of commemoration in itself and an extended message of thanks to all those involved and the ambitions of the project. Outstanding moments include the lowering of the Cathedral’s unconventional spire onto the flat roof, by RAF helicopter.
The BBC2 Outside Broadcast Units live coverage of Tangerine Dream’s performance in Coventry Cathedral. Is remarkable in a number of ways. Firstly, it was broadcast without introduction or contextual ‘explanation’. Instead we are immediately presented with the band, surrounded by both enormous banks of early electronic music equipment, and dozens of candles, as they perform Ricochet. Secondly the coverage of the performance, in itself not dynamic visually, is married, at times through the use of video effects, with abstract images of architectural details of the interior of the building – the complex forms of the timber vaults of the ceiling or the stained glass.
|Other Corporate or Group Contributors:||
|Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed:||architectural history, European post-war Modernism, experimental film|
|Your affiliations with UAL:||Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Research Groups > Double Agents
|Date:||25 November 2009|
|Copyright Holders:||Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone|
|Funders:||Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Golsmiths College, University of London|
|Related Websites:||http://www.ellardjohnstone.com, http://www.http://www.eme3.org/index.php?/projects/eme32010-presentation/, http://www.cine-city.co.uk/category/festival-2009/artist-cinema/, http://www.ellardjohnstone.com/assets/NewMuseum%2002.html, http://lux.org.uk/lux-notes-interview-artists-graham-ellard-stephen-johnstone-lucy-reynolds|
|Locations / Venues:||
|Material/Media:||16mm film, colour, optical sound|
|Measurements or Duration of item:||15 minutes|
|Date Deposited:||28 Feb 2012 16:52|
|Last Modified:||07 Dec 2015 18:36|
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