IN a couple of upstairs rooms at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, three international artists have been holed up for the past few weeks in front of computer equipment, cameras and unfathomable hi-tech gadgets to create a weird and wonderful new world for us to explore.
As part of the cinema’s artists in residence programme, the trio – Lucy Pawlak of Warsaw, German Max Hattler and GH Hovagimyan from New York – met for the first time, and it wasn’t long before the project ideas each had in mind began to take on new dimensions.
Later this week, we’ll see the results of their work with the start of a series of free film screenings, talks and live performances taking place until September.
All are groundbreaking experimental artists and the Tyneside offers them a residency with a difference: a chance to try out ideas in a cinema auditorium.
It’s an “amazing and rare” opportunity,” says video artist and filmmaker Max, who studied in London, where he has now made his home.
Normally, it would prove too expensive to have a big-screen venue to play with. This offers a chance to show his animation films the way he’d like them to be seen: “It’s fully digital, for a start,” he says.
Meanwhile, Lucy, who is also now based in London, sharing her home between there an Warsaw, says: “This is very different from my previous residency and I love the work space.
“Working in a cinema auditorium and getting to know the people that work here is an exciting opportunity.
“I’ve worked as an usher in a London cinema and couldn’t imagine doing something like this!”
It’s meant she can explore her interest in different dimensions, space and live streaming, while Max has put on hold an idea he had initially in mind, to see where his residency takes him.
The nature of their work is such that it’s free-flowing, imaginative, open-ended and ready to explore such new directions. Ideas born in the North East could well flourish in later work at new locations.
And they spark of each other. Soon after meeting, Max and GH – full name Gerard Herant Hovagimyan, which is why he goes by his initials, he laughs – were talking of working together as part of the residency.
GH is an internet and digital art pioneer, working in digital performance art, interactive installations and HD video.
“I was one of the first artists to start working with the internet and with new media in the 1990s,” he says, demonstrating on screen for me a “different way of perceiving reality” in 3D wizardry.
What he’ll be introducing to cinema visitors is his video artwork Plazaville – a New York-shot film based on Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 classic Alphaville, with 20 “de-constructed” segments of scene re-enactments in the wrong order.
“It’s not meant to have a narrative,” he explains. “Movies are like a cliché: we know the language inside out.”
Just as we can dip in and out of a movie and still pick up the storyline over repeat views, so our brain here will fill in the gaps, assembling GH’s fragments into a complete picture.
Just like photographs he’s been taking of the Millennium Bridge. Where he could have taken a series of pictures to make up a panoramic view, he has computer software which can “fill in the gaps”.
He doesn’t mind whether viewers sit down to view his work or catch bits of it as they wander in and out – “it exists in the mind, it doesn’t exist outside” – though he hopes people will “get it and say ‘oh yeah, I see what he means’.”
He was attracted by this particular residency because, it invited freedom and “encouraged experimentation”.
The artists in residence scheme is part of Tyneside Cinema’s digital arts programme, Pixel Palace, which was launched last year and supports artists in the creation of new work.
Artist and filmmaker Lucy, who is interested in alternative film-making methods, had has just discovered the venue’s link to Ridley Scott – director of 1982 ground-breaker Blade Runner – which she recently watched (the director’s great-uncle was the cinema’s founding father, Dixon Scott Senior).
Hopefully, her work will also be futuristic, she says. Her plans for a live stream performance where the audience can control how a character, or avatar, will behave in a given situation tie in with her experiments with reality, distance, time and space, and she’s interested in the cinema’s role here.
“It’s basically an opportunity for me to turn a really beautiful cinema auditorium into a live streaming game with cinema elements.”
Her film will revolve around a character auditioning for a role in a blockbuster film, a kind of remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film he Wrong Man, whose main character Manny is a “polar opposite of Norman Bates”. Audiences, who will able to discuss with Lucy the film they help make, can expect a lot of fun in the process.
The artist, who is also working with local improvisation comedy group The Suggestibles while she’s here, likes to inject humour into her work.
Max, meanwhile, will be giving audiences plenty to think about, with a selection of his work on show.
His moving image work, which takes in film, video installation and live audiovisual performance, invites viewers into a stimulating, abstract and atmospheric psychedelic world.
He comes from a musical background and his back catalogue reflects his interest in melding sound, music and the moving image, with collaborations including concert visuals for electronic music acts Basement Jaxx and Diplo.
He studied in London before choosing to make it his base, but has visited Newcastle once before as part of the AV Festival.
He says: “I really liked it. I thought ‘there is life outside London!’ It’s nice to get a reality check.”
Max will hold the first of the artist in residence events this Thursday, from 6.30pm to 8pm, with a selection of his artwork being shown on the big screen, accompanied by a Q&A hosted by the Pixel Palace curator Dominic Smith. Then there’s a Meet the Artists weekend of guided tours this Saturday and Sunday.
GH Hovagimyan’s film Plazaville will have a looped screening on Friday, August 31 from noon until 10pm (no booking required). And, before her live stream performance, Head Mount, at 6pm on September 4, Lucy Pawlak will be showing film The Inspection House on September 1 at 10.30am and 2pm.
To book the events, which are free but ticketed, call 0845 217 9909.