PuSh Festival: Turning a crank on The Wooden Lightbox's magical collage
It perhaps speaks to a certain yearning for the past that Alex MacKenzie’s The Wooden Lightbox: A Secret Art of Seeing has attracted so much interest in its travels around the world. Comprised of 50 minutes of self-processed, 16mm, non-narrative film run through a homemade, super-low-wattage projector built and hand-cranked by the artist himself, MacKenzie’s magic-shadow show has captivated audiences as far afield as San Francisco, London, Seoul, Brussels, and Lyon since debuting in 2007.
But it’s very much a contemporary contemplation of the nature of film, not some nostalgia trip. “Some people have asked me, ‘Well, why don’t you have a wind-up 78 rpm beside it so that it can all coalesce in this perfect old-time kind of way?’ ”MacKenzie says with a chuckle, talking to the Straight in his Commercial Drive apartment. “Why not get me a monkey while you’re at it? I created a soundtrack that actually had very little to do with turn-of-the-century models but was created with an eye to enhancing the aesthetic of the Lightbox and the imagery.”
That aesthetic is hallucinatory, ambiguous, subjective—“a numinous hinterland of atavistic images”, in one reviewer’s words—while MacKenzie describes his audio collage as “sample-driven, ambient stuff”. But he has upped the ante for his next presentation, when audio artist and sometime Destroyer cohort Scott Morgan (aka Loscil) augments Wooden Lightbox with his own, brand-new soundtrack at Club PuSh on Thursday (January 26).
“What he’s done is created almost cover versions of my stuff,” MacKenzie explains. “He’s taken those tracks and he’s gonna reconfigure them and be running them live during the show so that we can riff off of each other.”
Besides introducing a new and unpredictable dynamic to the show, having the two artists work side by side stresses one of the project’s departure points. “People have said, ‘This is about experiencing you in the room doing this thing and seeing you turn the crank.’ There’s the understanding of labour,” MacKenzie offers, adding, “You finish a film, you send it off to festivals, and it’s, like, ‘Who cares?’ It’s done. I like the idea of having to be involved.”
MacKenzie notes that in its lo-fi content and its even lower-fi presentation, Wooden Lightbox seems to appeal to “an ongoing and constantly renewing interest in analog things of all shapes and forms, maybe in reaction to the ephemerality of digital things”. And although he concedes that Wooden Lightbox does have an element of nostalgia, his original impetus was nostalgia for something that never was.
“My initial intention was to explore the possibilities that cinema never pursued at the moment when it was invented,” he says. “Cinema is a machine of economics. It feels like art sometimes, it feels like entertainment sometimes, but it’s all part of the mechanism that is about turning profits, and that’s why it looks the way it does to us today. There really is no other reason. So come to my show; it’s only 24 dollars.”
Zing! Smart-arsery aside, that’s actually great value for money, since MacKenzie’s dream machine is double-billed at PuSh with Jeremy Waller’s “fantasy installation” Trunk. Super-low-wattage or not, it should be a mind-blowing night.