Watching a projected image might seem archaic today, but for centuries it was a sensational act of perception. Magic lanterns — initially candlelit, 16th-century machines built like stoves, which could throw pictures from movable slides onto walls — enthralled audiences for 400 years.
“It was a very important form of illusion making, of moving-image making,” says filmmaker and CalArts instructor Charlotte Pryce, who will incorporate a live magic lantern performance as part of her work screening at REDCAT on April 29. She purchases and refurbishes magic lanterns, resurfacing mirrors and replacing hard-to-find bulbs and lenses.
“I'm interested in how we interpret illusions in movement and how that's changed over time,” she says. “The thing that's so wonderful about magic lanterns is that they're entirely manual. It's not automated movement, like movies; it's very much an interaction between person and machine.”
The interaction is also at play in Pryce's 16mm experimental films, which have screened at festivals around the world. She hand-processes each of their brief glimpses of nature and assembles them into beautiful, rhythmic montages. “I'm interested in the latent image,” she says, “or the image within the film, within the chemistry. With hand-processing, sometimes the colors are a bit more erratic and surprising.”
In her silent, four-minute Discoveries on the Forest Floor (2007), a plant dramatically unfurls in time-lapse, tendrils snake toward the sky, lightning flashes of organic imagery punctuate the woodsy serenity.
“My films are really short,” Pryce laughs. “Don't blink, don't sneeze or look at your phone.”
The illusions vanish like a dream. —Doug Cummings
CABINETS OF WONDER: FILMS AND A PERFORMANCE BY CHARLOTTE PRYCE | Mon., April 29, 8:30 p.m. | Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater | redcat.org