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  • Text to book, Deveron Arts

    Cinemagic Tour: Scenes From An Imaginary Place
    - It started with a photograph……

    When I was invited to do a site-related project at Deveron Arts, Huntly in Scotland, I immediately responded to the fact that the town once had a lively cinema culture, which now has almost disappeared.
    With the advent of the final demolition of the Picture House in Huntly, I wished to initiate thoughts at local inhabitants about collective visual memory and the transformation of urban landscape and social life. To put Huntly on a cinematic map, as lots of these picture houses across the world are being demolished or at best converted into something else. Further I wanted to collect material about the history of the site and search for the former staff from the picture house.

    It seemed that I was not the only one who was curious to see how it looks like inside the cinema today: As Gordon McTavish, the former film projectionist in Huntly Palace said to me: “If you ever get in there, I definitely want to go with you. I wonder how it looks today and I still have things in there, which I have not been able to get out. Nobody, for years has been allowed to go in there.” In my research Gordon McTavish became an important participant, both concerning collecting information, participation in events and as a storyteller in the project.

    Nobody has in 20 years been allowed inside Huntly’s crumbling former Picture House in order to take photographs. I wanted to “bring out” images from this hermetically sealed cinema. To let people in Huntly know about the inner secrets of the present building. After negotiations with the Aberdeenshire Council I was allowed to enter and photograph the Picture House alone on my own risk. This happened the 10th February 2006. This photo session became a kind of street performance with a joiner from the council standing outside the cinema.

    For the second visit the 22nd February 2006 I was allowed to enter again. While in there, I found a number of fascinating items, which had been left, to rot in the old building which is likely to be demolished soon. Also I was here allowed to bring the former projectionist into the cinema to have a last look inside. I realized my project no longer was just about doing photographs. It developed performative and mass media aspects because so many local inhabitants and the newspapers Huntly Express and The Press & Journal followed closely my research about the cinema.

    During my research at 4 different stays in Huntly from November 2005 – April 2006, I found people who once worked in the picture house. They got involved in the project by telling stories and donating material from the cinema. I also arranged cinema evenings with lectures and film screenings in The Stewart’s Hall to initiate discussion about the meaning of cinema in relation to Huntly’s local life and memory.

    At the end I concluded this Huntly leg of my Cinemagic Tour with an in situ exhibition that was held over three Huntly venues, starting Thursday 27th April 2006:

    - Installation of Huntly Picture House Artifacts and Memorabilia: Exhibition, The Brander Museum, 27th April - 19. August, 2006.
    - Unveiling of Images Reception: Installation and performative event, The Stewart’s Hall.
    - Outdoor Video projection onto former Huntly Picture House: Gordon Street.

    The show opened with an installation of Huntly Picture House Artifacts and Memorabilia at The Brander Museum. As collaboration with Aberdeenshire Heritage I transferred the objects from the former Picture House, so they could be registered and put on display at the local Brander Museum who have now become custodians to the objects. Here I also presented video-montages and audio from my research in Huntly.

    Next there was a reception of unveiling the images from inside the cinema at the town’s Stewart’s Hall. As a performative event and installation I screened several video-montages and film projections. A pianist performed cinema music. Here there was now a chance to witness what has become of what was once a vibrant part of the community. The project sparked a great deal of interest and fond memories among different generations in Huntly. Many of particularly the elder generation were delighted to see them selves on film when the former projectionist Gordon McTavish from the cinema screened a film of the 1953 Huntly Gala at the second Cinemagic event on March 23rd. He also performed at the Unveiling of Images Reception with more stories from his years at the cinema in Huntly and screened a 16 mm film.

    The final event of the evening turned the old Picture House on Gordon Street inside out. A projection of images from inside the building was screened onto the boarded up frontage, so that exhibition goers and passers by finally saw what lies behind the walls, as if the doors have been opened one last time.

    ”Cinemagic Tour: Scenes from an Imaginary Place” is about the meaning of storytelling, imagination and visual memory in relation to special architectural sites. Collected local archive material is mixed with my own documentation without attempting to represent the history of Huntly within the idea of truth. The focus is more about aspects of the tradition of oral storytelling and constructions of mixed reality. My approach contains both local and global concerns. For me as a traveling artist, the town Huntly with its cinema is a special site, but also a site like anywhere else. As such it is a station in a Cinemagic Tour.
    Finally: it is a reflection of people’s storytelling what essentially this montage of Huntly’s cinematic past became, - developed in collaboration with local people but edited and presented from a traveler’s point of view. At this very end of my project, I realize, that I had no idea it would turn so many “scenes” inside out from the hermetically sealed cinema in Huntly, just by taking photographs. I guess, what happened for me, was that an inaccessible cinematic site not only became a multilayered historical site, but also an imaginary place.

    Elsebeth Jørgensen. 2006