In 1888 the American Louis Le Prince came to Leeds, a Yorkshire city of cobbles and red brick developed by the industrial revolution, and shot twenty frames of film in a relative’s leafy back garden. It is a surprising fact that the first ever moving pictures were shot in Leeds and not in Hollywood, the international home of cinema, but a phenomenon was born. In Leeds today the lasting legacy of this historical moment can be found in a blue commemorative plaque set along a canal towpath and in the handful of ubiquitous multiplex cinemas that ring the suburbs. It may be possible to name Leeds as the birthplace of cinema, but the city has kept its celebration modest. Belatedly, the city has hosted an annual international film festival since 2001 to embrace its indigenous art form.
Artist Lucy Skaer picks up this tale of early film in Leeds with Film For an Abandoned Projector, which the artist says was inspired by Leeds’ status as the primary producer of cinema projection equipment in the mid 20th century. Film For an Abandoned Projector focuses on an abandoned 35mm projector found in the Lyric Picture House, a derelict cinema in the Armley area of Leeds, which since closure has been used as a light bulb factory and a church. Skaer allows the projector to remain in situ, physically cutting through walls to allow the projection beam to shine its course into the cinema’s auditorium once more.
Film For an Abandoned Projector will re-enact the original function of the building but this will not be the cinema visit that film goers once enjoyed at the Lyric. Shooting original film from mineral specimens Skaer will project her film over a six-month period, the work evolving as the film deteriorates through use. As Skaer explains, “the film seeks to exist as the imagined subconscious of the projector itself”. Though reanimated for a time, the film will bear witness to its material demise and the cinema will become dormant once more.
Film For an Abandoned Projector follows a commission from the arts commissioning organisation Pavillion. The film will be screened every Thursday evening from 29th September to 15th December at Lyric House, Armley, Leeds. An accompanying programme of events will be hosted by Pavillion throughout the city.
Image: Lucy Skaer: Film For An Abandoned Projector. courtesy of Pavillion.