Interview with artist / filmmakers Filipa César and Louis Henderson about their collaborative exhibition at Gasworks, 'Op-Film: An Archaeology of Optics' (27 April - 25 June 2017).
The exhibition comprises a newly commissioned film and installation based on ongoing research that explores how optical technologies of military and colonial design – from lighthouse Fresnel lenses to global satellite navigation systems – both inform and are informed by Western models of knowledge. Taking a critical approach to the ideologies behind the development of these instruments of guidance and surveillance, the artists consider how imperial gestures of discovery, revelation and possession are embedded in associations between seeing and understanding, light projection and enlightenment.
The film tracks Fresnel lenses from their site of production to their exhibition in a museum of lighthouses and navigational devices. It also examines the diverse social contexts in which optics are implicated, contrasting the system of triangular trade that followed the first European arrivals in the 'New World' with the political potential seen in Op art in post-revolutionary Cuba. Incorporating 16mm celluloid images, digital desktop captures and 3D CGI, the film also maps a technological trajectory: from historical methods of optical navigation to new algorithms of locating, from singular projection to multi-perspectival satellitic visions. Registering these technical advances progressively through their film’s materials and means of production, the artists develop what they describe as “a cinema of affect, a cinema of experience - an Op-Film.”
Alongside this work, an installation collages together key documentary materials that underpin their research to date, including archival images, oceanic charts, lighthouse blueprints, lights and fragments of Fresnel lenses. Approaching the exhibition as a platform for ongoing research, the artists are also working with Gasworks to organise a series of public events, including talks, screenings and workshops, encouraging audiences and peers to participate in the future development of their work.
Op-Film: An Archaeology of Optics is co-commissioned by Gasworks and Contour Biennale 8, Mechelen and supported by Arts Council England, Fluxus Art Projects, Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, the Gulbenkian Foundation and Gasworks Exhibition Programme supporter Catherine Petitgas.