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Cinematic confines of space

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The subject of architecturally defined spaces in film has engaged the interest of many in both disciplines - from architects such as Odile Decq and Benoit Cornette, who defined cinema as a primary influence on their design approach, to the director of the Research Centre in European Cinema at Middlesex University, Myrto Constantarakos, who has edited a new book on Spaces in European Cinema (Intellect, Exeter 1999). However it was given little consideration by Gilda Williams in her talk on the work of Jane and Louise Wilson at the Serpentine Gallery, even though the artists' primary interest seems to be in the way that architectural space and the particular ambience it engenders might be captured on film.

The Wilsons have made three video installations about the interiors of three different building complexes: the Houses of Parliament in London (Parliament), Greenham Common airbase (Gamma), and the former secret police headquarters in Berlin (Stasi City). Each piece consists of four linked but separate frames running in parallel, organised in pairs in two corners of the viewing room. They take the viewer through the spaces of the building, contrasting what Williams calls 'omniscient views' - comparable to the corridor scenes in The Shining by Kubrick - with close-ups of detail which effectively constrain the viewer's vision. According to Williams, the work is about 'spaces and power', but the undeniable political significance of the buildings cannot add up to a political commentary. Neither can the 'eerie sinister mood' which Williams identifies as the defining trademark of their work, and which is offset by an element of Dad's Army-style burlesque.

The more fruitful area of discussion would be in Williams' suggestion that the Wilsons' work represents a continuation of the Gothic horror tradition of English literature, in which female characters had a central role to play and the physical setting - often featuring ruins - was of primary importance to the narrative and its psychological impact. This provides architecture with an important role. Yet how effectively can architecture be represented in film, or any other medium for that matter?

Williams comments that the Wilsons are concerned with 'experimenting with the way that film can be presented', but offers no views on the scope of the work in terms of experimenting with the way architecture can be presented through film. Indeed, on these terms the installations are quite dull. They reveal little of the spaces they explore, hardly engaging with the range of spatial and perceptual experiences that architecture generates. The images are a little tired, suggesting that the artistic process has hardly begun. Although Williams draws attention to the use of many blank 'coffin-like' spaces contrasted with frames of very bright, impenetrable light, it is difficult to identify much of the artist's eye and sensibility in the way that architecture is handled, either as a subject of art, or as an area of cinematic exploration.

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