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Annabel Nicolson
"The part of filmmaking I especially loved was the projection time because that's when the light, the beam, the moment came together - the fact that you were projecting."

Along with discrete films which were distributed via the Co-op, Nicolson also made a number of films which were (and are) only shown as part of a live presentation. Often 'slight' in subject matter and Cagean in their minimalism, they play on film's inherent paradoxes, like Piano Film (1976, single-screen) in which Nicolson 'plays' a wrecked piano (relic from the Co-op's then home, a former piano factory), its intermittent sound of tinkling notes counterpointing the image of destroyed keys as these are lifted and rearranged on the keyboard.

A fascination with light, both projected and reflected, shadows and incidental light cast from windows and doorways, formed the basis for some extraordinary performances, often initiating from the early 70s but continuing to the present. Early shows with Filmaktion (a loose-knit group of filmmakers, including Malcolm Le Grice, Gill Eatherley, William Raban and others, who came together to present multi-screen work) often included loops, hand-held, sometimes lens-less projectors, moving about the space or beaming onto pieces of paper or objects, even onto the roof. Some of these evolved into other pieces. Images were inspired by small, often mundane things in her environment which nevertheless had resonances. Sky for the Bird on the Roof of My Mind began as a projection in Nicolson's studio - wherein a tarred-over crack in the glass roof produced the semblance of a bird, or the shadow of a bird in flight. This in turn became Jaded Vision (1973) a two- or three-screen work featuring the original 'bird' film, a 3-D paper bird suspended in front of the projector lens to cast a fluttering silhouette, and a performer - either Nicolson herself or a volunteer from the audience - spinning a microphone, its 'feedback' creating an eerie soundtrack evoking the call of a seabird. This was re-created for the Whitechapel's Live in Your Head exhibition in 2000, a 35mm photographic-film cylinder with a slot cut into it substituted for the microphone which was swung overhead by the performer, producing a keening-like whistle. From such simple images and sounds, Nicolson weaves a kind of magic, a transformation which allows for a suspension of disbelief. Precarious Vision (1973) also involves an audience member as performer, standing with their back to the screen, trying to read in sync with projected film of a short passage of text. Nicolson, operating the projector, gives clues: covering the lens and withholding the light if the reader is going too fast, or freeze-framing the image until she/he has caught up if going too slow. Shadows cast by the reader and the intoned text "at times flights of the imagination stay fixed in the mind's eye…" play on the tension between read and spoken word, between light and dark. In another dramatic use of light, Matches (1975) dispenses with projectors, deploying match-light in the hands of two volunteers in a completely darkened room. They are given copies of the same text and asked to read alternately. Continuing in snatches, each reads from the point they themselves had reached before, the duration and only means of illumination being determined by the strike of a single match, its flame briefly flickering, throwing ghostly shadows on the wall. The text itself, 'Candlepower and the Fading of Light' could have come from a magic lanternists' journal on how to read light's volume.

Still from Jaded Vision by Annabel Nicolson, 1973
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