BRUCE MCCLURE KEEPS A STUDIO at the northernmost tip of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, in an industrial enclave a fair walk from the nearest subway. Overhead, the Pulaski Bridge, which connects the borough to Queens, throbs with a constant onrush of vehicles, generating a rhythm that transforms the ambient workday bustle of the surrounding blocks into something like rough background music. Inside, McClure’s studio is a nearly windowless, thick-walled bunker: a good situation for someone who experiments, as he does, with the intricacies of projected light and with elaborate patterns of machine noise not dissimilar to those outside his building.
Today, he has positioned two 16-mm film projectors—the portable, slot-loading variety that graced high school classrooms decades ago—and connected them via a cascade of multicolored cords to an array of hulking, coffee-can-size variable transformers and boxy guitar-effects pedals. The projectors aren’t loaded with full reels of film but with short loops of black emulsion dotted with occasional frames of clear base, and each is fitted out with a different-size lens. Facing the projectors is a smallish roll-down movie screen, about six by eight feet, flanked by a formidable pair of loudspeakers. This is the setup for Cong in Our Gregational Pom-Poms, 2009, one of McClure’s live “projector performances,” as they’ve often been called at the festivals and cinemas that have played host to his work in the past decade.
The room darkened, Pom-Poms starts with both projectors running, their luminance gradually increasing. The mostly opaque loops of celluloid allow only split-second blinks of light to emerge; one projector’s image—a white rectangle of light in the familiar 1.33:1 aspect ratio—is tight in the middle of the screen, the other’s so large that it far exceeds the projection surface and illuminates half the studio, flickering with a slow pom, pom quality reminiscent of an old flashbulb. Due to the projectors’ inherent variations, the recurring frames of light go in and out of sync in a hypnotically arrhythmic strobe, with still images of scratches and bits of dust lingering for milliseconds in the mind after they hit. Even more overwhelming is the audio accompaniment, produced by the loops’ passing over the projectors’ optical sound readers, the sharp alternations of light and dark creating regular intervals of analog noise enhanced by McClure’s effects pedals to resemble something between a chuffing train and a kerranging No Wave guitar riff. The total effect converts the room into an enormous reverberation chamber for both ear and eye, throbbing with mechanical thunder and lightning, eliciting numerous audiovisual illusions that erupt in the spaces between the pom-pom pulses.
The seemingly endless minutes spent in thrall to one of McClure’s performances become both profoundly materialist and transportively idealist: the former because the auditor-spectator cannot but be deeply mindful of the physical fact of the machines themselves as they relentlessly produce their affective oscillations, the latter because such an experience elicits trancelike states of time dilation and near-hallucinogenic euphoria. McClure reorganizes the sensorium across a latticework of mechanical rhythms, shaped on the fly through the manipulation of specific variables that define the named performance as such—for Pom-Poms, guitar pedals, loops with ratios of one clear to twenty-five black frames, a specific arrangement of the screen, 12.5-mm and 70-mm lenses, and the use of transformers to create shifts in brightness. Within these parameters, McClure improvises, extending or truncating the piece’s arc to suit the circumstances of a given venue and occasion.
McClure avoids terming himself an artist (“a word I tend to shy away from, as much as I can, out of some sort of infantile paralysis,” he demurs), preferring instead to be called a performer. Though he has done events in galleries and museums, he operates more in the context of experimental film and, recently, avant-garde music. His training, and former day job, was in architecture, and it was while studying the subject in college in the late ’70s that he made his first film, on Super 8, already gravitating toward abstraction: Eccentric Circles (1978), a silent five-minute animation portraying concentric colored circles of cutout paper growing and receding in the modest frame. During this period he painted in a Minimalist style, and while still a student, he made John Cage’s acquaintance; for a while, the two played chess together regularly.
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Bruce McCLure will be performing at les ateliers claus on 23rd of September 2021 tickets