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Projexorcism: SpaceGlue Continuum

A film-based performance group takes the viewer to a whole new realm

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Projexorcism mixes strobing projections with live-processed video and improvised music.


Projexorcism: SpaceGlue Continuum

At the Penthouse Gallery as part of Sight Unseen Oct. 13 at 9 p.m.

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“I like to simulate stimulations that don’t yet exist.” So says Ed Cooper, 40-year-old founder of Projexorcism, a live experimental-cinema outfit that marries multipoint, strobing 16 mm projections with live-processed video and improvised music. Cooper’s statement was in response to what was maybe a leading question, but we think it does a fine job of locating the group’s aesthetic: radical formalism mixed with a benign charlatanism.

The Projexorcism project can trace its evolution back to Cooper’s early musical forays. He blames Dickie Goodman’s Mr. Jaws LP and Negativland’s Guns, two appropriation-happy records, for putting sampling in his “musical DNA” and “pretty much ruining” him, respectively. But it was a particular type of DNA scrambling and a particular type of ruin—the kind that compels one to abandon conventional song forms for improvisation and sound collage.

Cooper’s band in the ’90s, Two Foot Tall Jerk, explored “found sound, noise, and sampling.” He longed to incorporate visuals into the band’s shows but “knew absolutely nothing about film.” It wasn’t until moving to North Carolina in 1999 and stumbling upon a private collection of 200 educational films and two Bell and Howell projectors (some guy was “looking to reclaim his living room”) that he really had the opportunity to work with projections. “It took awhile for me to digest all of this,” Cooper recalls, “but not long afterward, I was doing occasional two-projector shows with Jacob Lunow [also of Projexorcism] providing a noisy soundtrack or with me projecting on top of other bands as they played.”

If you’ve been lamenting the dearth of decent secondhand 16 mm projectors, blame Cooper—he’s hoarding them all, eight of which actually function and compose Projexorcism’s octuple projector rig. The projectors are hooked up to a DJ lighting controller, which turns them on and off in response to sound. In 2005 Cooper used grant money to augment his gear with a “Film-to-Video Regurgitation Array.” We know what all those words mean separately, but Cooper explains best what they mean when strung together: “I pretty much point a video camera at the 16 mm projections, alter the live signal, and butterfly it through two digital projectors perched atop another lighting pole. It adds color, movement, and noise to the show I just can’t get with film.”

Despite the group’s experimental bent—Cooper warns that attempting to follow the plot of one their performances is “ultimately a losing proposition”—they have no problem being compared to the tradition of absurd, more-is-more cinematic novelties. When I asked Cooper if he saw any similarity between his own immersive film experience and Smell-O-Vision, he responded with an enthusiastic “yes!”

So in some ways, Projexorcism offers the live film version of the triple bacon cheeseburger: the kind of thing you never thought to want, but here it is on the menu, so how can you not go for it? It’s the kind of thing that risks taking an experience past the threshold of excess. Sometimes you get a whole new species of experience—a mindfuck—and sometimes it’s just too much.

But there’s also a key difference between those classic abortive cinema experiments and what Cooper and his collaborators are doing. Smell-O-Vision was a good-faith attempt to enhance the movie experience and a charming failure. Projexorcism is overstimulating, to be sure, but it’s just as much about the performance of overstimulation—it serves as both the object and vehicle of ridicule.

“It is not a passive experience, or it shouldn’t be,” Cooper says. “This started as some kind of almost Mad Max-ian MST3K multimedia experience where all our friends would sit in a field and hoot and holler at some absurd educational films that we were essentially mixing live, using the performed music and sampling accompaniment as an added layer of response by the peanut gallery. So while the technical set-up has morphed and grown from dual-projector seedling to eight-headed hydra, the essence of what we were doing in that field has stayed the same.”

Projexorcism is bringing its “multiultramedia” show, Spaceglue Continuum, to Baltimore on Oct. 13 at the Pent House Gallery as part of Sight Unseen, the city’s nomadic, monthly experimental film series, programmed by Kate Ewald, Margaret Rorison, and Lorenzo Gattorna—three city residents with art-scene credentials who somehow only met recently. Their differing and far-flung networks—Ewald has worked with the Maryland Film Festival as well as a microcinema in Cleveland, Rorison has connections to Red Room and High Zero Festival, and Gattorna has programmed for several microcinemas in New York—are a programming asset for the group, which aims to “broaden the [local] presence of experimental and expanded cinema” and to “show something Baltimore hasn’t seen before.”

It’s an ambitious goal, but in an age when more and more people are consuming video in short clips on computer screens, Sight Unseen recognizes that “escaping the world and seeing a film in a dark space” has become “novel and important again.”

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