nautical telescope

Griffiths Cue-Dot Observatory

“The universe of dots is empty because it does not contain anything but possibilities, and since it contains an abundance of possibilities, it is a full universe.” Vilém Flusser, ‘An Ode to Superficiality: Towards a Phenomenology of Media’, 1995

Griffiths Cue-Dot Observatory (2005-09) is the monitoring and restoration of fleeting but critical time signals that regulate the illusionary changeovers between film reels. I have spotted over 1,900 cue-dot pairs, which are recorded as both 7-second clips and still images. From this archaeological sifting of matinee fragments, I’ve been attempting to make exploratory works around the mechanical, aesthetic and narrative structures of celluloid. The Observatory is a gleaning of film marginalia, stored in a personal archive. These tiny signals mark the transitions between movie reels; the first dot appears on the corners of 4 frames, at 12 feet / 8 seconds from the end of the spool. It prompts an operator to warm up the second projector in a two-reel system. Dot number-two arrives 7 seconds later, at which point the fearful projectionist attempts to perform a seamless changeover and so maintain the cultural and economic flux of moving images. The Observatory only scrutinises the edge of films actually broadcast on TV, recording a snapshot of the contemporary cinematic repertory. Winking cue-marks are witnessed simultaneously by thousands of spectators whilst absorbing their evanescent gaze.

Cue-dot gleaningThe Griffiths Observatory involves a pseudo-astronomical impulse – a durational ‘seeing’ to find and catalogue momentary, barely visible phenomena within observable margins. These top-corner phrases provide fertile materials to spin stories about the cinematic continuum, and hint at human commotion both onscreen and inside the projectionist’s booth. They are opened to their potential as living forms of cultural memory; histories activated by fetishistic reframing and recombining of cinematic codes embodied in frozen extras, costumes and set designs. The top-corner burst of the cinematic cue-dot is a decisive moment when a projectionist interrupts time in-between spools of film. These last meaningful frames signal a momentary absence of the cinematic, an instantaneous void or interval before unfolding the next phase of time and motion. At their blink, life and death change places; the no-longer becomes the what-is-not-yet.  Inevitably, to avoid this rupture and preserve a seamless flux, our current march into the future demands these stilling switches are painted out of history, four frames at a time. Their disappearance is imminent, as industrial casualty of digitisation – ironically through print ‘restoration’ to meet the perfection demanded by 21st century movie consumers.  To mark this sea change in cinema history I compile this depository of ‘cigarette burns’ as a memorial to cinema’s outgoing physicality, and a method of enquiry into narrative and perceptual processes.