Studio International

Published 02/08/2015

Eloise Hawser: ‘This machine is all about contact and resistance’

The artist explains the complex mechanisms of a cinema organ and its colour-changer to Studio International with ease and clarity


The light in the ICA’s lower gallery changes colour slowly, switching through a deliciously dilute RGB spectrum; the gentle buzzing hum in the background offers a white noise that could lull one to sleep. In the centre of the room stands a curious contraption: a colour-changer taken from the cinema organ once found at the Stockport Regal. Capable of conflating a spectacle of music and light, cinema organs were developed by the British telephone engineer, Robert Hope-Jones, in the early 20th century, to replace the orchestras that had previously accompanied silent movies. Placed behind often quite ornate art deco-style illuminated glass outer shells – somewhat like a jukebox in appearance – these organs could be played remotely via a pneumatic system, albeit sometimes with a slight time lapse between the organist’s command and the resulting sound.

The colour-changing mechanism is a complex contraption, comprising cams, arms and a spring box or variable resistor. Originally, this would have been connected to a set of filament light bulbs but, here at the ICA, it is fed through an analogue to DCX convertor in the ceiling, which makes the LED lights in the gallery change colour.

Accompanying the mechanism are a couple of films – one showing the cinema organ that remains behind the scenes in Burberry’s flagship store on Regent Street – a former cinema – and an installation of BT cables, expanding the theme of wires and incipient obsolescence.

Eloise Hawser: Lives on Wire
ICA Lower Gallery, London
1 July – 6 September 2015

Interview by ANNA McNAY