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Flickering, lost, forgotten: London’s silent picture palaces

zclef7810 June 2014

Hale's_Tours_of_the_WorldWill you come with me to a talkie to-day?

During my second film event of the UCL Festival of the Arts in two days, I was transported back to the origins of cinema in London’s ‘filmland’.  From the bright lights of Leicester Square to the back alleys of Soho, our group of fifteen retraced the steps of early twentieth-century film-goers through Bloomsbury and the West End.

There were a few familiar faces from the previous night’s event Memories of 60s Cinema-Going, all equally curious to discover the hidden stories behind these hitherto innocuous buildings dotted around London.

Led by Dr Chris O’Rourke (UCL Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Projects) who is researching the social experience of cinema-going in the period of silent film, we began in front of the brutish façade of the Odeon on Tottenham Court Road.

The birth of cinema in London, we were told, was Newman Street, 1894, where private demonstrations of peepshow kinetoscope machines showing a mixture of everyday and spectacular theatrical subjects were captivating 19th century audiences.

From these flickering beginnings, 500 cinemas opened in the London area. Tottenham Court Road alone was home to six including The Majestic Picturedrome, Carlton Cinema and The Court (not the pub) where  The Dominion now stands. Somehow they were all commercially successful, just as today’s Starbucks and Costa manage inexplicably to sell enough Americanos to reside next to each other.

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Fearful Symmetries: a robotic performance at Tate Modern

Clare S Ryan24 August 2012

Credit: Simon Kennedy

Fearful Symmetries is a new robotic installation by Ruairi Glynn (UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment), commissioned for the Tate’s Undercurrent programme at their new Tanks gallery. Clare Ryan went to see the performance live.

In the bowels of Tate Modern, an industrial cave, hidden for decades, has been awakened. As the crowd chatters expectantly outside the Tanks gallery, something lies in wait behind heavy doors.

The audience file into the cavernous space and turn to see a bright triangular light floating in the middle of the room, in stark relief against the dense darkness in the concrete tank. As we start to gather around the angular orb, it begins to slide back and forth – activated by our arrival.

Deep bass sounds bounce off the walls and the almost animal-like motions of the light captivate us. Clapping, whistling, waving audience members try and attract its attention. Murmurs of intrigue join the resonating beats – can it see us? Can it hear us? Is it motion sensitive?

As it hovers above your head, you gaze upwards and reach out your hands as the pointed, glowing orb takes you in. Guiding the audience around the space, it is playfully encouraging us to become a part of the performance.

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Sustainability: Concepts and Materiality

news editor29 May 2012

What does it mean to be sustainable? What enables or hinders sustainable behaviour?

A one-day interdisciplinary workshop on sustainability, held on 18 May and organised through collaboration between UCL Anthropology and the Environment Institute, successfully bought different disciplines together to discuss what sustainability means.

Keynote speaker Blanche Cameron, who among other roles is the founding director of RESET-Development, opened the day with a thought-provoking discussion of sustainability, particularly our relationship to nature.

Blanche argued that we need to move away from our current focus on CO2 emissions and the economy, and towards a focus on all aspects of the natural environment, in order the behave in a sustainable way. This really resonated with those attending and was picked up on again at several points throughout the day.

The first papers session on “cultural shifts” raised questions such as: at what levels do we need to be active in order to promote sustainability? Should we be acting locally? Can this influence global action?

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Smart Cities: exhibition and conference

news editor24 April 2012

Last Friday (April 20th), more than 350 members of the public attended the ‘Smart Cities: Bridging Physical and Digital’ open day, hosted by the Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA).

The full day of talks, accompanied by the ‘Smart Cities’ exhibition, was aimed at opening a discussion on the meaning behind the Smart City and, perhaps more importantly, how to make it a reality.

Four articles covering the day’s highlights and research announcements appeared in Wired with a further two in New Scientist and finally a mention in the Independent, helping to make the event one of the most successful in the history of CASA.

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