August 1, 2010
In their own words:
“The internet is changing the way you watch films. The Secret Cinema is changing where you watch films.”
Since 2008 they have taken over dozens of London warehouses, office blocks, palaces and parking lots, transforming disused spaces into grand-scale homages to treasured flicks. Carpenters build massive replica sets, actors recreate timeless scenes, and artists create original installations, all interpreting, exploring, and celebrating classic films in new ways.
Instructed to arrive in costume, assume their assigned roles and take part in the action, the audience itself helps bring the film to life. And, the kicker: the identity of the film is kept secret from them until the moment they arrive.
In June 2010, the Secret Cinema transformed two warehouses in London’s Canary Wharf into Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles, circa 2019. Complete with a raucous Chinatown, cyber punks, smashed up vintage cars, renegade replicants, skulking bladerunners, sultry strippers, shifty serpent sellers and – oh yes – Tyrell laboratory Voight Kampff tests, the week-long cinematic celebration was truly unprecedented. See more pics of the entire production here.
We hosted events in the Eyeworks laboratory, where the scientist Chew perfects genetically engineered eyes for Tyrell’s “replicants” – eerie humanoid robots.
See more pictures of the smoky installation on our flickr site here.
To help us explore the distinction between man and machine, Laurel Riek, human-robot interaction researcher at the University of Cambridge, brought along Elvis the empathetic robot.
Elvis, linked to a motion-sensor camera and intricate software algorithms, is programmed to mimic facial expressions. See more pictures of people gawping at him like crocodiles on our flickr site here.
We had other intentions besides prompting our guests to make silly faces: Using robots to help us understand empathy and mimicry helps us to understand ourselves. Empathy is an incredibly important part of what it means to be human. Our brains are hardwired for it – yawns are contagious for a reason. The robotic “replicants” of Blade Runner, on the other hand, lack empathy. It would be one of the key features that distinguish them from humans.
The marvelous Peter McOwan, professor of computer science at Queen Mary, University of London, joined us with a custom-made test to help us hunt for replicants.
In what is called a “Change Blindness Test”, subjects were shown a series of pictures, each flashing quickly between two versions of the same image but with one major difference – as soon as they saw the difference they were to click and move on to the next image.
Sounds easy, but in fact the test was incredibly hard – nobody was able to spot the changes quickly, even when the difference was huge. But this is in fact a good thing: computers and replicants would be able to spot the change instantly, but our human brains have been formatted through evolution to ignore ocular noise. If we could spot every tiny glitch that crosses our vision, we’d never be able to concentrate on anything for long. Owning a coarse filter is in fact a good thing – and part of what makes us human.
Completing our exploration of the boundary between living and non-living, speculative designer James King lent us his piece, Dressing The Meat of Tomorrow – a template for in vitro meat which he says could render the lab-grown victuals more palatable.
We placed into our Biotic Classification Array alongside a dead leaf, living leaf insect, refrigerated potato, and computerized eye, and invited guests the ponder the true definition of “living”.
To help people remember us, we gave away hundreds of origami unicorns and owls, each containing a tiny slip of paper, asking simply: How can you be sure that this memory is yours?
July 6, 2010
June 22, 2010
In a slight departure from the norm, we were proud to be part of the latest immersive Secret Cinema event last week. The lovely SC folk went to town – an extravagantly neon Chinatown in a retrofuturistic LA – for a screening of Blade Runner.
If you were lucky enough to be travelling the distance on UtopiaSkyways you would have seen us in the Eyeworks lab installation. We questioned what it meant to be human, alongside the spitting image of scientist Chew (a genetic engineer of replicant eyes in the film).
We ran a specially designed change blindness test invesigating whether you were a human or a replicant, a survey on peoples attitudes towards robots, and investigations with an ‘empathetic’ Elvis robot, eyeballs and origami…We loved it. Featured scientists Laurel Riek (University of Cambridge), Peter McOwan, Milan Verma and the rest of the crew from Queen Mary did too.
We also invited Tim Maynard of the Living Classroom to wow the crowds as a serpent seller with a variety of insects and reptiles to handle. Our favourite? Gretchen the baby chameleon, daughter of Jeff.
Finally we ran a classification activity, inviting opinion on what constituted life and non-life on a sliding scale including the artwork ‘Dressing the Meat of Tomorrow’ by speculative designer James King, a Malaysian leaf insect, and stick insect amongst others.
A week of experimentation has led to a slight obsession with eyes, origami, and the complexity of human nature.