10.09  The 'Roof Shows': August 1997 & 1998

These were two spectacular large-scale shows that were the nearest the collective got to repeating The Lido Show of 1993. The venue was a large rooftop on an old factory in the centre of Peckham overlooking the railway. The roof was five floors high, with panoramic views of London in all directions. It was a long roof with a four-foot high parapet wall. The whole roof is about 90M x 20M divided into two halves by a lift tower and staircase housing. The Western half had a white roof surface. The Eastern end is covered with grey pitch and has a set of derelict buildings at the eastern end. The main screen was attached to these buildings. The roof of the central lift tower and stairwell was also used as a projection point and place for a set of TV monitors. The stairs up to the venue were steep and enervating and the old service lift was unreliable. One floor of the building is used as artist's studios and it was this organisation, SANA, which had invited us to use their roof.

These were the large-scale shows with audiences of 400 or more. For the 1998 Roof Show I can quote from my own log notes.[1] Feedback on the 1997 show was recorded in the minutes book.

These large scale open air shows were much more work than the usual pub show and were financially and in other ways much more of a risk. The cinema space had to be built from scratch. Rain protection needed to be thought about for the equipment, and an alternative venue found so the show can go on if the rain is persistent. In the event we were lucky both years as the weather was perfect.

The seating had to be constructed. The first year we devised a method of using 4" x 2" timber planks that were found on site. These were made into benches by gaffer taping them onto short stumps of heavy cardboard tubes[2] that served as legs. The edges of the boards needed taping to protect the audience from splinters. We hauled these long timber planks up the outside walls of the factory using ropes. This seating was used later at our Volcano show in Fashion street and after that by the group 'My Eyes My Eyes' in Greenwich. It was cheap but labour intensive.

The next year we bought fifty polypropylene storage boxes in the Pound Shop nearby (for fifty pence each) and hired short scaffolding planks that fitted into the factory lift. The rough scaffolding planks were covered with material off-cuts from the sweatshops below and a large old carpet we found was put down at the front underneath the screen. This seating was used again at The Blue club in Loughborough Junction in June 1999.

The free availability of timber at the first show inspired me to make a pyramidal projection platform and another structure to give rain protection to the equipment on the bridge. This heavy structural work met quite a bit of opposition from the older collective - it seemed I was going beyond an undeclared cultural boundary of Exploding Cinema activity. This seems to have been about reworking existing space with light projection rather than making transformations with actual construction work.

A timber frame had to be made to stretch the large screen we had borrowed. All in all, with having to fill two vast spaces with projections and activity, the work was the equivalent of doing two shows at the same time. We worked flat out for two long days before the show a lot of the time under a baking hot sun. There was constant driving work for Colette who felt isolated and got very pissed off.

The result was spectacular. The structures, projections, environments and activity created a kind of club/village in the sky - which light up as the sun went down. A weather balloon on the bridge was used a 3D screen and the row of monitors beneath it made it look like some eastern cyber city. Some of the other film group people pretty much gasped when they arrived and saw the overall effect we had achieved.[3]

This was a great show for everyone with the possible exception of Colette. She didn't have a good time because transport was followed by an isolated door job. The door person needs to share with the person video projecting so as not to get isolated from the main show. Transport was arduous and did not end until all equipment is put away back at home. A future big show like this may need paid roadies.[4]

The next summer some of the structures had survived and the seating design cost a bit more but was simpler to construct. My pyramid projection tower had not survived and the overall effect was less architectural and more ramshackle but still effective. And it was still a lot of work.

James got paid £500 cash on the night for what we owed on our new video projector, which gave a bright, and blistering performance and proved its worth. Over 200 people paid to get in and we took over £1000 on the door.[5]

The week before I had worked on the show almost everyday. The work had started with a meeting on Sunday evening at Colette's. Monday night I'd flypostered Brixton and Kennington with Thomas. Tuesday evening I went for a swim with a friend, who then helped me to machine up three or four fezs until late. On Wednesday evening the collective did the programme at Paul's. Thursday night I baby-sat for another friend and was on the phone (I was the programmer). On Friday I worked all day on the roof, went home early (and went straight to bed). I worked from noon on Saturday right through the show. We were humping heavy equipment downstairs to a storeroom at 3am, so it could be picked up another day.' I was completely exhausted! I give this account in some detail not because I was a special case but to show the amount of intensive voluntary labour that can go into a major show.

Following our Camberwell Arts Week show we also had a theme for this show. The roof was to be a foreign country called 'Exploitania'. The Exploders were its officials and we made red or black Fezzes and wore cheap suits. The programme was styled as a passport that was stamped as people came in.

Caroline was MC and was very enthusiastically into the theme. During the afternoon she'd made a sort of spoof promotion video for the tourist board of Exploitania. Part of the interview with Caroline Kennedy focused on her experience of being MC at this event:

I was really, really nervous for like days beforehand, and then I thought I won't be able to get my trousers onƒ This was in the loo, it was downstairs. It was like 5 minutes before the show was on. And then I couldn't get them on, and now I thought now I can't get them off either, and then I managed to get them on. And that sort of like expended all my nervousness, and then I was MC and it was like a breeze.

The person doing the compering does miss out on other more social activities. For this reason Caroline had only done MC this one time and preferred doing dÚcor.

The roof was a different environment; it was a different country - Exploitania. I made little videos saying that it was actually a different land and, 'Welcome to our land'. I had a national flag and stuff and, 'This is what we eat, this is what we drink'. This is something that I really enjoyed doing. I think the audience like that as well, because people can go to any film show, they can go to the pictures. It is something to make it something more interesting. There is something quite juvenile and amateur about Exploding Cinema, and quite heart warming.

As she drank more beer she believed in the Expoitania land more. Talking to the audience in role to which some in the audience responded encouraging her to go on.

I made posters of 'our leader', a grinning Fifties woman with a fez and stuff. And loads of mottos in the toilets, stuff about our customs or whateverƒ At one point there was lots of music playing and people had taken the flag down and were dancing with the flag,

On the other roof people were dancing in the beam of projectors and really enjoying the summer party atmosphere. Caroline pointed out the advantages of having two spaces so the audience aren't trapped into only watching the film (or disrupting this activity by being rowdy). People like to move around. To Caroline having only one screen is a bit like being in an illustrated lecture.

It does expend a lot of energy, and tempers can fray, at the end of it you sort of go: 'I never want to do one of those again!'. A week later, you go; 'Wouldn't it be great if we did another one like that!'[6]




[1] For 1998 show report see Logbook 2, pages 152-157.


[2] Cardboard tube of the type used for rolling carpets onto.


[3] At a meeting on the 14th of August included this feedback:

Thomas: 'FANTASTIC SHOW!  No bookstall or place to sell Vacuum or T-shirts. Zoom Quartet were brilliant at activating the white roof'.

Duncan: 'Really good show. But we didn't use all our ideas...  a question of pacing and foresight. Could have done with a more powerful main video projector. We all worked really hard and people all loved it'.


[4] Minutes of 14-8-97. Duncan had noted that: 'There is a draw to get involved in high profile events and over-stretch resources' the previous year. Minutes 14-1-96.


[5] As there was a large crew and with all the filmmakers at least another 100 people got in free. We used 8x slide projectors, 5x Super Eight loops, 1x 16mm, 2x overhead projectors and about 4x video monitors.


[6] Interview recorded 16-10-1999.