An Immersive Installation Made With 16mm Film & Vinyl

As analog as it gets

My first attempt at creating an immersive environment was just about as analog as it gets. The year was 1987 and I was completing my bachelor’s degree in Fine Art at Central St Martins College. Back in those days computers were a rarity and those we had access to had not yet evolved the capability of displaying more than a few bits of data - very slowly - on screen. Jaron Lanier had just started VPL labs with the goal of bringing VR to the masses but there was no way a poor art student could get hold of that kind of kit. The internet had not yet been born and even video cameras were only just becoming commonplace in art schools.

The Venerable Bolex 16mm Film Camera

So how could I create an immersive 360 degree environment with the tools available to me? I conceived and built an inflatable spherical projection screen by welding segments of translucent vinyl together. Through the center I created a human-sized hole. With the user standing inside the sphere I could project film onto the surrounding screen. I shot and processed a few hundred feet of black and white film on two 16mm Bolex cameras strapped back to back and fitted with the widest angle fish-eye lenses I could find, filming street scenes in Brixton shortly after the 1985 riots.

Unfortunately the film and documentation of the installation were destroyed in a house fire that I escaped only by jumping from a second floor window. But that’s another story…