The power of pervasive media: Watershed Media Centre, Bristol
Watershed Media Centre in Bristol is a field-leader when it comes to social media and technology. Even the steps to their pervasive media studio respond to movement, making entering or leaving an immersive, technological artistic experience. nice.
Ah – the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol – yes, I knew it well. Not that I’d ever been there before of course… but thanks to their excellent, personal online presence and the fact that I’ve twice presented on ICO panels with Louise Gardner, Head of Communications and Services, I was already well aware of the array of services and facilities offered by this ‘multi-media’, cross-art-form venue. And the physical space certainly lived up to the expectations generated by its virtual representations.
Like the Broadway in Nottingham, Watershed is one of the UK’s 6 celebrated CAVs (cross-art-form and media venues, see Crossing Boundaries: the role of cross art-form and media venues in the age of ‘clicks’ not ‘bricks’). But despite embracing and evolving digital media possibilities, Watershed retains the screening and offer of specialised cinema to a wide audience as its core raison d’etre. Jolly good🙂
I’d also met Mark Cosgrove too – briefly in Berlin, and before that through his blogs and online videos, but it was great to have the opportunity to sit down with both he and Louise in situ and find out more about the nuts and bolts of running a space like Watershed.
It seems that Watershed has always had foresight built-in. Louise explained that the ‘shed’ space that the Watershed cinema, bar and meeting rooms now occupy was the first along the quay to be bought up and re-purposed. Someone must be feeling smug now – the waterfront is buzzing with activity and Watershed is at the centre. Now of course, they have three screens and a multiplicity of technological equipment from cameras situated in the cinemas to record post-screening talks and interviews, to their digital projector. Nothing, however, is built to last like the original 35mm projectors. One that we saw at Watershed was made in 1954 and still going strong! They certainly have a longer shelf-life than the digital projector which is set to expire in 5 years’ time. Grrr for modern ‘throw away’ culture.
The mystical power of the projectionist’s booth is timeless though – it always gives me a shiver of delight and a split-second memory tribute to Cinema Paradiso. It’s that secret-privilege feeling of seeing the machinery behind the magic, and peering down on the cinema seats below and the thousand lives who’ve gone to sit there and escape. Personally, I’d love to encourage projectionists to write about their working life. In my mind it’s an alchemical world of film reels and motion, light and dust, power and voyeurism. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe they just press play and that’s it…
Inverse to this traditionally cinematic image is Watershed’s pervasive media studio – a creative space for practitioners, researchers and users of new media and digital platforms to come together and explore new ideas. They had an amazing timeline of success on their wall, and a ‘tw-aviary’ and comfy sofas and everything. They even had a staircase that played musical notes in response to your movement as you walked down it. I’m definitely going to invite myself to one of their Open Studio Fridays. What better reason for a trip back?