This video was made for Fiona Hooton to project on the walls of Verity Lane Canberra, as part of Localjinni’s AlleyHart video walk for Contour 556 2020, Canberra’s public art biennial, and the Design Canberra 2020 festival. The song was arranged and sung by Jacqui Bradley and Krista Schmeling. In a video studio they stood either side of the screen as I projected the original slides through a pair of magic lanterns, using the bat wing dissolver to dissolve between the slides, and a piece of black cardboard with a hole in it to ‘iris’ in on details. The video was shot and assembled by Amr Tawfik and then projected from a mini projector. The life-model magic lantern slides were made by Bamforth & Co after 1897. The song was written in 1877 by George W. Persley and Arthur W. French.
Holy City was the million-seller song of 1892. A little while ago, accompanied by a singer and pianist, I projected my set of magic lantern slides, complete with double exposures and hand colouring, which were made to illustrate the song. Imagine my surprise this weekend when I read that its composer, the singer Michael Maybrick, has just been fingered as Jack the Ripper by the latest contribution to Ripperology, the 800 page They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper (it’s all the fault of the Masons, apparently). If the book’s author, Bruce Robinson, is right, Maybrick had given up ripping a few years before he penned Holy City. I had always been fascinated by the song because of the way it took the trope of sublime religious vision, and reduced it to a nineteenth century opiated dream of travel. I had always been fascinated by my slides because they transcode the idea of the hallucinatory travelogue, as the dreamer takes a metaphysical Cook’s Tour to Heaven, to the visual technology of the double exposure and the dissolve — presaging the transitive media of the twentieth century. But now it may also be an act of expiation by its author!