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Boyle Family: Early Projections at Construction Art Space

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Whilst Boyle Family are best known for their random studies of the surface of the Earth, other aspects of their work are now getting increasing attention following their retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh last year. A highlight of the exhibition was a video room devoted to a selection of Boyle projections from the 1960s, which are being shown in London for the first time since 1969. In the late 1950s Mark Boyle and Joan Hills set out to make an objective examination of reality that would not exclude anything as a potential subject.

Whilst the development of the earth studies was one part of this project, Boyle and Hills also worked in other media including events, performance, film, photography and projection. They began experimenting with basic projections in 1962 and gradually developed a number of ideas and techniques for projection pieces which they initially put on for friends around the kitchen table. These would include projecting found sweet wrappers and coloured dyes or fizzy drinks such as Coca Cola and Tizer; melting ice, boiling water and burning slides with the heat of the projector.

Boyle Family Black and White projection
Boyle Family, Black and White projection

Their first major event to include projections was Suddenly Last Supper (1964), which also included random collage films. Subsequently their projection pieces crystallized into three major works: Son et Lumière for Earth, Air, Fire and Water (1966), which presented physical and chemical reactions including evaporation, corrosion, combustion and effervescence; Son et Lumière for Insects, Reptiles and Water Creatures which showed living creatures of the air, earth and water greatly enlarged; and Son et Lumière for Bodily Fluids and Functions, which presented fluids such as blood, tears, vomit and sperm which , which presented fluids such as blood, tears, vomit and sperm which were extracted from Boyle and Hills live onstage during the performance.

Art and popular culture met when John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, founder of UFO, the first all night psychedelic club, asked the Boyles' to perform Earth, Air, Fire and Water at UFO's opening night in December 1966. There, having done their event they stayed on to do some projections for the next band, Soft Machine. Mark Boyle poured some acid onto a piece of perforated zinc in the projector and, as Mike Ratledge, the keyboard player hit a long discord, the acid melted the zinc into terrible distorted shapes which were projected all over the band.

Boyle Family Earth Air Red and Blue
Boyle Family, Earth Air Fire and Water

The projections were such a success that the Boyles were invited to perform at UFO every week and continued to work regularly with Soft Machine. Within a matter of months their melting slides, exploding liquids and colours were a defining part of the underground, psychedelic scene. After a particularly gruelling tour of the States with Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine in early 1968, Boyle and Hills realized that they could no longer continue to tour, bring up their children and work on their other art projects. So with a few rare exceptions such as their final event, Requiem for an Unknown Citizen, they gave up live performances and concentrated on other aspects of their project and their family.

The Early Projections exhibition presents four short projection films: Black on White (1967), which includes early experimental footage of moving liquids, burning slides and zinc being destroyed by acid; Chromoprobe (1967); Earth, Air, Fire and Water (ICA version 1969) in which they used a very high speed camera to record the elements in slow motion and Beyond Image (1969), which was originally shown in a 360 degree projected environment at their ICA exhibition of that year which launched their Journey to the Surface of the Earth.

Boyle Family Burning Slide
Boyle Family: Burning Slide

Boyle Family have continued to work together and have exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world including the Venice and Sao Paulo biennales. Their exhibition Journey to the Surface of the Earth (continued) is at the Akureyri Art Museum in Iceland until October 28th, 2004.

Find more information on Boyle Family by visiting their website: