My exploration was into the connections between gambling addiction and compulsive religious belief. I was exploring the idea of not really being able to see what is in front of your face. I wanted to project an image of the Madonna in the ceiling of the bingo hall, and although this never happened, I projected lots of smaller images from conversations with players, which were mostly missed by the passers-by.
Mecca was a commission that was started off by Camden Arts Centre, who were planning a group show about narrative, which never actually happened. Then they asked me to be in the North London Link Project, they got funding, and then I did one of their residencies.
I was asked specifically to make a project in the State Mecca Bingo Hall in Kilburn. I described the project as being like a long piece of string – long and drawn out rather than a spatial and wide event. It spanned about a year and involved spending a lot of time with this idea of research being like a performance. I was also trying to avoid making something spectacular. I worked a lot with the staff and talked to them, particularly Shaun and Dave, and played bingo and talked to various members of the club. I also collaborated with other artists, Karen Stripp and Paul Whitty.
There was a month during the summer when slide and 16 mm projections were set up in different places within the bingo hall and they projected very brief fleeting images of subjects that had all come from the conversations we had had with staff and players, like images of lucky charms that people wore or brought with them to play, images of religious icons reflecting their beliefs and images from bingo winners . During this month there were also daily appearances in Loot newspaper that related to the themes of the projects, and Loot is down the road, so the underlying concept of how I presented the images was based on the whole idea of coming across something by chance. The presentation was repetitive and low key to the point of invisibility within the context of this place where expectations of the artist’s role were to stick something on the wall. There was also this whole thing about confidentiality because it’s a private club and, because of the gambling, people don’t want to be exposed.
The bingo hall used to be a cinema and we made a 16mm film and the technician who worked at the bingo hall was also a keen Wurlitzer expert, so he played an accompaniment to the film which was a collage of still and moving images. He played extracts he knew from old silent movies.
We organised an event during a bingo session, so the bingo audience was there as well as the art audience. It was billed as a ‘special event’. For the winners there was a prize of a trip to the seaside. Karen was the caller and Paul played his compositions on the Wurlitzer when certain numbers were called. We named it a ‘duet between the random number generator and the Wurlitzer’, so when they called out “22” Paul would play out a particular piece extracted from the song Sally .
Karen and I made eyes-down.com , with e-2, which archives all the extensive material gathered during the project, conversation transcripts , questionnaires etc.
Commissioner and venue
Camden Arts Centre, London for the North London Link Project
The State Mecca Bingo Hall, Kilburn
Edited by: Anna Best and Karen Stripp
Technical collaborator: Karen Martin
Sound production: Jon Pollard
Additional scripting: Nick Sloane
Brendan Clarke and insight lighting
Participants in Residency Talks
Mecca Club Members
Camden Arts Centre Staff
The Rank Group
The Ronald Grant Archive
- Text by Barny Drabble in engage