iIn a darkened room above an inner-city mechanics workshop, artist Ian de Gruchy sits surrounded by the detritus of his work. Empty film canisters and piles of slides in plastic sheets cover bench tops. Electrical cords snake and dangle from every corner. Drawers bulge, boxes are ready to burst, plugs connect to plugs like a Lego set and eight projectors sit high on a shelf.
De Gruchy is fine-tuning some of the images he will project on to the Capitol Theatre's facade on Sunday night to celebrate the Melbourne treasure's reopening and launch of the new owner, RMIT's restoration fundraising campaign. De Gruchy specialises in light projections as art installations, theatre sets and a method of transforming buildings.
He has worked all over the world for the past 20 years, in cities such as Venice, Amsterdam, Chicago and New York. Last month, he completed slide projections for a major retrospective of Barbara Kruger's work in the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. His work has adorned Melbourne nightclub walls and has been included in numerous contemporary art exhibitions.
The lighting of the Capitol Theatre is a smaller-scale project than many of his big-budget works, but it has captured his imagination and features the interconnection of many themes. Naturally enough the lighting designs began with Marion Mahony and her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, the theatre designers.
De Gruchy spent months scouring national archives and poring over Mahony's sketches, A part-time lecturer in projection and audio-visual production for RMIT's architecture department, he says he had an abundance of material from which to choose.
A selection of these images interpreted by de Gruchy will be projected on to the Capitol theatre as part of opening celebrations. The theatre's fragmented facade, with many windows and a tree marring full view, presented problems for de Gruchy. To compensate, he has chosen graphic, busy images that will catch the eye.
Inside the theatre, de Gruchy will install a nine-minute slide show of images charting some of the Griffin's and I Mahony's designs, including their fascination with India.
De Gruchy says large-scale lighting installations reach large audiences and often evoke strong responses. Projections are powerful and can transform and camouflage a building's edifice, de Gruchy says. "Art as being public is terrific. People can look at it or they can walk right past, To operate on a large-scale is really exciting." De Gruchy sees his projections as a fluid skin on, a building that can alter it's structure with light, rather than simply being decoration.