While on holiday in Portugal last week, my boyfriend and I found ourselves seeking shelter from the baking heat and bustling crowds in Porto’s Crystal Palace Gardens. The sense of relief was immediate as we passed through the gates into the cool shade of the trees, as we walked alongside calming fountains and carefully laid flowerbeds. I thought about this impulse to escape the noise, confusion and tarmac-heat of the city. And how ‘natural’ spaces are invariably introduced to city plans as if to provide a respite from work/life/society.

While I was away I listened to some recordings of Tate’s 2008 conference ‘The New Conceptualist Garden’, in which landscape designers such as Monika Gora and Eelco Hooftman spoke about their practice. They discussed some of the tensions and paradoxes inherent in the idea of the garden, relationships between the man-made and the natural, between the artificial and the real. Here are some of the notes I made:

*Gardens are for people
*No man-made space can be natural
*Gardens are enclosures containing a protected ‘otherness’
*Gardens have defined boundaries
*Gardens are framed spaces

I’ve also been re-reading some Walter Benjamin essays, including ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. I love his words on close-ups and enlargements, and on what he describes as the optical unconscious:

“… just as enlargement is not really concerned with simply clarifying what we glimpse ‘anyway’ but rather brings out wholly new structural formations in matter, neither does the slow-motion technique simply bring out familiar movement motifs but reveals in them others that are quite unfamiliar …
Palpably then, this is a different nature that addresses the camera than the one that speaks to the eye …”

I think back to my slides – the ‘framed space’ of Culpeper being re-framed by the camera lens; close-up and time-lapse shots revealing a ‘different nature’ from an already ‘unnatural’ space.

I plan to shoot another roll on Friday, rain or no rain!


Today I went to the Stephen Friedman Gallery to see work by the four artists shortlisted for the Dazed & Confused Emerging Artists Award – one of whom is Laura Buckley.

Buckley is showing a new installation, KZN, in which a video loop is projected through a suspended and rotating hexagonal prism. As it spins, the prism reflects fragments of the video image around the room while at the same time casting a heavy geometric shadow over the main projection image. The video appears to be shot on a hand-held camera as the artist walks through domestic gardens and industrial landscapes. She explores patterns of light and shade in tree canopies and on tarmac pathways. Obscured glass windows abstract objects into hazy, honey-coloured shapes.

The picture is constantly being redefined, cut-up, repeated and eclipsed by the Perspex prism, which has quite a weighty presence in the gallery space. No attempt is made to hide the apparatus of Buckley’s experiment (the huge installation projector, the large wooden plinth, the chunky speaker), rather our attention seems deliberately drawn to it, to her process of investigation and play.

Snippets of children’s voices filter through the electronic sounds from the speaker; a child’s hand appears in the video to spin a metal object for the camera. Full of primary colours and dancing shapes, the work is like an exploded computer game, a digital mobile.

Secondary reflections and refractions bounce off the hanging prism and travel around the room. I’m reminded of Peter Campus’s closed circuit camera installations. But unlike Campus’s works, interaction with the apparatus is not invited. In fact it wasn’t easy to approach the prism at all, the light was blindingly bright. Better I found to sit down on the floor and look up, as if from a child’s perspective in fact, at the kaleidoscope above and around me.

(I remember the children’s voices that drifted into my audio recordings in the garden, and think about what effect they have on the imagery.)

I was excited to discover that the winning artist Peter Ainsworth’s mysterious, beautiful photographs were shot in his father’s garden in London. In his introduction to the project he describes the domestic garden as being a ‘controlled and contrived space, one that often has ambiguous states.’ He refers to Tate’s 2004 exhibition The Art of the Garden, which unfortunately I didn’t see. There is some archived text on their website though, which is interesting to read:

“With an increasingly concentrated urban population, many people have become more distanced from nature, and a private garden space is an ever more precious asset. The idea of the garden remains strong in the popular consciousness, but for many it is precisely this – an idea.

The garden’s metaphorical associations grow more ambiguous and more extreme. For many contemporary artists it is still a site for reverie and imaginative potential, but it also stands for a lost world, a place that is neglected, interfered with and under threat.

To some, the garden reveals in microcosm what has happened to nature as a whole; controlled, cultivated, and encroached. The contemporary garden is one of extremes, where much is imagined and idealized, and imperfections and contrivances are celebrated: still perhaps an ‘arcadia’, if an unlikely one.”

This evening I did some projection tests with a few mounted slides. As soon as I switched the projectors on, the difference between the film images and my digitized scans became hugely apparent – the colours have that lovely, warm tint that had been ‘corrected’ by the computer, the picture is speckled by dust and hairs caught on the lens, textures of the wall merge with and become part of the photograph. And that amazing moment when the projector is turned on or off, the image slowly emerging or dissolving away into nothing.

I tried overlaying two slides from adjacent projectors, exploring the resulting patterns and double exposures. By moving my hand across one or other of the lenses I control how much of the image shines through. This might be an interesting way to generate animation sequences…


I attended an evening course at the LUX recently, and saw range of artists’ films from their archive: Margaret Tate’s film poems, Stan Brackhage & Carolee Schneeman’s painterly films, Kurt Kren’s structural experiments, John Smith’s witty montages. The course inspired me to try working more freely with photographs and static shots, to think differently about combining still images with moving ones, and about ways of constructing rhythms, loops, stanzas. I particularly remember Kurt Kren’s film Trees in Autumn, images of tangled, bare branches shot as single frames and appearing on the projection screen in rapid-fire succession. The silhouettes are cracks or ruptures across the screen, the flashing lines seem aggressive, violent but then you catch sight of a little bird in one of the trees. It is rhythmic, systematic but it is also natural and bodily. The images are suggestive of veins, synapses; also of shattered glass and explosions.

I’ve been reading an interesting essay by Ellen Mara De Wachter that discusses Laura Buckley’s work in relation to Paul Virilio’s notion of ‘picnolepsy’. De Wachter describes flows and interruptions, staccatos and fragmentations in Buckley’s installations that ‘correspond to the conflicted nature of consciousness’. Virilio’s state of picnolepsy, induced to some extent by speed and technology, refers to the disorienting montage of our vision and hearing, the cut-up of sounds and images we are constantly receiving, negotiating. I think again of Marie Menken and her ‘stop-start sensibility’.

My first animation tests seem to describe something of this staccato montage, and suggest a kind of dialogue between industry and nature. The disjunctive cuts and snap-shot rhythms are very much mechanical, processed representations of the garden. The machine is also ever-present through the hum of cars and planes in the audio recordings.

On my to-do list for the next week is: shoot some more reels of slide film (possibly using a magnifying glass to look closer at plant details), order more stock, cut and mount a selection of frames from the first 4 reels and do some projection experiments. I’d like to try superimposing two or more slides from a series – to combine multiple views of the same scene in a different kind of montage…


It’s always exciting to find a package of processed slide film in the letterbox, doubly so to unwrap it and hold each strip up to the light to see how it’s come out. I’ve got 4 reels back from the lab now, so around 90 frames to play with. Last week I went through the painstaking process of scanning each image into the computer (so I can import them into Final Cut Pro and create a movie sequence). A process that more than pays off, though, when you see them playing back on the timeline: always a bit of a surprise, and always a bit magical.

Even as digitized scans, the slides carry that richness and warmth that is so particular to film. It is worth the time, the expense and the few out-of-focus frames to get that quality of image. I also enjoy the delay, the anticipation between shooting and developing. It affords time to ponder and plan, to think ahead to the next phase.

90 frames aren’t many, so I’ve only managed a few tentative tests so far. But I’m quite excited by the results. The series create short, stuttering journeys – little glimpses. I can loop some of the sequences to extend their rhythms. Many are close-up details of plants and flowers so capture something of the seclusion and intimacy of the garden. The sequences are erratic, playful (“kind of snapshot-y” my boyfriend said). I don’t mind that, the garden is a light-hearted, playful place. The jumpiness is unusual for me though – although I like to draw some attention to the ‘animated’ nature of my work, I usually take care to use a tripod, to eliminate wobble and to allow for smooth transitions and delicate movements rather than quick, disjunctive cuts. I’m not quite sure how this will pan out…

On Thursday afternoon I made my first sound recordings. I was using a tiny microphone attached to my iPod so the recordings are faint and crackly, but I quite like that quality. They create a sense of space and suggest an environment, without spelling it out too clearly. Children’s voices drift in from a nearby playground; planes and cars are a steady drone in the background. Occasionally I captured a fly buzzing or footsteps passing by me – closer sounds that begin to define the space of the photographs, albeit ambiguously.

Afterwards I sat with some of the Culpeper members and talked about seasonal changes in the garden. Already summer is dying away and the colours, textures are changing. It has been unusually dry so the grass is looking parched, many of the colourful flowers have passed and the whole place feels more subdued. They told me how in the winter months when the green canopies are gone, the surrounding buildings become much more visible – more present in the space. It will be interesting to observe this transformation, the dialogue or interchange between garden and city.