I have begun reading The Garden in the Machine by Scott MacDonald, which explores representations of nature and landscape (often gardens specifically) in American avant-garde film. Many of the individual studies (of Larry Gottheim’s Fog Line, Babette Mangolte’s The Sky on Location for example) draw attention to the conflict between images of nature/wilderness and the equipment required to capture them: the idea that any photographic depiction is by definition a technological construction.

MacDonald writes of the ‘grid’ that development has imposed on natural process, which is referenced in Gottheim’s films through electricity lines, fences etc. that divide and measure his frame as they divide and measure the landscape he explores.

‘Gottheim was quite well aware that the “natural world” was visible at most through the interstices of the layers of technology within which we live.’ (p.41)

Grids and divisions have been important ideas in another video study I am developing (Hoad Hill), which uses glass and mirrors to fracture and re-construct images of a hillside in Cumbria.

MacDonald writes of Fog Line: ‘the lines within and around this image mitigate against our penetration of the space and draw our attention to the graphic make-up of the frame … To the extent that we do see and measure the scene before us … we realize that we are seeing not Nature but photography’s transformation of it.’

Glimpse of the Garden also features in MacDonald’s study: Menken’s use of close-up, her hand-held camera, her sweeping gestures. The way her film acts as a catalogue of ways ‘in which a camera can glimpse’. I am excited to think of my slide-animation piece as dealing with the act of ‘glimpsing’: that is ‘to see or perceive briefly’, ‘a momentary or partial view’.

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‘ … enlargement is not really concerned with simply clarifying what we glimpse ‘anyway’ but rather brings out wholly new structural formations in matter … ‘
– Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

I went to the Wellcome Collection last week to see Aura Satz’s Sound Seam. The work was made during a residency at the UCL Ear Institute and explores aspects of memory, sound and hearing. Recordings made within the inner ear, gramophone needles grating over coronal bone, echoing voices and more combine in an elaborate, multi-layered soundtrack.

For me though, the visuals were more compelling – microscopic photographs of the cochlea created strange, organic spirals; close-ups of gramophones and record grooves made pulsing abstract patterns. The images were textural, suggestive, unexpected. They seemed to be images or perspectives I hadn’t encountered before, which was exciting.

I’ve since discovered some of Samantha Rebello’s short films online, including Outer Castings of a Few Small Creatures, a rich, tactile film of close-ups of natural armours: a snail’s shell, a crab, cracked eggs. Through her camera, Rebello renders these animals/objects strange, unfamiliar, almost new.


Stills from my new animation sequences.

I’ve found myself zooming into tiny portions of the frames – to exaggerate the soft, grainy texture of the projections and to abstract the imagery as much as possible.

I think of Karl Blossfeldt’s enlargements and a newspaper article on his photobook Urformen der Kunst, which I picked up at a Melanie Jackson show last year:

“Blossfeldt’s photographic images allow exploration in an estranged, though once familiar, landscape: ‘We, the observers, wander amid these giant plants like Lilliputions’. The camera routes vision through the machine and so detaches humans from their conscious or habitual modes of seeing. Habit desensitizes us to what is seen. Jolted seeing returns us, as the Russian Formalists insisted, to perception.”

The article quotes Walter Benjamin’s ‘Selected Writings, Volume 2.1’.


My first day back to work. ‘Place’, an ‘exhibition in a book’ by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar often helps me re-focus after time away.

Dean and Mililar’s synopsis of A K Dolven’s project looking back describes the complex, reciprocal relationships between our sense of identity and our understanding of the natural world. But how are these relationships complicated when the ‘nature’ around us is understood to be artificial, prescribed, constructed?

(I have recently read ‘The Garden of Mirrored Flowers’ by Hu Fang, a dreamy novel that follows an architect as he designs a theme park for a new Chinese city, inspired by online computer games and classical literature including the Quing Dynasty novel ‘Flowers in the Mirror’. A disorienting read, it is hard to navigate the layers of fictional spaces, imaginary walkways, dream gardens.)

A few pages on are images of Roni Horn’s Becoming a Landscape, and text exploring relationships between the body and its surroundings:

‘In stating that “the view is not separate from the viewer”, Horn recognizes one of the most important relationships in an understanding of place within contemporary art: a desire to re-enact the land with meaning, or to examine that area of overlap and coincidence between inner and outer spaces.’

“When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place,” says geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. A sense of place grows through familiarity, through processes of acquaintance? I begin scanning my 100+ new slides of Culpeper (which arrived from the lab just before Christmas) and consider this particular process of acquaintance – which is meticulous, repetitious; it involves examining, capturing, fragmenting and re-combining tiny details of a place to establish new relationships with it.

I really enjoyed A K Dolven’s show at Wilkinson last year, especially her video installation selfportrait Berlin februar 1989 Lofoten august 2009. It is evocative and giddy, it describes the sensation of being in a space and also inside your body. I loved its textural quality too, the colours and the grain – these qualities keep coming to mind as I plan my double-exposure animation sequences of the garden.