The theme of my evening class at the LUX this week was landscape. In her introduction Lucy reminded us that the notion of ‘landscape’ only really emerged with industrialisation – at the moment when people first felt themselves divorced/separate from nature. This echoes MacDonald’s writing in The Garden in the Machine, and makes the ‘dialogue’ between industry and nature, between garden and city that I have been referring to seem all the more poignant.
We watched films by Brackhage, Bruce Baillie, Margaret Tait and others, artists who have worked in opposition to the mainstream film industry, dealing with landscape not simply as a backdrop, a sweeping panorama that lies ‘behind’ the action of the film, but as a subject or experience in itself. They use movement, close-up, abstraction and other techniques to get away from the ‘polite image’ of a framed landscape that is so distinct from the complex, phenomenological experience of being in nature.
I was particularly interested in Bruce Baillie’s use of close-up. We watched reels 41, 43, 46 and 47 of Quick Billy. In the more obscure and disorienting sections, the camera is held close to Baillie’s body as he walks, falteringly, exploring his surroundings. In more considered pans, close-up views of household objects become landscapes of their own, as textural and stratiform as sections of rock. As with Samantha Rebello’s works, domestic objects are rendered unfamiliar, and we are invited to look closely and see the world anew.
In Aerial, Margaret Tait presents a poetic (though non-sentimental) study of her garden. An earthworm follows a dead bird follows fallen blossom in her chain of images. (Glimpses?) In her own words: “air, water (and snow), earth, fire (and smoke), all come into it.”
We watched more systematic pieces as well, by Chris Welsby, William Raban and Malcolm LeGrice. The copy of Whitchurch Down that we watched was quite worn – a secondary grid of vertical scratch lines gradually being imposed on the frame…
I went to see a small photography exhibition this afternoon: ‘Exploration and Intervention: New Landscape Photography’ at George and Jorgen. There were two Peter Ainsworth pieces from his ‘Drowned World’ series. Not really micro investigations but nevertheless there seemed to be a connection to the close-up films I’ve been thinking about. Sections of urban environments are defamiliarised in images of cobwebbed breeze-blocks or dank canal sides; tide-marks on concrete create fictitious horizon lines and all sense of scale is confused.