On Location

 

Author: Kayla Parker
Format: Experimental Film
Duration: 12’17”
Published: September 2017


Research Statement

Criteria

On Location is a hybrid form of landscape cinema that observes a year’s seasonal cycle, capturing meteorological phenomena, the shifting light and shade, and the ebb and flow of natural growth using a range of experimental filming techniques, such as pinhole cinematography and water lenses made from one of the springs that feeds into the sunken lane. The imagery is accompanied by field recordings made at the site that capture the sonic architecture of the space. It is a twelve-and-a-half-minute single channel colour HD film created through a series of field trips I made with cinematographer and sound recordist Stuart Moore to a hollow lane in a remote area of rural mid-Devon over a twelve-month period between January 2016 and January 2017.

In addition to experiencing the affect of my film On Location, I would suggest the reviewers consider the following criteria:

– Does this film embody the experience of being in, and about, a specific place?
– Is the practice output identifiable as a landscape film?
– Does a potentially radical film-making methodology emerge as a result of the making process and the specificities of the moving image artwork On Location?

Research Questions

The film observes the progression of a year’s seasons at a sunken lane in a remote area of rural mid-Devon visited by the British avant-garde artist Annabel Nicolson 40 years earlier. The unnamed hollow way, which forms the ‘location’, connects to the farmhouse featured in Nicolson’s artist’s book Escaping Notice, published in 1977.

On Location is the first practice output from my post-doctoral research project, which responds to the growing interest in (re)discovering marginalized feminine histories, particularly those which engage with our increasing ecological and environmental concerns. This practice-led research aligns to the recent ‘turn to materiality’ in arts and humanities, a paradigm shift towards a ‘material culture’ that focuses on the relationships and interactions between the human and the non-human: flora and fauna, the natural and built environment, meteorological and elemental forces, and technological artefacts. This ‘material turn’ ruptures binary oppositions, such as privileging ‘culture’ over ‘nature’. It foregrounds the body and confers agency to the non-human, and considers matter to be active rather than passive and inert, a participant rather than an object to be observed and examined.

The project evolves from my doctoral study, ‘Every Frame Counts: Creative Practice and Gender in Direct Animation’, which centred on the body-centred practices of women artists. Direct animation is a mode of film-making in which the artist works through a physical engagement with photochemical film. The practice is process-based and highly experimental because images are made through the agency of the body operating within restrictive parameters, making results difficult to predict or control with precision. Reel Time (1972-3), the film-sewing performance by Annabel Nicolson, was a key contextual reference for my PhD investigation, which was conducted through my creative practice as an artist film-maker and drew on a conceptual framework informed by psychoanalytic feminist writings to position the direct animation practices of women artists as écriture féminine, a mode of ethical ‘writing’ and a creative strategy of resistance to patriarchal structures that draws on embodied knowledge ‘as (a) woman’.

Following the completion of my PhD in 2015, my focus has turned towards human-environment relations and new materialism, in parallel with a growing interest in Nicolson’s artist’s book, Escaping Notice. Towards the middle of the 1970s, Nicolson moved away from working with film to engaging with more ephemeral elements such as light and darkness, fire and smoke, and connecting with place in the natural world. Her artist’s book documents the shift in her focus as she turned her attention to the countryside and engaged with the land of rural Britain through a series of artistic ventures that reflect the environmental concerns in feminist discourse at that time.

The initial stimulus for my research project was two outdoor performances enacted forty years ago by Nicolson, and documented in her artist’s book. Sweeping the Sea (1975) is represented by a small black and white photograph in which the figure of Nicolson stands on a pebble beach grasping a long-handled broom, with which she carefully brushes the low waves lapping the shore at her feet. Combing the Fields (1976), described by her as a private performance of caring for the land, is illustrated by a small black and white photo of the artist ‘combing’ knee-high plants in a field one frosty winter morning with a huge hand-made comb. In her description of the performance Sweeping the Sea, Nicolson refers to herself in the third person, as “the woman” who had “this trick of making herself part of / the background of being just slightly out of focus” (Nicolson, 1977: npn). The praxis of silent withdrawal, retreat or displacement suggested by Nicolson is resonant with feminist performance – fleeting and immaterial, enacted by the body – as a means of protest.

It seemed to me that Nicolson’s enigmatic and ephemeral performed artworks, which shift between being and becoming, collapse the divide between nature and culture, object and subject, human and non-human. They speak to me across a gulf of four decades and present an understanding of the environment as a symbiotic conversation effected through creative practice, emerging from a somatic substrate of reason, feeling, and action that becomes a unifying and transformational experience between artist, audience, and materials. I felt that Nicolson’s strategy of resistance through ‘escaping notice’ could suggest a mode of embodied engagement with the environment for the film-maker, one that would afford agency to non-human animals and things. I wanted to explore this notion through practice-led research in the landscape, to ‘move beyond’ my PhD research and generate critical insights. I intuited that Nicolson’s methods could inform a potentially radical position of ‘new materialism’ – one that would perhaps offer a potent schema for ethical film-making.

Aware of the increasing precarity of our environment in the twenty first century, I wanted to respond as an artist to the landscape through which Nicolson had walked during her time spent living in Devon in the mid-1970s, as she moved to and fro between the farm and the local village. Nicolson’s artistic venture in Escaping Notice was conducted at a time when the English countryside, particularly Devon, was affected by Dutch elm disease, which eliminated almost all elm trees (Royal Horticultural Society, 2016). Currently, a combination of ash dieback and emerald ash borer beetle threatens to wipe out all the ash trees in Europe within the next ten years (Thomas, 2016). This will result in a dramatic change to our rural landscape, and is compounded by other threats to the countryside such as road and house building. The parallel between Nicolson’s time in the hollow way and my own, forty years later, provided my project with added resonance, as I walked in the artist’s footsteps through this endangered landscape.

The sunken lane is typical of ancient routeways across the English countryside, used by successive generations of people to move themselves and their animals from one place to another. Countless footsteps over the centuries have hollowed out the surface of the track so that one walks below the level of the fields on either side, unseen by observers in the surrounding landscape. The hollow way ran down a hill and formed the streambed for several springs, creating a rocky slope and several extremely muddy sections, particularly at its lowest point. As well as a path and a right of way between farmed land, the track serves as a boundary between fields. It is also an inscribed memory, a record of people and animals moving through the land and the politics of access and ownership. Human beings have left their mark, but in a sustainable way, creating a path that has developed over many hundreds of years. Over the year, as I walked the hollow way with Stuart Moore, I became aware that we too were part of the continuum of wear that collectively created the routeway, and also immersed in our environment as a result of being ‘below ground’ in this deeply sunken lane – literally, ‘escaping notice’.

Working closely with another film-maker on this project enabled me to extend the feminine position of my PhD research via a dialogic process developed through our collaboration on previous films, of which the 16mm direct animation film Reach (2014) is an example. The reflexive inter-subjectivity of dialogic process, and its exploratory and contingent nature, enables new methodological approaches to emerge through the course of film-making, rather than pursuing pre-conceived outcomes. On each field trip, we allowed our experience of walking along the hollow way to determine what and how we would film and I did not have pre-conceived notions as to what we planned to accomplish. The cinematic strategy of On Location was dual-camera, to reflect the dialogic exchange. I used a small light digital camera that fitted into my coat pocket and was easy to operate hand-held, allowing me to respond swiftly to phenomena in the field. In contrast, whilst some of Stuart’s filming was hand-held, a very low tripod was utilised for the deep perspective pinhole views of the hollow way and the softened vignette shots. As the year progressed, we also developed water lenses and used iPhones to follow the movement of small birds and insects.

I framed the project with questions that I would reflect on and evaluate after the practice output On Location was completed and in the public domain, and which could then inform the design and focus of further stages of the wider research project. Whilst aware that these would be modulated as a result of the open, experimental nature of the research process, my initial questions were:

– How may a critically reflexive and embodied experience of place be communicated through the creation of an audiovisual artwork?

– What mode of landscape film might be generated through the use of digital technologies?

– Could the specificities of the resulting landscape film inform a radical methodological strategy for creating landscape films in the twenty first century?

Context

On Location explores the potential for digital landscape cinema and draws on the 16mm landscape films of Annabel Nicolson’s contemporary, Chris Welsby, who combined a structuralist approach to film-making with the unpredictable processes of nature, in order to create work such as Seven Days (1974) and Park Film (1973) that documents, through in-camera editing:

  • the interconnectedness of these systems, where landscape was not secondary to film-making process or film-making process to landscape, but process and structure, as revealed in both, could carry information and communicate ideas. (Welsby, 2005)

Landscape is the result of human actions that transform space into place, constructed by both our physical effort and our imagination: “Landscape results from human intervention to shape and transform natural phenomena, of which we are simultaneously a part” (Wells, 2011: 11) and focuses on the visual and visible elements of these constructed places. Liz Wells defines landscape as, “vistas encompassing both nature and the changes that humans have effected on the natural world”, whilst reminding us that humans are an integral component within the ecosystem (Wells, 2011: 2). She states:

  • our relation to the environment in which we find ourselves, and of which we form a part, is multiply constituted: the real, perceptions of the real, the imaginary, the symbolic, memory and experience, form a complex tapestry at the heart of our response to our environment. (Wells, 2011: 2)

Whilst electing to work in a more organic way and follow the guiding voice of Nicolson rather than adhere to Welsby’s structural imperative, the depiction of the hollow way in On Location does create a kind of ‘time lapse’ of a seasonal progression, as the temporality of filming over a period of twelve months is presented in chronological order on screen in twelve minutes. However, my aim whilst making the film was to foreground an intuitive, embodied response to the sunken lane, guided by Nicolson’s praxis. This mode of ‘environmental embodiment’ allowed me to push beyond the conventional boundaries of representing landscape in cinema and to communicate ideas about our relationship to place through creating poetic moving images and audio that captured my experience and were resonant with the location.

There is an openness to the filming that reflects the intention of being present in the landscape as it is revealed through a camera, with the footage witnessing rather than raiding it for its visual bounty. The wide pinhole shots give an impressionistic view of landscape rather a hyper-detailed representation. The reflections of the sky and overhead tree canopy in puddles, captured with a camera held very near to the surface of the water, bring the audience close to the experience of being in the place at ground level. The abstracted images of the water lens are almost unrecognizable – unfocussed shifting patterns of colours and light flares that convey an immersive, almost pre-conscious experience of the world.

Landscape painting and landscape photography are pictorial representations of land as a working environment or as a space for contemplation, in which the image stands in or is a metaphor for the scene portrayed. The frame presents what Wells refers to as a ‘slice’ of what is chosen by the artist to be ‘seen’ of the environment by her camera – and as audience or viewer we must look through this frame.

As Deke Dusinbere wrote in the summer of 1976:

  • The significance of the landscape film arises from the fact that they assert the illusionism of cinema through the sensuality of landscape imagery, and simultaneously assert the material nature of the representational process which sustains the illusionism. It is the interdependence of those assertions which makes the films remarkable – the ‘shape’ and ‘content’ interact as a systematic whole. (Dusinberre, 1976: 2)

On Location seeks to expand our perspective ‘beyond the frame’ by offering an array of multiple viewpoints and shifting perspectives rather than the fixed position required by the conventionally framed image. The soft imagery produced by the pinhole and muted vignettes disrupt the ultra-sharp clarity of the hi-res HD video image. The interweaving between representational shots and immersive abstraction is counterpointed by the soundtrack, which draws the audience into the frame, with its modulated and resonant diegetic score. The accompanying audio is recognisable as the ‘real sounds’ that belong to this place, but the visible actions that produced them are often offscreen, such as the military jet racing overhead. The film observes nature through our experience of ‘being in place’ in the landscape and foregrounds an embodied response that draws on a range of senses and emotional states experienced, rather than relying sight alone and merely looking at surface features and their pictorial representation.

Chris Lukinbeal, a media geographer who specializes in ‘on location’ film production, reminds us that:

  • Landscape and film are both social constructions that rely primarily on vision and perception for their very definition. Vision links and distances us from cinema and landscape; it makes it easier for us to be disengaged through the act of viewing. Yet there is an intimate bond in this disengagement, where the viewer must reach out and establish some sense of place whether it is through a windshield, on a movie screen, or standing in the middle of a scape. (Lukinbeal, 2005: 3)

Methods

To create On Location, I worked closely with a cinematographer and sound recordist, visiting the hollow way sixteen times over the course of a year. We used a range of experimental filming techniques, which evolved during our repeated visits to the site, such as the lenses we constructed on site using the meniscus of water collected from a spring which ran along the track. In addition, we made field sound recordings on each visit, following Welsby’s method of ‘sampling’ a range of sounds at a location. The affective interplay between the audio and visual recordings and our memories, through repeated presence and absence at a location that seemed both unchanging and in constant flux, were an important influence on the finished film.

When in the field, we practiced a mode of dynamic corporeal awareness enmeshed within a particular place, known as ‘environmental embodiment’, a term informed by the philosopher Maurice Merleau Ponty’s phenomenological understanding of human perception (1945/2002). The geographer David Seamon explains the term ‘environmental embodiment’ as:

  • the various lived ways, sensorily and mobility-wise, that the body in its pre-reflective perceptual presence encounters and works with the world at hand, especially its environmental and place dimensions (Seamon, 2013: 148)

On each field trip, Stuart and I spoke very little to one another from the time we entered the hollow way to when we emerged. As we went along the sunken lane, the surrounding countryside rose on either side, and I felt each time as if I was walking deeper into time, drawn towards a memory of Nicolson and the dilapidated farmhouse where she had stayed in the 1970s. Stuart and I would stop at times along the hollow way, and listen to a particular sound we had noticed, like the percussive beat of an ivy leaf on an ash branch, or to watch the dancing camera obscura effects on the ground, created by sun shining through the trees. Phenomena such as these would prompt us to record the sound we had noticed or to start filming.

My guiding principle was Nicolson’s reflexive commentary in her artist’s book Escaping Notice:

  • Her lack of direction was plain and she seemed to have plenty of time. After a while one realised that she was less distinct, though not actually further away. Perhaps it was deliberate this trick of making herself part of the background of being just slightly out of focus. (Nicolson, 1977: npn)

In this, there is a sense for me of Nicolson choosing to fade away, to escape notice – literally – by removing herself from sight into a third, liminal space between her body and the environment, where the delineation between place and the dominant position of ‘man’ over nature and the environment is elided. This empathetic correspondence between natural and cultural phenomena is characteristic of Nicolson’s ‘take’ on the world during the period of her life during the mid-1970s. When ‘being in place’ at the location, my body’s sensoria seemed to engage with the environmental affects of the hollow way and its attendant meteorological aspects, synchronising my movements and ‘directing’ my body and camera. Whilst in the sunken lane with my visual and audio recording ‘instruments’, I felt tethered, as if by means of an umbilical connection between ‘bodies’ – my own corporeal body and that of the Earth.

The philosopher Shaun Gallagher foregrounds the key role of the body in perception, and has interpreted Merleau-Ponty’s thinking on our perceptual engagement with the world as one in which the ‘pre-conscious’ human body incorporates its environment within its reflective sensorium: “Phenomenologically, or experientially, the environment is an indefinite extension of the lived body” (Gallagher, 1986/2004: 287). Gallagher also comments that Merleau-Ponty in his later writing considered the living body and the environment to be an integrated continuum of reciprocal sensing and being sensed: “the environment is that living connection comparable, or rather identical, with the existing parts of my body itself” (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002: 205).

The hollow way revealed its phenomena through my bodily experience of the place over a year. The film On Location allows our senses to connect with what is unseen beneath the visible landscape and captures experiences and meanings that are usually unnoticed in everyday life.

Outcomes

The making methods and processes of On Location provide an exemplar of the ways in which environmental embodiment may perhaps be used to create a landscape film that serves both as a research output and a record of research process.

In this project, I draw principally upon my own practice as an artist film-maker. It is difficult to articulate my precise intention at the time of creating this moving image artwork because my methods as an expert practitioner, established over many years, are predicated on there being no conscious aim either before or during the making process, excepting a purposeful awareness of composing ‘something new’ within the parameters of film-making. Afterwards, reflection on praxis allows me to review both what-was-made and my-experience-of-making through performative writing – written verbal communication that adopts a poetic form, which, Ronald Pelias argues (1999; 2004; 2005; 2014), is a form of scholarship sited in the researcher’s everyday life, that “that fosters connections, opens spaces for dialogue, heals” (Pelias, 2004: 2). From my experience, the extraction of critical insights from the ‘messiness’ of artistic research and making explicit what is embodied in the practice output can be a prolonged business. However, the dialogic process evolved through collaboration does offer the potential for a speedier mapping of research imperatives and the articulation of methodological strategies and critical outcomes, which can be shared and drawn upon by other practitioners.

Throughout this project, I followed Nicolson’s refusal to be tied to rigidly prescribed rules. As she wrote in a 1978 funding application: “Attention to phenomena, to which people bring their own realities, make it essential to allow for the work to develop in random circumstances” (Nicolson in Gaal-Holmes, 2009: 5). I aspired to evolve a cinematic approach to landscape, one that was embedded in a mode of environmental embodiment and could offer the film-maker a deeper relationship to the world and the non-human beings and things in it, aligned to new materialism’s imperative of “understanding materials through working with them … understanding and working with the material, not dominating it” (Simms and Potts, 2012, 13). In making On Location, informed by Nicolson’s feminist praxis, I trusted intuition and tacit knowledge to guide my working process and question the conventions of landscape cinema. My perception of landscape in this project is inflected by Judith Butler’s emphasis, in Bodies That Matter, of the word ‘matter’ as both noun and verb – ‘matter that matters’. As Jill Casid points out in her article, ‘Epilogue: landscape in, around, and under the performative’:

  • understanding of matter as movement between noun and verb has vital consequences for how we understand landscape, its action and process, for feminist thought and practice: from landscape as a settled place or fixed point we instead encounter landscape in the performative, landscaping the relations of ground to figure, the potentials of bodies, and the interrelations of humans, animals, plants, and what we call the ‘environment’. (Casid, 2011: 98)

Dissemination

On Location was funded through two research awards from the University of Plymouth; the first for project development and the initial scoping field trips to the location, followed by a second award to enable production and post-production of the film.

The final visit to the hollow way took place on 3 January 2017 and I edited the film in two days with Stuart. Working swiftly, we followed the chronology of field trips and used intuition to select the shots and sound recordings, informed by our experience of ‘being in place’ at that time, with some superimposition and colour balancing of the visual elements. To create the sound design, we chose recordings that we felt best corresponded with the images and our memories. Whilst on location, both of us had heard, or sensed with our bodies, sounds that proved impossible to record, such as deep resonant bass notes and the ringing of distant church bells – and we manipulated some audio sequences to effect this ‘presence of landscape’. The film premiered at Plymouth Arts Centre in the solo exhibition Kayla Parker: On Location, as part of the Centre’s Gallery in the Cinema artists’ moving image exhibition programme (10 to 19 January 2017). The high quality digital projection of the film from a 2K DCP on a large screen, with the enveloping soundscape, created an engaging and immersive experience for the audience. The ‘undirected’ experience – the film has no onscreen text or voice over – in some way replicates the experience of being in the ‘natural’ rural landscape. Audiences reported that the film affected them deeply, evoking memories of pastoral experiences during childhood and the sense that the landscape portrayed was ‘alive’.

On Location has since been exhibited as part of the MIA: THREE group show at Centrespace gallery, Bristol, curated by Lucietta Williams (25 to 28 February 2017). Exhibition visitors commented on the film’s childlike otherworldliness: “it’s like a child’s view… when you’re a child, you have time to explore, and you’re not easily distracted”, “took me to another world”, “very transporting. I liked the way it played with perspectives of spaces and places”, and, “A tranquil piece that reminisces the sound and views of home” (MIA: THREE exhibition comments book, February 2017). At other screenings, people have remarked on how the film conveys an animal’s view of the world (through the low camera position) and the ways in which On Location seems to resonate with their own recollection of walking through an overgrown path deep in the Devon countryside.

The film was selected for the Primordial Soup exhibition at Cleveland Pools lido, curated by Laura Denning for Fringe Arts Bath Festival (26 May to 11 June 2017). It was exhibited as part of the Balance-Unbalance 2017: A Sense of Place conference in Plymouth, where I also gave an artist’s talk (21 to 23 August 2017). On Location is part of In the Open exhibition at Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery, curated by Judith Tucker to accompany the ASLE-UKi LAND2 CMIT conference (6 to 28 September 2017). In addition, the film will screen at the forthcoming Cornwall Film Festival (November 2017) and London Short Film Festival (January 2018). I have delivered conference papers with Stuart Moore that develop the research dimensions of the work at the Digital Ecologies and the Anthropocene symposium at Bath Spa University (April 2017) and at the AVANCA | CINEMA international conference in Portugal (July 2017).

Documentation currently being prepared for online dissemination includes extracts from my critically reflective journal with performance writing, photographic and video extracts, in addition to site drawings and maps. This material is preparatory work for a video essay and extended exposition, highlighting the research imperative, and articulating the methodological strategies and practice outcomes of On Location within a contextualised, critical framework. Further artworks in development for the research project include a direct animation film and an artist’s book.

Impact

On Location has been presented in several public exhibitions, allowing the work to be experienced by audiences outside the academy. Whilst it is too soon to ascertain impact outside the field, workshops ‘on location’ are planned in order to share the practice with wider audiences, such as artists and scientists. The research dimensions of the project may also potentially contribute to current discourses on the benefits of a digitally enabled engagement with nature, as a means of restoring cognitive and emotional wellbeing.

Bibliography

Casid, J.H. (2011) ‘Epilogue: landscape in, around, and under the performative’ Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory Vol. 21 No. 1 (March 2011). pp. 97-116.

Dusinberre, D. (1976) ‘St. George in the forest: the English avant-garde’ Afterimage Special issue: Perspectives on English Independent cinema (Summer 1976). London: Afterimage. pp. 4–19.

Gaal-Holmes, P. (2009) ‘Parameters of practice: Annabel Nicolson’s 1970s practice’ paper for Expanded Cinema seminar at St Martins London – 18th May 09′ p. 7. Available:http://www.rewind.ac.uk/expanded/Narrative/Resources_files/PattiGaalHolmesPaper.pdf

Gallagher, S. (1986/2004) ‘Lived body and environment’ in Dermot Moran and Lester E. Embree (eds.) (2004) Phenomenology: critical concepts in philosophy Vol. II: Phenomenology: themes and issues. Originally published in Research in Phenomenology Vol. 16 No. 1, 1986, pp. 139-170. London: Routledge. pp. 277-293.

Gallagher, S. (2005) How the body shapes the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lukinbeal, C. (2005) ‘Cinematic landscapes’ Journal of Cultural Geography Vol. 23 No. 1 (Fall/Winter 2005). pp. 3–22.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/2002) Phenomenology of perception trans. Colin Smith. Originally published in the French as Phénomènologie de la perception by Gallimard, Paris, 1945. London and New York: Routledge.

Nicolson, A. (1977) Escaping Notice [edition of 500 artist’s books]. Yorkshire: Arc Press.

Pelias, R.J. (1999) Writing performance: poeticizing the researcher’s body. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Pelias, R.J. (2004) A methodology of the heart: evoking academic and daily life. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Pelias, R.J. (2005) ‘Performative writing as scholarship: an apology, an argument, an anecdote’ Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies vol. 5 (November 2005). pp. 415-424.

Pelias, R.J. (2014) Performance: an alphabet of performative writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Relph, E. (1976) Place and placelessness. London: Pion.

Royal Horticultural Society (2016) ‘Dutch elm disease’ Available: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=154

Seamon, D. (2000) ‘A way of seeing people and place: phenomenology in environment-behavior research’ in Seymour Wapner, Jack Demick, Takiji Yamamoto, Hirofumi Minami (eds.) Theoretical perspectives in environment-behavior research: underlying assumptions, research problems, and methodologies. New York: Plenum. pp. 157-178.

Seamon, D. (2010) ‘Merleau-Ponty, Perception, and environmental embodiment: implications for architectural and environmental studies’ in Rachel McCann and Patricia M. Lock (eds.) (2013) Carnal echoes: Merleau-Ponty and the flesh of architecture. New York: Routledge.

Seamon, D. (2013) ‘Lived bodies, place, and phenomenology’ Journal of Human Rights and the Environment Vol. 4 No. 2. pp. 143-166.

Simms, A. and Potts, R. (2012) The new materialism: how our relationship with the material world can change for the better. Bath: Bread, Print & Roses, with Schumacher College and The Real Press.

Thomas, P. (2016) ‘Biological flora of the British Isles: Fraxinus excelsiorJournal of Ecology Vol. 104 Issue 4 (July 2016). pp. 1158-1209.

Wells, L. (2011) Land matters: landscape photography, culture and identity. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Welsby, C. (2005) ‘Landscape film: a systems view of nature’ in Luxonline. Available: http://www.luxonline.org.uk/articles/a_systems_view(1).html Accessed: 5 March 2017.

Filmography

On Location (2017) Directed by Kayla Parker. UK: Sundog Media [HD film]

Park Film (1972) Directed by Chris Welsby [16mm film]

Reach (2014) Directed by Kayla Parker. UK: Sundog Media [16mm, as HD film]

Reel Time (1972-73) Directed and performed by Annabel Nicolson and two audience members. [live performance with 16mm projection]

Seven Days (1974) Directed by Chris Welsby [16mm film]

Acknowledgements

Firstly, I would like to thank both peer reviewers for their careful attention to the work and for responding so generously with such considered and comprehensive feedback. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this research statement to address all the commentary provided by the reviewers, their perspectives, questions and critical guidance is invaluable as I work through the complex process of reflective analysis and critical mapping of the project towards preparation of a video essay and extended written exposition.

My heartfelt thanks also to the Screenworks editorial team, for their careful consideration of On Location and guidance through the research statement, and for this opportunity to share the work with other film-making practice researchers.

Finally, thank you to Stuart Moore for collaborating with me on this project.


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:

Review 1: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement.

The level of scholarly and theoretical referencing in Parker’s statement is so thorough and for the most part clear, that I believe this only serves to highlight a gap between the intended meaning of the practical work as the artist has detailed it in her statement and the finished piece as it is presented to Screenworks. That said, Parker states that it is the initial piece of work of a longer project, and with this in mind the following comments are intended in the spirit of professional and academic openness and are intended as a positive criticism to what already stands as accomplished and to a point completed work.

With On Location Parker has presented a complex, high quality and thoughtful piece of visual and sonic work. Parker sets out to represent cinematographically and sonically her experience of a particular ‘space’ or ‘landscape’ over 12 months, and manages to evoke a sense of environmental experience from the first frame. The refracted and reflected elements of the cinematography are exceptional, to the extent that I felt that the cutting back to the more traditional or observational camerawork- sun dappled on the earth floor (4.24); spiders web covered in dew, the sun flaring through branches- beautifully shot though they were, almost took me out of the immersion of the more abstracted work. I also found the use of de-focussing the lens at times both interesting and distracting to the overall aesthetic of the piece.

Similarly the blurred shots of the strong blue colour- which one might assume are visions of the same space at a different time of day- that are accompanied by a strong change in sound, feel too removed from the lightness, tone and colour palette of the predominant refraction footage.

The intermittent change in the quality of footage often feels unmotivated or unnecessary within the context of the film- something like a jump from HD to 8mm or even pin-hole technology. This could well be because the footage is either reflected or treated in some way- perhaps this was intended as different voice or perspective?

Her choice to employ different methodologies of capturing these landscape elements over the various periods of time when she visits the site for me negate the idea that she is clearly exploring one place with any depth over the passing of a year. Rather the clear differences in style and quality of these differing approaches and techniques sometimes left me distracted and removed from the space itself, although I do draw from them an observational playfulness and a sense of openness to be directed by the movement of light within the space.

There is likewise a discordant trend within the movement of the camera- sometimes it is resolutely hand-held, and at other times tripod-based. Similarly the use of vignette is inconsistent, and the role of superimposing one image over the other relatively unmotivated, from an aesthetic point of view. I would perhaps have expected to have been able to discern specific movements for specific ‘voices’ or characteristics within the environment- for example there are some shots which are hand-held and which present no element of possible human visualisation of the subject, i.e. the image has been distorted to beyond something the human could see with the naked eye. Similarly there are some wider, more formal landscape shots which are completely static- whether this is intentionally indicating something formal like a landscape painting or photograph, I am unable to discern- for me such landscapes would normally have some movement associated with them.

I was particularly interested by the personal, physical connection of the site to Nicholson, and in Parker’s statement that Nicholson’s works ‘speak to me across a gulf of four decades and propose an understanding of the environment as a symbiotic conversation effected through creative practice, emerging from a somatic substrate of reason, feeling, and action to become a unifying and transformational experience between artist, audience, and materials.

I would like to have seen this practice or experience more explored in both the writing and the practice. Indeed, I found it hard to draw on any direct sense of the human or the artist within the work, beyond a few allusions to the anthropocentric within sound work- the airplane- and the hand-held camerawork. This is problematic for me in a project that is attempting to produce a ‘radical methodological strategy for creating landscape films in the twenty first century,’ where the landscape is so affected and demarcated by the presence of the human.

To this end, as I have found to my cost in my own work, if one is to use a phrase such as Anthropocene then the details given as to what it is and why you are engaging with it need to be much more drawn out and considered. The same can be said of ‘landscape’, and although Parker goes further to clarify this term in her work, I feel strongly that these terms need more attention in a work that claims any kind of radical approach to technique or practical methodology.

In this way I initially struggled with Parker’s statement that her ‘aim in making the film was to use ‘environmental embodiment’, guided by Nicolson’s praxis, to push beyond the conventional boundaries of representing landscape in cinema and to communicate ideas about our relationship to place through creating moving images and audio that captured my experience with the location.’

But on continuous re-viewing of the work I think that she actually does what I think she means by this rather well- but I don’t know if what she is doing is representing ‘landscape’ specifically, rather than ‘place’ or ‘nature.’ I feel that these words need to be better fleshed out in the statement and that this should somehow be reflected in the practice.

Found the interjection of some sound elements too resonant of the horror genre and was anticipating that playing a part, which it did not. This type of sonic work provokes clear emotional reactions and serves often as a portent, which I found detracted from the experience of being immersed in that space. The dirge of the sonic work felt too electronic and at odds with the visuals- assuming that the lane isn’t situated by a large transformer or overhead power cables- however I really enjoyed the developed themes of diegetic sounds, such as the cutting bird calls and the stretched crescendo and fall of the airplane.

There are a couple of thrilling moments where otherwise quite stereotypical shots are shattered and pierced by light leaking onto the sensor- and these are much more enlivening and beautiful than some of the more formal nature shots.

I think that the allusion to ‘time lapse’ in her statement actually does her no favours, because what she is actually proposing to do is much more complex and original than the medium of time lapse. A better word might be ‘timelessness’ which I feel fits in to Parker’s statement better, and which John Berger often refers to in terms of landscape painting.

I believe that there is absolutely something innovative and exciting about the abstracted landscapes Parker conjours in the refracted and deconstructed optical moments within the film, but where the film frustrates is when it reverts to more traditional landscape perspectives, i.e. the shots of the lane that deliver the width and distant most often associated with landscape.

However, I am fundamentally intrigued and excited by the abstractions, reflections in water and refractions that are thrown up here- my personal desire would be to see much longer and more confident use of this technique, which does indeed feel genuinely innovative, certainly in cinematographic landscape terms. They remind me of the colour light abstraction experiments of Wynn Bullock, and speak of a macro-scopic landscape waiting to be perceived by new ways of looking.

Personally, I would also like to have seen the artist as a present character within the images in some way- this could have been as a shadow, a reflection or an element in the refracted landscapes. Even an audible voice, expanding on what the maker/s experience of the space- sensorial, physical, emotional, intellectual- this would only build on links from her own work to Nicholson’s praxis.

Parker states this film represents her own experience of the space over the course of 12 months, but I struggle to hear, see or feel that experience clearly within the film as it currently stands. In fact the most keenly felt moments of a personal voice are when the landscape is shot through what appears to be a watery eye, when the optics force a movement and intention I have rarely seen before. In this way there are elements of an innovative cinematographical approach to landscape film, but they are largely aesthetic in nature.

In terms of the editing, I would have enjoyed a much slower, deeper and more involved experience of place. Especially in a gallery, I could imagine that a more considered use of time could drastically add to the immersive affects of the work on the spectator.

In summary, I have decided to address some direct questions set out by Parker herself in her statement, including her own intentions in the work through her primary research questions:

– How may a critically reflexive and embodied experience of place be communicated through the creation of an audiovisual artwork?

I believe that this question is starting to be answered in exciting and potentially original ways through the practice demonstrated here, and particularly through her strong creative relationship with her cinematographer, sound designer and editor

– What mode of landscape film might be generated through the use of digital technologies?

This is an interesting question that I do not think has been answered yet in this series of work, specifically because the term digital technologies is as limiting a term as it vast. In order to really answer this question the term needs to be elaborated upon in the statement, and I think the particular digital technologies need to be clearly explored further, particularly through any analogue or ‘homemade’ technologies used. I don’t get a sense within the maker’s statement that there is yet a clear sense of how digital technology fits in with either the research or the art-work.

What can be said is that there are moments of creative flare on display here, and there is a playful and developing curiosity by the makers onto whatever technology they are using- but I would be interested in hearing more about what digital technologies in particular enabled which particular cinematographic approaches if the term is to be so closely associated with the on-going project.

– Could the specificities of the resulting landscape film inform a radical methodological strategy for creating landscape films in the twenty first century?

My answer, based on the evidence here, is no. The term ‘radical methodological strategy’ sits uneasily for me, because it feels far too early in a collection of work to be asking such a question. For me, people have been experiencing and documenting landscape with still and moving image technology since the invention of medium. I don’t see enough originality or depth of practice driven research yet to warrant the term- at this stage. However, the intention behind Parker’s statement is very interesting, and could absolutely be refined in further films within this longer term project as a methodological strategy for creating landscape films

And Parker’s suggested additional criteria to the reviewer:

– Does this film embody the experience of being in, and about, a specific place?

It embodies an experience of being in a specific place, and certainly one that makes me want to see more work based on this on-going and iterative approach to landscape. It concerns me that I am struggling to find a voice in the work, especially given some of the artists referenced in the Supporting Research statement.

– Is the practice output identifiable as a landscape film?

Again, it’s a form of landscape film, but I wonder if such a label is useful to the artist at this point. As mentioned, the elements and techniques that most excited me is when Parker is confident enough to pull away from what might be considered tropes of a landscape film. I would also question whether such a term is valid in the digital age- there is a proliferation of moving image landscapes on digital platforms, social media and made possible through a variety of very different and inventive ‘digital technologies’.

– Does a potentially radical film-making methodology emerge as a result of the making process and the specificities of the moving image artwork On Location?

To get to grips with this question I would need to no much more about the process, which the artist does not really detail in her statement.

 

Review 2: Invite resubmission with re-edit of work and/or statement.

The project carries a lot of potential but there is a clear mismatch for me between the very ambitious – and very interesting – claims made in the statement and the artefact itself. I am extremely taken with the very concept of ‘landscape cinema’ and applaud the author for her attempt to try and stage it as an affective audiovisual experience on screen. I am also really intrigued by the wider research project described in the statement, with Annabel Nicolson’s practice used as a frame for rethinking the staging of environmental issues via various media, from film through to smoke. The statement itself is of high quality; it clearly demonstrates the author understands the notion of practice-as- research and that she is willing to experiment with theoretical ideas.

However, the film itself does not (for me) deliver on the promise made in the textual component. Having viewed it several times, first before reading the statement and then several times afterwards, I feel that this ambitious conceptual idea of proposing to develop ‘a digital landscape cinema’, one that would creative an immersive experience for the viewer, is not really delivered to the viewer. The main issue for me is that the film relies too much on the representational. Be it intentional or unwitting, it thus ends up repeating the clichés we associate with a very particular, and perhaps rather twee, idea of landscape: greenery, shrubbery, flowing water and singing birds. The positioning of landscape as a cultural formation, so cogently articulated in the statement, is blurred by the selection of shots, the colour palette and the sound track. The overall sense of changing weather patterns, and of the rhythmic undulations of the atmosphere, over the period of one year, again so persuasively described in the statement, is not successfully conveyed through the film itself. Instead, large sections of it look a little like ‘meditation videos’ one can find on the Internet, or visual projects aimed to convey ‘the beauty of all creation’.

I appreciate the more experimental camera work, which cuts across the more representational images – there is something really interesting happening around 2:10, 4:08 or 6:00, for example. It is in those moments, when the camera plays not just with light and shadows but also with scale and viewpoint, that the viewer is potentially dislodged from her secure positioning and opened to a different sensory experience. While I realise these kinds of comments can be disheartening, my suggestion for the author would be to really think about the project from scratch. If she decides to enact her landscape cinema as an affective experience, I think she needs to really go for it, challenging the representationalist and the obvious for the sake of creating something truly different. (The work of Makino Takashi would be a good reference point of how to achieve this kind of cinematic affect beyond the narratological in a successful way.). I would also suggest to work with a composer, or sound mixer, and to combine the sense of the natural and the technical being enacted in any kind of landscape – beyond just offering a recording of what’s out there (be it birds or trains). Alternatively, I’d recommend reintroducing clearer framing (perhaps via the work of Nicolson), more formal editing of ‘the landscape’ as an artefact in itself, and maybe also a voiceover to convey the conceptual side of the project – and its feminist intimations.

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