Author: Anthony Ellis
Format: Digital Video
Duration: 2′ 27″
Published: May 2020
South Stack is a short artists’ film that explores the rhythm and life of a building: South Stack lighthouse situated in Ynys Môn (Anglesey), Wales. The film utilises fixed-point filming methods (also known as time-lapse or rephotography), to document the same location at varying times of day, with these images then edited together according to a key rhythm of the lighthouse: the ten-second cycle of the rotating light atop the lighthouse. Through the process, this rhythmic element of the lighthouse – the rotating light – and the light of the sky and surrounding environment are interwoven through the film.
As stated above, a key question the film asks is whether the life of a building can be apprehended. This notion of a building’s life is not intended as a romantic or sentimental notion, or to propound mysticism or vitalism. By foregrounding the building in this way, I also do not intend to anthropomorphise the lighthouse. Instead, the project subscribes to a definition of life in Deleuzian terms: life as the power to differ (Colebrook, 2006: 1).This emphasis on difference, foregrounds the contextual relations between things. Further, again in Deleuzian terms, this would also foreground technology, not as an appendage to human life, but technology as life itself (Colebrook, 2006: 7). As outlined in the statement for a previous film work, Highway Code (Manchester 10k) (Ellis, 2019), this relates to developments in fields such as New Materialism and Object-oriented ontology where human consciousness is not privileged over non-human objects.
In the previous work, Highway Code (Manchester 10k), the notion of the city as a living thing was explored and contextualised in relation to other artists and artistic works including John Smith’s Blight(1996) and William Raban’s Thames Film (1986). In terms of the scale of the thing chosen as this living presence, the choice of the city in that film was clearly a large thing. This would be most comparable to Raban’s choice of the River Thames in ThamesFilm. Hence, in developing the present work, I focussed in on the scale of the thing that I would work with, moving towards a smaller object. This was partly influenced by John Smith’s Blight. In this work, the destruction of buildings, situated in East London, is imaged in such a way that the buildings appear to move of their own accord, as if they are alive. My thinking was also influenced by the work of the artist John Latham. Latham’s own house in Peckham, south-east London, was described by the artist as ‘a living sculpture’ (Flat Time House, 2019). Latham’s house continues to have significance as an active and working space, rather than used simply as a showcase for his work.
After some deliberation, I centred in on a lighthouse building as a suitable subject. The thinking: many lighthouses utilise a rotating light that has a clear and defined rhythm; a lighthouse has a very clear function, a purpose which is fundamental to its meaning; this meaning is linked to the surrounding environment and the form of the coastline. As Edensor states, light is ‘integral to the experience and understanding of specific landscapes and ingrained in cultural myths, habitual sensations, and practices’ (Edensor, 2017: 29). This is the case with a lighthouse, where the building has come into being through a relationship with light although, to add, I have had to circumvent many of the effects light has had on the formation of the South Stack landscape in order to manage the scope of the project. Hence, I gradually focussed in on a suitable lighthouse after some research. South Stack was finally chosen primarily due to three criteria: the fact of its ten-second rotating light; its accessibility to me; the form of the South Stack landscape. To expand on the final criteria – the landscape – the aim was to find a location that would allow the building structure to be clearly viewed in the overall framing, within a landscape view that would include a large expanse of the surrounding environment, namely the sea and sky. This was partly informed by my interest in Romanticist painting and, in particular, the work of English painters Turner and Constable who both focussed on light as a key theme in their practices (Wilton, 2006). South Stack, from the images I had viewed online, met these criteria, particularly from a raised filming position. To note, other popular framings of the lighthouse (such as along the pathway) did not allow as much of the surrounding landscape to be included and would be more restrictive, according to the research I had taken into photographing landscapes (Bauer and Hoddinott, 2013: 90).
As with many of the works I have produced, the methods are derived from artists’ film and, more specifically, film research centred on cities, sometimes described as ‘city-film’. The method of creating the practice is fundamental to the work, particularly at the editorial stage of production. In effect, I transcribe the rhythms of place onto the edit of the film. The field element of the research was conducted over a two-day site survey employing fixed-point photography, or what is also referred to as rephotography (Rieger, 2011). This is where the same location is filmed from the same position across a period of time in order to emphasise changes in the environment. This method is similar to that employed in Day and Night with Mallawhereby fixed-point photography is utilised in a rural location in order to explore the differing rhythms of human and geological time (Arlander, 2018). The method is also sometimes referred to as time-lapse photography, where changes in environments are documented and recorded, particularly notable in the film Koyaanisqatsi(1982).
In the realisation of the film, I have further adapted Henri Lefebvre’s method, rhythmanalysis. Lefebvre is sure to point out that a person’s own body is a key rhythmic sensor and that rhythmanalysis should never lose sight of the rhythms of the body (Lefebvre, 2004: 67). In this work, I felt that the rotating light was a key rhythm and rhythmic sensor of what might be described as the lighthouse’s body. (To note, there was a risk of anthropomorphising the building, with this reference to the body, but I felt that this could be managed in the project’s development.) By focussing in on one element of the lighthouse, many other aspects of rhythm, were not addressed: the history of the lighthouse; the day-to-day running of the lighthouse; the rhythm of people coming and going to the lighthouse. It would not have been possible to address all these parts without overly distracting from the central questions the work aimed to investigate. In adapting Lefebvre’s method for this film work, it was necessary to limit the investigation in this way and focus on this central rhythm of the building. To note, this is in contrast to the previous work, Highway Code (Manchester 10k),where other rhythms were utilised, outside of the key rhythm of traffic light changes, such as the passage of a train across the screen, or a runner crossing a road.
My own rhythms and body also affected the process of filming. As Lefebvre suggests the rhythmanalyst never loses sight of their own rhythms and their own body as a reference point. In a place as remote as South Stack my own bodily feeling and movement affected the process. For example, the nature of the location, with a long climb up and down steps to reach the filming spot meant there was a rhythm to the filming process with me going to the filming point, shooting for around three minutes, and then returning to the car for a period. Due to the weather, this meant a challenging and physically exhausting shoot with extremely changeable weather conditions.
My own distance of travel to South Stack (I live in Manchester) also influenced and affected the film, it being a three-hour drive along the North Wales Expressway. That said, I had already researched the location online and, as mentioned above, I had a clear idea of the angle and position that I wanted to film the lighthouse from, according to the criteria outlined above, and so my own bodily feelings and state of mind were removed from certain decisions, to a degree. For example, following the drive I was under pressure to shoot the film across two days due to budget and equipment constraints, and so had to recce the site on the day of arrival and work efficiently with the hope that weather would not curtail the plan. These factors can affect the approach to film practice, leading to short cuts, or tiredness and frustration with challenging filming conditions. With the planning that I had undertaken the influence of these factors was reduced. Also, having made many short films before, this was not a particularly unusual situation to work within and so, again, the planning I had undertaken came to the fore.
At the start of this research statement, I outlined three questions. The first of these questions asked whether the life of a building could be apprehended through rhythm, via the use of fixed-point or time-lapse filming methods? Additionally, I outlined that I was subscribing to a definition of life that could be categorised in Deleuzian terms: life as the power to differ. I have come to understand, that one of the aims of this film was to explore this definition and why, in turn, I associate the use of fixed-frame and time-lapse filming methods, in capturing images of objects, with the apprehension of the life of these things. My findings in this film, and through the reflection afforded in this statement, are that by imaging the rhythm of a building across an extended period of time, movement and change are emphasised. This movement and change is highlighted more clearly by seeing the object or place across a longer period of time. This might be seen in a time-lapse film of, say, the building of an office block. The central point being: at the level of energy and matter, this movement and change, is the power to differ and, so, by the definition I am subscribing to, the apprehension of the building’s life.
In the course of writing this statement, the second and third questions outlined earlier have become more intertwined in my thinking and so I shall address these together: by tracing the rhythms of a building onto the editorial structure of a film, can the life of the building be apprehended through its involvement in the representational means; to what extent can the life of film itself be apprehended by applying the rhythms of another object onto the editorial structure of a film work? In previous works, I have suggested that this involvement in the editorial process offers a city, or object, authorship and agency in the film process. On reflection, this puts too much emphasis on what might be considered to be human characteristics, to the point of anthropomorphising the object. Returning to the Deleuzian notion of life as the power to differ, the film I have created could be said to unfold at the intersection of difference between the lighthouse, the light of the environment and the edit of the film, with the rhythm of the rotating light being the hub across which these differences are interwoven. The life of the building and the life of the film can be apprehended, are emphasised, though this relational process: the tracing of one form (the lighthouse rhythms) onto another form (the film edit) is the unfolding of difference itself. Moving forward, this would be a trajectory worthy of further investigation, a potential avenue would involve the tracing of the rhythms and patterns of film onto other material structures;that the effects of film could be apprehended through the creation of material structures.
The film has been screened at Print Stuff Artist Book Festival, York. The work was also shown as a part of Castlefield Gallery Associates, involving a presentation of practice to other artists. A further screening at Hope Mill, Manchester, scheduled for May 2020, has been postponed due to Coronavirus. I have also chosen to seek academic publication of the work so that it can be shared with an academic audience. The work did not receive external funding but has been indirectly supported by Liverpool John Moores University through the use of the Digital Imaging Suite and their equipment, as a part of my work as senior lecturer in the art and design school.
The impact of the work is mainly within contemporary art through talks and exhibitions. As a lecturer in an art and design college, my research practice also informs interactions with industry and academia. For example, this film has been used in sessions with practitioners from industry and cultural sectors. I have also chosen to seek academic publication of the work so that it can be shared with an academic audience.
Arlander, A. 2018. Day and Night with Malla. [online film and statement] Available from: http://screenworks.org.uk/archive/digital-ecologies-and-the-anthropocene/day-and-night-with-malla[Accessed 2 November 2019].
Bauer, M. and Hoddinott, R. 2013. The Landscape Photography Book. Lewes: Ammonite Press.
Colebrook, C. 2006. Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Continuum.
Edensor, T. 2017. From Light to Dark. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Ellis, A. 2019. Highway Code (Manchester 10k). [online film and statement] Available from: http://screenworks.org.uk/archive/volume-9-1/highway-code-manchester-10k [Accessed 1 April 2020].
Ellis, A. 2014. Soundspace: Notting Hill Carnival. [online film] Available from: https://interstitialjournal.com/intermix/ [1 April 2020].
Evans, J. and Jones, P. 2008. Towards Lefebvrian Socio‐Nature? A Film about Rhythm, Nature and Science. Geography Compass. 2(3), pp. 659—670.
Gidal, P. 1989. Materialist Film. London: Routledge.
Keiller, P. 2014. The View from the Train. London: Verso.
Kerrigan S. 2018. A ‘Logical’ Explanation of Screen Production as Method-Led Research. In: Batty, C., Kerrigan S. eds. Screen Production Research. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp.11–28
Latham, J., Flat Time House. 2019. About Flat Time House. [online] Available from: http://flattimeho.org.uk/about/ [Accessed 25 October 2019].
Lefebvre, H. 2004 . Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. Translated from French by S. Elden. G. Moore. London: Continnuum.
Poe, A. 2011. Review Essay: Things Beyond Objects. Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, Vol XIX, No 1, pp. 153-164.
Rieger, J.H. 2011. Rephotography for Documenting Social Change. In: E. Margolis. L. Pauwels, ed. 2011. The Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods. London: Sage. pp.132—149.
Roberts, L. 2012. Film, Mobility and Urban Space: A Cinematic Geography of Liverpool. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Simpson, T. 2012. Apprehending Everyday Rhythms: Rhythmanalysis, time-lapse photography and the the space-times of street performance. Cultural Geographies, 19(4), pp. 423–445.
Wilton, A. 2006. Turner in His Time. London: Thames and Hudson.
Blight (J. Smith, 1996, UK)
Fergus Walking (W. Raban, 1978, UK)
Koyaanisqatsi (G. Reggio, 1982, US)
Thames Film (W. Raban, 1986, UK)
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Accept submission subject to minor revisions
Overall, this is a clearly articulated work and exegesis, that is clearly positioned within the work of the author. It is in no doubt that the work is part of a coherent project of exploration and examination of compositional process and practice within the disciplinary confines of artists’ video. The exegesis could do more to explain the project’s ontological genesis, it’s author’s ontological position, and the way in which Deleuze and Lefebvre are being adapted and deployed. The exegesis also needs to reflect more self-critically on the outcome. By doing this I think the author can draw deeper and more robust findings from the work that can be taken onwards into later stages of his ongoing research project and career. I recommend publication, but with a substantial re-write of the exegesis, and I include my thought about each section below.
Research Questions – It was great to start the written piece with clear research questions. Having said that, they do not follow as well as they might – could they be re-articulated? For example, the second research question is a little opaque – what are the terms for defining ‘clearer’ – in what way clearer, to whom, when, where? The third research question seems be a repeat to some extent of the first, without a continuation or link being made clear. Again, perhaps some re-phrasing here? The notion of ‘a building’s life’ is intriguing, and central, but also potentially sentimental/romantic. Is this deliberate? It is fine as a working idea, but does it need unpacking in the reflection? If it corresponds directly to Deleuzian theory, then this maybe needs flagging from the very beginning. Is this picked up and articulated later? This for me is one of the key questions about this research work.
Context – Again it was good to get a clearly presented notion of context, which gave a clear position for the work. It did leave some questions hanging in the air, and I wondered whether ‘fixed point photography’ needed a very quick primer at this stage? What is it, where does it come from? Why deploy it? I know there is mention of it later on, but perhaps this needs to give a little more explanation to aid the situating of the work in a clear context.
The centrality of the lighthouse’s rhythm was not immediately apparent to the viewer (this viewer at least), which raises the question whether the reception of the work matters? What status does this organising principle have within the whole work? What status does the compositional process have in terms of the work’s ‘life’ in a public space? It would be good to have a clearer understanding of why/where the experiment is being conducted, which level/layer of the work is affected?
I have a few questions and thoughts about the selection of the lighthouse. Your criteria for choosing the lighthouse are quite general – they could be applied to many other similar buildings. Was there another impulse behind the choice – picturesque, historical, narrative – if so, can that be articulated? Is that indeed part of the finding of your work? That framing something that has inner significance for you allows it a ‘life’, through connection with yours?
Again with the choice of the lighthouse, your choice of ground is interesting here, in that you could have framed the lighthouse differently, and so ‘ground’ is also a highly significant ‘medium’ through which “the relations between the lighthouse and environment are unfolded”, not just through light. Indeed, ‘ground’ is the factor that leads to a certain way in which the light permeates the scene. Why did you choose this ‘ground’ to stand on? What are the implications of that choice?
HighWay Code (Manchester 10k) has a very similar set of research questions, and as is noted South Stack seeks to move on from the process and work of HighWay Code (Manchester 10k), as noted in the review for HighWay Code (Manchester 10k) in Screenworks. As a landscape piece, South Stack might be worth thinking about how rhythms might works differently to the city scape of HighWay Code (Manchester 10k)? That this is closer to portraiture than reportage, and in which case the viewer will read accordingly. There are then other rhythms invoked by the pastoral/landscape/picturesque genre of the faming – rhythms of history, of the sea and wind, circadian rhythms of the plants, etc.
For example, this lighthouse has had quite a life, and is framed by historical narratives, which raises the question of the communication of the context around this building. Why this building? Why in this language (Ynys Lawd is the Welsh name for the Island)? Why this framing, that is very similar to the postcard, tourist gaze that is the dominant image of the lighthouse on a google search? Another popular framing choice is straight down the pathway, with the bridge and pathway providing a line through the framing, through the lighthouse, out to sea. This framing can be said to the ‘point of view’ of the lighthouse, rather than the ‘profile’ view employed by you in this case. I mention this, not to criticise the position chosen, but to raise a fundamental query regarding the claims of the method. Does this framing actually succeed in developing “a more accurate experiment with clearer boundaries”, or does it open another can of worms? Can you account for these decisions you have taken – at the moment they are presented as a given.
You introduce a possible answer to these hanging questions, in the form of an interesting adaptation of Lefebvre’s method, applied to buildings. Is there a precursor for this? Can you say more about the implications of this adaptation? Maybe this should be in the methods section, but it needs to be somewhere. Given the questions above, maybe this needs clearer articulation in terms of what you are NOT looking at, and how you seek to isolate the elements you are looking at from the ones you are.
Methods – From my perspective, the methods section does not deal with these questions adequately. You cite ‘Cultural studies’ as if it were a homogenous area; which area in particular, which concerns?
You mention your own body rhythms as being part of your application and adaptation of Lefebvre’s ‘rhythmanalysis’ method, which again means that your impulses, your ontological position is in the mix. Do you reflect on this deeply enough? For example, the travel from Manchester to Anglesey (Ynys Môn) is also more than a matter of logistics as presented in your research explanation. How does this journey position you ontologically, and therefore affect the way in which your body rhythms work in conjunction with those of the lighthouse in this composition. This links back to the earlier question, why this lighthouse?<
The opening chapter in Batty and Kerrigan’s Screen Production research might help you situate yourself (Kerrigan S. (2018) A ‘Logical’ Explanation of Screen Production as Method-Led Research. In: Batty C., Kerrigan S. (eds) Screen Production Research. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham).
Outcomes – Your claims here need to be tied back to the theoretical positions you have outlined earlier. If the city ‘lives’ what does that say about society, about consciousness, about intersubjectivity, about the structuration of power within space? If a city ‘lives’, who gave it life, what is it’s ontology?
When you later cite Deleuze and theories of difference and life, it sounds like a deeper engagement with the ideas in play. Maybe this ‘life-difference’ idea of Deleuze – and your understanding of it – should be foregrounded in the introduction (eve in the research question?) in more detail, so that the reader can be aware of its significance throughout?
When you note that “it seems clear that the relations and difference between the building and the environment are interwoven through the film”, this statement needs more definition, perhaps within an account of how different elements cohere in the compositional process. It seems clear, but elementary, that the lighthouse is involved. In what way is it involved, and with which other compositional elements?
I am not convinced that this closing down of the scope of the object has led to a more distilled way of discussing the process. In some ways the abstracted nature of ‘the city’ allowed a more distilled discussion of process, whereas getting closer seems to have opened up more processual questions. This is no bad thing in itself, indeed, maybe this is something to reflect upon. That by closing the scope of ‘variables’ in the compositional palette – by choosing one building rather than a city – you seem to have opened up more options. What can account for that?
Impact – In terms of screenings and an account of the reception, this is a little sparse. This presents a problem in that it has not been ‘tested’ in the open waters of its discipline, not just as an academic piece, but as a piece of art in a wider sense. I would encourage the author to show it more widely, and to attempt to see whether his experimental has borne fruit in its audience.
Review 2: Accept submission subject to minor revisions
The film is a strong piece of work, but the supporting statement does not fully justify its significance, so needs rewriting. I think it’s particularly important to contextualize this project using appropriate theory and references, given the relatively short length of the film itself.
Primarily, I am not convinced that the reference to Deleuze is necessarily the best way to frame your work. If you want to discuss the film in terms of its being situated across difference (thus life) following Deleuze, then you need to address the fact that the building and light are not living things in the same sense as, say, the birds or the plants we see onscreen in your film (or indeed people). At present, this reads as an analogy rather than a concrete justification, approach or method.
The later mention of Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis seems far more appropriate and it would be worth unpacking this concept further. Indeed in general, the temporal nature of your practice needs discussing in greater detail, given that your editing decisions are defined by the timings of the lighthouse.
Given the film’s subject matter, it would also be worth discussing it in relation to theory or literature on architecture/environments/place (especially as they are portrayed in creative practice), and/or light and lighting. In particular, the absence of any significant discussion of light or lighting does seem an omission, given the subject matter. You could look at texts such as Tim Edensor’s ‘From Light to Dark’, for example, or Blain Brown’s books on cinematography and lighting.
Secondly, I think you need to state your research questions in a clearer manner, as they are slightly confusing at present. The first question, for instance, contains a list of concepts with the central approach left rather ambiguous (it’s not clear what ‘such a way as to unfold the relations’ means). I’d also question whether ‘aspect’ is the best word to use, given that when referring to buildings, this could be interpreted as meaning the prospect/outlook/view from the structure, ie. looking from the building, rather than at it. In the second research question, what does ‘distil further’ and ‘present a clearer process’ mean exactly? You need to give some (albeit general) sense of what this will entail in practice.
Thirdly, I think your statement would be strengthened by discussing your influences in more detail. Practitioners such as John Smith, William Raban, and John Latham are mentioned but too briefly for the reader to gain an understanding of how they have significantly influenced your work.
Finally, you need to make a stronger case for the significance of your work in the ‘outcomes’ section. It’s one thing to state that the lighthouse rhythms determine the form of the film, it’s another to state that ‘the building could be said to co-author the work’. This is a bold claim so if you are making a case for this, then you need to evidence it more thoroughly.
In the final paragraph on possible future directions of research, you state ‘this technology could somehow be thought to be alive and that the effects of this force could be unfolded through the creation of material structures’. It seems to me that your film is already reflecting on such ideas, and this might be something to develop within the statement more forcefully.
Some specific notes:
* I’m not sure the mention of difference / Deleuze leads very well into the paragraph that follows, which is ultimately about something else – I’d suggest cutting.
* The films you cite should mention the date in the text (bracketed).
* Clarify the sentence ‘This is set with the broader rhythm of the changing of the sky across the day.’ The phrase ‘set with’ gives the impression you are editing in relation to movement of the skies, when it subsequently becomes clear that this is specifically not what you are doing.
* Given the subject matter, it seems an omission that you make no significant reference to literature on light or lighting, or on representations of place/environment/architecture (see above).
There are a few typos in this section:
* Misplaced apostrophe in first line of methods. Should be: artists’ film
* Add a comma in the sentence ‘My own distance of travel to South Stack (I live in Manchester) also influenced and affected the film, it being a three-hour drive along the North Wales Expressway.’
* recky should be recce
* The outcomes section should focus on ‘South Stack’ – remove here the discussion of your previous film ‘Highway Code (Manchester 2K)’, which you have already mentioned.
* Clarify what you mean by the work being screened ‘as a part of’ Castlefield Gallery Associates – at what event, in what format, etc.
* John Latham’s name is missing from the bibliography.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.