An Equilibrium Not of This World – an impression

Projected diptych video, Edinburgh College of Art, Lauriston Place, for Edinburgh Art Festival 2013, by Katri Walker

I lived in Edinburgh for several years. That festival city, where there always seems to be some celebration of one form of entertainment or another at any one time. But last year I left, pulled to Aberdeen by a curiosity to live somewhere new, and to help my partner explore a new career opportunity. I miss those festivals, but I also miss those hills. I’ve talked about the Pentland Hills before. These hills lie to the southwest of Edinburgh, and are mostly protected as a Regional Park, and rest within the counties of Edinburgh, West Lothian, Midlothian and South Lanarkshire. The spectre of the Pentland hills loom large over the city of Edinburgh. There are a great deal of points within the city where the Pentlands can be glimpsed: a stilled, wild, rural and, perhaps most importantly, remote area. To the city of Edinburgh, these hills are always present, but always at a remove, not quite reachable for most; at least, not without some effort.

I used to often make my way to the hills. While the reality of the hills in their intimacy may not quite invoke the wild, stilled and remoteness that their distant viewing suggests (one hill pass is aptly named Windy Door Nick), the relative openness,

Still from An Equilibrium Not of This World, courtesy of Katri Walker.

Still from An Equilibrium Not of This World, courtesy of Katri Walker.

and quietness1 is apparent. In Katri Walker’s piece, she explores and gently reveals the way in which a retreat to the hills can manifest itself in the acting of hill running. As the promotional material puts it, it is about: “the dialogue between body and landscape, interior and exterior, man and machine”. The installation shows two projection screens alongside one another. On the right, a path through hills is tracked; a close up of shrubby branches twitching in the wind; a vista of mountains, with clouds floating through the blue sky above. On the left, the right screen’s loose correlates in the form of various analytic sequences and videos that tends towards the scientific investigation of running: stop animation of a runner (presumably on a treadmill in a lab) and a black and white scan of a beating heart; neurons sparking; a plot of inhale/exhale against a graph-paper background.

The installation took place in the Edinburgh College of Art, in a darkened studio. I sat on floor, staring at the screens, trying to take in the pair of images; wondering what the intention of the work is, and what it stirs within me. The sonic accompaniment too was significant (and wonderful). It featured music by Judith Weir, which flowed between deep, plaintive bowed strings, to a light, fluttering thrill on violin. In addition, there was the sounds of breathing, and of heart beating, weaving in and out of the music. The slow deep music, racing breath, and on the right hand screen, a view of the hill path, being tracked uphill: the sonic expression of the gruel of a climb. But as the descent begins, so the music changes: this is when it gets lighter, and sprightly, as the run goes down hill; buoyed by gravity: a dance with the landscape.

After my third or fourth viewing, the music cuts out. “It does this occasionally, and always at this point!” says the host at the door, by way of explanation. I assume this is a coincidence, though part of me wonders if this is a treat afforded to those who sit through more than a couple of viewings: a chance to have external noise fall away; a chance for my thoughts to come through more strongly. Up until this point, I have been viewing the film from a distance, as an object. Sure, I was trying to imagine my time in the Pentland Hills, and the physical exertion that entails, but all I was doing was calling upon my memories. But when the audio stopped, I suddenly become hyper-aware of myself. I was tired from travelling, and I realised I was shaking to the rhythm of my heart beat. The visual was still present, and my gentle rocking seemed to be a personal expression of the run. It was as though I had transcended that void between viewer and art; as though I had become part of the piece. Not as though I was running, more like my body shaking as the memory of rural exertion was bubbling up through my being (or at least, my-being-there).

Gravitated plants - taken by the author.

Gravitated plants – taken by the author.

Perhaps that’s what it’s really like? When we’re totally consumed by that moment, that experience, that immersion. After leaving the exhibition, I wandered down the corridor, lost in thought. Facing one wall, was a glass-topped display case. The glass top was angled towards the wall: this cabinet had been rotated through 180 degrees, to minimise its prescence; to show that it was not for viewing: that it was mere clutter; had not been removed in time for Edinburgh Art Festival. The case was almost empty. A white card held taxonomic tags, but most of the specimens that corresponded were not to be found. All that was left were a couple of dried branches, looking like heather or some other woody, scraggy shrub. This case wasn’t meant for viewing, but following my intense focus on Katri Walker’s installation, I was drawn in. That naming and taming of nature, subverted by carelessness; gravity pulling the plant away from its ‘label’: an unintended act against subjugation.

Later, I thought back to the Pentland Hills, to my time in Edinburgh, to the festivals. I was struck by how familiar that place was, despite all that had changed since leaving 11 months earlier. That city and its hills had fed into me, become entwined in my being. I had dragged my physical body away to Aberdeen, but I was threaded into this place, and it into me. As Andrew Grieg says:

There are some hills and people
we cannot return to,
because nothing would be the same,
because we never left them.
2



Notes

1 Quietness is deliberate, though not perfect. The hills are rarely completely quiet; conversley it’s not impossible to find peace within the city limits. It’s the contrast I’m trying to emphasise here.

2 Excerpt from Knoydart Revisited, in Greig, A, 2011, Getting Higher, Edinburgh: Polygon, p201

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Black Box Shorts 1: Surface & Layers and 2: A Sense Of Unease. Edinburgh Film Festival 2012

Amongst the reams of narrative-based, feature-length films that makes up the majority of the Edinburgh Film Festival programme, there also features a collection of experimental films.  Foremost among them, is the Black Box series, with each showing organised around 4 collections of films, each with a different theme or focus. There are also two feature-length films. I’ve always considered the Black Box films a highlight of the festival for me, focussing as it does around exploring notions of time, existence, place, boundary and connection. I want to talk about collection 1 and 2 just now, viewed back-to-back on the 29th June 2012.   Hopefully parts 3 and 4, later today, will also stir some thoughts within me.

Black Box Shorts 1: Surface and Layers

  1. Rujak – Kenneth Feinstein/Indonesia, Singapore/2011/2 min 35 sec/DCP
  2. Under the Shadow of Marcus Mountain – Robert Schaller/USA/2011/No dialogue/BW/7 min
  3. Curious Light – Charlotte Pryce/USA/2011/English dialogue/Colour/4 min
  4. Landfill 16Jennifer Reeves/USA/2011/No dialogue/Colour/9 min
  5. tricolor – Martina Heyduk/Austria/2011/No dialogue/Colour/8 min
  6. Heavy Eyes (Schwere Augen) – Siegfried A Fruhauf/Austria/2011/No dialogue/BW/10 min
  7. Deep Red – Esther Urlus/Netherlands/2012/No dialogue/Colour/7 min 15 sec
  8. Chromatic Cocktail 180 Proof– Kerry Laitala/USA/2011/No dialogue/Colour/8 min
  9. Never a Foot Too Far, Even – Daïchi Saïto/Canada/2012/No dialogue/Colour/14 min

Black Box Shorts 2: A Sense Of Unease

  1. Untitled – Karl Erik Brøndbo/Norway/2011/No dialogue/Colour/11 sec
  2. Three Warning Signs – Eytan Ipeker/Turkey/2011/No dialogue/BW/3 min 14 sec
  3. Carbon – Craig Webster/USA/2012/English dialogue/BW/9 min 20 sec
  4. God Is in the Roots (Dieu est dans les racines) – Peter Snowdon/Belgium/2012/French dialogue with English subtitles/Colour/14 min 47 sec
  5. I Own a Carousel – Lori Felker/USA/2011/English dialogue/Colour/6 min 50 sec
  6. Europa – Telemach Wiesinger/Germany/2012/No dialogue/BW/20 min
  7. Barge Dirge – Lindsay McIntyre/Canada/2010/No dialogue/BW/7 min
  8. Habitat – Robert Todd/USA/2012/No dialogue/BW/9 min
  9. A Place to Come (Un Luogo a Venire) – Flatform/Italy/2011/Italian dialogue with English subtitles/Colour/7 min 30 sec
  10. Landfill -Andrew Kötting, Curious/UK/2011/English dialogue/Colour/3 min 37 sec
  11. Disquiet -SJ Ramir/New Zealand/2011/No dialogue/Colour/8 min 15 sec

Of the first two selections, I imaged I would take most from the first collection, though the theme, Surface and Layers, was predictably vague.  Of this first selection, the ones that really struck me were Rujak, with its double image focused on one layer on a rain-shimmering puddle, and on the layer of different seens of movement, such as ornamental fish (suggesting a depth to the puddle that was not there), creepy-crawlies and the view from a train window, replete with nodding telegraph poles and associative hypnotic lulling.  The busier the scene, the less obvious was it that these views were transposed onto a puddle.  Not until a cyclist pedaled through the water did one get jolted from the view from the train.  Then there was Landfill 16, 16mm film that has been buried in dirt, dug up, with the subsequent partially decomposed film played.  The mottled, mouldy, staccato result was reminiscent of my early forays into tobacco smoking, where closing my eyes would lead to intense visual textures, that seemed at once cloying and suffocating, but somehow distant, out of reach. Finally there was Never a Foot Too Far, Even, one film shot from two projectors, with a time delay.  Each frame was manipulated individually, to create a haunting, juttering of images, creating new and ghostly visual ephemera.

But it was selection 2: a Sense of Unease that really captured me. The selection title was misleading. As the curator began her introduction of the films, she invoked Freud’s trope of the uncanny (German: unheimlich, meaning unhomely, unfamiliar), which far better described the films. Some certainly created a sense of unease; Three Warning Signs for example, consisted of a mostly blank screen with a continuous high-pitched tone throughout, while God Is In The Roots shown footage of a rope acrobat performing a high art piece, while a narration of someone who apparently was lost in a woods for several days retells her story (the rope acrobat and narrator are actually one and the same). The narration was a fascinating treatise on how perhaps, just perhaps, we shouldn’t consider ourselves as so disconnected from nature as we often do.  The ‘God in the roots’ is seemingly a reference to flying birds who see the green grass as sky, as their limit, with god being beyond that green boundary, unreachable: converse yet similar to that of the Judeo-Christian beliefs of the West.  Most affectingly, for me, was the narrator’s understanding that she may just die in those woods, and as such will return to the nature that nourished her.  But, she concedes: “This is not my nature”.

However, the film that really caught my imagination was Flatform’s A Place To Come. The opening scene shows a landscape, shrouded in mist.  As the mist thins, a lush green field appears, with leafy hedge on the right, and tall trees on the not-so-distant horizon. At first, this looks like an archetypal English meadow, though the Italian narration throws this assumption into doubt. As we contemplate the scene, the narrator describes another setting: a man is walking, he’s followed by a dog several metres behind; following them both another dog paces excitedly towards them, plane trees in the background… – a story not reflected by what we witness. The mist then returns, obscuring all view, with only a tuft of grass at the very fore remaining.  As the mist lifts once again, we see a new scene – the one previously described by the narrator. And so it follows: visual follows audio. After a few such cycles, a new line of narration is introduced, interspersed amongst the scenic descriptions. The narrator asks us to consider the possibilities of other worlds. What does it mean for something to be possible? If something has no probability of existing, then that makes it impossible. But if something is probable, for example, that other worlds exist, then we can rightly say that these worlds are possible – that it is possible for infinite worlds to exist.  Or so the narrator’s straw man would have us believe. But the problem is, that a probability is by no means a certainty. As long as a probability is no more than a statistical category, then the other worlds do not exist. Their existence rests not on probability, but rather actuality. In other words, so the narration goes, a probability means an impossibility of existence.  It is now that the significance of the pre-emptive narration can be realised: the narration is constructing a world. It is probable that such scenes described could exist, but we come to realise just how false these scenes are, their impossibilty. These are montages, digitally constructed, just to be destroyed once we see through the surface sheen. But I wonder: Does this hold significance for our understanding of landscape? The moment we describe something, it becomes imbued with values. But can we ever truly define a landscape? For while it’s fair to take value in and from a landscape, can we really place value on a landscape? Can we ever truly define the event before its existence? Can we ever be sure about A Place To Come?