Les États généraux du film documentaire 2010 Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Chris Welsby

Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Chris Welsby

I was a painter first and painted landscape because we lived in the country and that was what was there. Then I learned to sail when I was ten years old and the ocean and forest was my playground. Later I went to art school in London but retained my love of the land. Film was a departure but the technology is very simple and easy to adapt to my own purposes. However, the landscape comes first and every idea comes from the direct experience of that.
Structural film-makers on both sides of the Atlantic began experimenting at that time - the sixties - with landscape imagery; however, the landscape in these so-called landscape films was of secondary importance. As in mainstream narrative cinema and Renaissance painting, where nature is something to be captured and considered as the backdrop to the human drama, the emphasis was primarily on human activity, in this case the film-making process. It seemed to me that in these works the processes of film arid the processes in nature were still split along Cartesian lines. My love of landscape and my fascination with the scientific investigation of complex systems pushed my practice in a different direction. What interested me about both structural film and complex systems was the possibility of creating work based on 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.
Unlike the landscape painters and photographers of the last century, I have avoided the objective viewpoint implicit in panoramic vistas or depictions of homogeneous pictorial space. I have avoided the static viewpoint from which to contemplate the comparative permanence of geological features such as hills and valleys. I have instead concentrated on “close up” detail and the more transient aspects of the landscape, using the flickering, luminous characteristics of the film and video mediums, and their respective technologies, to suggest the fragmentary quality of our post-industrial experience of the natural world.
My films begin as a “musical feeling” about the spacial and temporal disposition of the component parts of a landscape. My aim is to mediate between the predicable and the unpredictable elements of the situation. My intention is to make films which are not about, but a part of this situation in its entirety. In all of my films and installations I use the simple structuring capabilities of moving image technologies, such as variable-frame rate, in-camera editing and multiple projection, in combination with natural phenomena such as wind and tides and the rotation of the planet, to produce works in which the relationship between mind, technology and nature is based not on control and exploitation but on cooperation and the interaction between the parts of a larger "gestalt". The overall shape of the films can be described as a consequence of the interaction between the predictable mechanistic nature of technology and the chance-like qualities of the natural world. My gallery installations deal with the transformations which occur when the multi-directional space of the landscape is imported into an architectural space governed by the limitations of geometry and perspective. The resulting fragmentation of sound and image acknowledges the fundamentally fractured relationship between culture and nature, a prominent characteristic of the process of industrialisation.
I have no desire to capture and control Nature. I’ve always seen Nature to be interactive because one part interacts with another as part of an ecological process: what I wanted to do was insert technology into that situation in such a way that it wasn’t separate from that process but within it, for instance by using the wind to control the running speed of a film camera: my first film was made by attaching a camera to a wind Vane and letting nature do the rest. Since then I have devised ways to let Nature have agency in the making of my film and digital media projects. Wind, tide, changing light, cloud cover the rotation of the planet and tides are my camera crew and editors. I have never really tried to make films that are about nature, I have always tried to make films which are, in some way, part of nature. In each new project I attempt to suggest an alternative to the current dominant world view which is based on control over nature, and the Human Exceptionalism of the Pre-Copernican period. In this world view the phenomenon of consciousness is not separate from nature, as it is in Cartesian scientific thought, but is instead an essential part of all biological processes. This new understanding of nature focuses on the relationship between the parts and the dynamic processes where the flow of energy gives rise to new forms, placing human beings and human consciousness back within the complex fabric of nature and not on the outside like some disembodied brain looking in.

Chris Welsby

Edited excerpts from many interviews with the film-maker, by Federico Rossin.

Coordination : Presentation and debates by Federico Rossin (independent curator and film critic). In the presence of Chris Welsby.