Beautiful winter light yesterday burnishing St Pauls and giving a classical Claudian harmony to the the City and the river. At Tate Modern they were half way through Figuring Landscapes, a programme of British and Australian artist films conceived by Steven Ball and Catherine Elwes. The segment I saw was called Surroundings; here are a few comments on each of the films:
Nick Collins, Tidemills, UK, 2002, 10 min
Simply a selection of picturesque sunlit shots of the beach at Newhaven - golden light, distant figures, eroding harbour walls, rust coloured lichen, details of plants and washed up shoes. It reminded me of the kind of thing I video on holiday when I'm not pointing the camera at my children.
Sofia Dahlgren, Winter Light, UK, 2005, 4 min
Last time I visited the denstist they had one of those digital moving photographs of a waterfall. This was rather similar: a silent image of slightly swaying pine trees in winter sun with a rather queasy artificial feel (I could almost imagine Moriko Mori floating out of the woods...)
David Mackenzie, Where the Crow Flies Backwards, Australia, 2006, 6:50 min
According to the notes, 'a dark dream of a sombre landscape provides the setting for the eponymous bird to ply back and forth between tree and modern communication tower.' An impressive combination of sound and imagery, this reminded me of the sort of brooding black and white footage they used to play at Godspeed You! Black Emperor gigs.
Steven Ball, The Ground, The Sky and the Island, UK, 2008, 7:45 min
My two companions and I were unanimous in liking this film the least. After the silence and natural sounds of the previous three, the artist's portentuous voice-over in this film felt particularly obtrusive. Photographs of an Australian salt lake come in and out of focus and are followed by shaky footage taken at other sites. The explanatory notes are not much help: 'the work addresses the problem of attempting to produce landscapes and the uncertainty of representation.'
John Conomos, Lake George (after Mark Rothko), Australia, 2008, 7 min extract
A slow pan around Lake George, the image smeared and blurred like a Gerhard Richter painting (I wasn't so sure about the Rothko reference), accompanied by the kind of soundscape you would expect from this - semi-abstract electronica based on what sounded like field recordings.
Mike Marshall, Days Like These, UK, 2003, 5 min
I remember enjoying this film of a garden sprinkler at the Tate Triennial a few years ago - the scenes of water spraying over a sunlit garden poised somewhere between innocent playfulness and faintly sinister Lynchian quietness. Here Days Like These seemed rather quirky and amusing after watching the slow meditation on Lake George.
Jo Millett, Surroundings: Trees, UK, 2007, 3 min
A short film focusing on foliage, dense and swaying slightly, like the trees in an old painting by, say, Giorgione or Gainsborough. Made as part of an artist's residency at Knaresborough castle, the film was easier to like than Winter Light, but nevertheless felt rather insubstantial, like a short segment from a longer film (Straub's Le Genou d'Artémide perhaps).
Sandra Landolt, Push, Australia, 2007, 4:30 extract
In which someone tries to push a light aircraft out of the frame... Not at first sight a 'landscape film' except that the out-of-focus outback dominates the picture throughout, vast and impersonal behind the struggling human figure.
Shaun Gladwell, Approach to Mundi Mundi, Australia, 2007, 8: 37 min
I was in the minority, liking this one - maybe it depends on how seriously you take the anonymous biker filmed riding through the empty landscape, his arms outstretched as if to take possession of it. There are two versions and the dawn ride I thought rather beautiful - although my friend thought it about as moving as watching someone playing a video game.
Scott Morrison, Ocean Echoes, Australia, 2007, 9 min
An odd title for a piece filmed entirely down in the grass - rapidly cut repeat images of stalks swaying in the wind to a hectic soundtrack which seems to combine wind, insect noises and, later, in a calmer section, birdsong. The notes give a political context: 'as we head for global food shortages, this glistening field of ripening crops takes on the ominous character of a frantic warning.' Difficult to watch but I suspect this one will live in the memory longer than most of the others.