Friday, May 09, 2008

The Zone

Rembrandt, The Three Trees etching, 1643

I was at Tate Modern today for an all day symposium on The Art of Andrei Tarkovsky. It began with a talk by Evgeny Tsymbal who worked on Stalker (1979) and who was partly responsible for the famous dream sequence which you can see in this Youtube clip. After about 45 seconds in this clip some trees appear. I thought these were reflections but they are actually an upside-down image of Rembrandt’s engraving The Three Trees. Tsymbal said he had recalled Tarkovsky’s use of Renaissance art in earlier films and gone to look for some art reproductions in a Tallinn bookshop. All he found that was suitable was this Rembrandt and an image of John the Baptist from Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece.

Three years ago artist Jeremy Millar was also in Estonia to see and film the locations for Stalker. He too found inspiration in a bookshop – a copy of Ajapeegel by Tatjana Elmanovitsh (1980), one of the first books about Tarkovsky. ‘Ajapeegel’ means ‘Time Mirror’ in Estonian and it is the title of a film Millar is making using footage he shot of what must be one of the most memorable landscapes in modern cinema, ‘The Zone’ through which the Stalker leads his two companions. To be honest I was a bit disappointed with the film in its current state – a series of panning shots and a voice over with echoes of Patrick Keiller and W.G. Sebald. Millar and his excellent interlocutor Brian Dillon had both been at the Sebald symposium I reported on last year.

The rest of the day was quite a mixed bag. I was expecting more artists who were explicitly working with Tarkovskian material – it would have been interesting to hear from the University of Westminster’s David Bate, for example, who has also made the pilgrimage to Tallinn to photograph The Zone. The other artists who did attend (in addition to Jeremy Millar) were Hannah Collins, who has recently done some slow tracking shots and long takes in the style of Tarkovsky, and Hannah Starkey, whose interesting photographs didn’t really appear to have been directly influenced by Tarkovsky. Of the other speakers, Toby Litt was entertaining and film critic James Quandt was the most interesting, pointing out Tarkovsky elements, for example, in Bela Tarr’s Damnation (rain, ruin, entropy), in Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (windblown grass, a muddy path, church bells) and in Carlos Reygadas (a tree and a road straight out of Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia).

One final reflection on landscape and Tarkovsky: in talking to Jeremy Millar, Brian Dillon used an interesting verb to describe the way the Stalker approaches The Zone and contemporary artists deal with place: they try to ‘incite something from the landscape’.

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