“Dividing Roadmaps by Timezones: 10 years of moving pictures ”
(text written for screening at the Canadian Film Institute)
published on their website and in the printed program for the screening, 2009
"I am not greedy. I do not seek to possess the major portion of your days. I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only by poetry, you will, perhaps, recall an image, even only the aura of my films."
I was dabbling in super 8, but had not yet made my first 16mm film, when I first encountered this quote at the beginning of a tape of Maya Deren’s films. I was deeply moved then, and to this day, I continue to feel that this is the greatest goal to which any artist can aspire.
I entered the house of filmmaking through the door of photography. I was a photographer who had grown weary of the static rectangle, and I wanted to make my photographs move. Despite my passion for composition, optics, and chemistry, photography could never catch the movement of the wind in the leaves. For a while, I worked as a commercial photographer, and it was in that realm that I came to an even greater ideological impasse: a dialectic whose synthesis continues to elude me as I teeter between the physical object that can be owned and the phenomenological experience that slips away with every passing moment. As I moved to moving pictures, I promised myself that I would never work in the commercial film industry, because I did not want my passion for filmmaking to face the paralysis that my passion for photography had. I wanted my attitude toward motion picture to remain fresh, excited, and even naïve; I wanted to forever feel like I was making a film for the first time. So I resolved to always leave some stones unturned.
Shortly before moving to Halifax, I found an old super 8 camera, fully loaded with an unexposed cartridge of expired Kodachrome, in my parents basement in Magnetic Hill, NB. I promptly shot that roll of film on a drive with my brother, and then bought and shot several more cartridges. Within a month of arriving in Halifax, I joined the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative and began taking as many 16mm filmmaking workshops as possible. After hand-processing my first roll of super 8 film in Helen Hill’s Lady’s Film Bee, I began to sign out 16mm cameras, shoot hi-con film, and process it in my darkroom, learning as I went. I continued working my day-job as a photographer while experimenting with the moving image on the side, but I was never interested in telling stories, documenting events, or working with actors. I was literally in love with the photographic image while I was running away from the static two-dimensional object and toward the flickering light of wind moving in the leaves of distant trees.
Despite the fantastic workshops offered by AFCOOP, there was very little opportunity to see experimental film in Halifax. Wormwoods (an old rep-theatre) had already closed, the film festivals focused on narrative and documentary films, and there was not a single cinematheque in all of the four Atlantic Provinces. With no exposure to experimental film, I was working in what felt like a void; thinking I was doing something new because I was completely unaware of the rich tradition that had developed over the past century. My only exposure to experimental films, was from a couple of VHS tapes (“Un Chien Andalou” and “Collected Films of Maya Deren”) from Video Difference (a 24/7 movie store) where I had gotten a job once I decided to pursue the practice of the moving image. It was just before I moved to Vancouver that I had the great fortune of attending a series of films curated by Gerda Cammaer; I sat dumbfounded and in awe throughout the length of each of the four screenings – such great works of films plumbing depths that I didn’t even know existed to be plumbed.
From the very beginning I was interested in playing with the surface of the screen and projecting onto various surfaces, such as the two-thousand pound wall of ice on which I projected Turning during my performance of “Quiet Triptych”. Turning was created with the knowledge that it was intended to be projected onto a wall of melting ice – and it has rarely screened since or otherwise. Ironically, Turning involved a lot of filming of static New Brunswick landscapes. The film was moving in the camera, but both the camera and the landscape sat still, with nothing moving but the film and the wind.
Vancouver brought a time fraught with frenzied production. Over the course of three years, I completed seven 16mm films, two super 8 films, eight ultra-short 35mm films, and a great deal of photography, contemporary dance, and electroacoustic sound compositions. This was partially due to my sudden immersion in a large city, and partially to my enrollment in the MFA program at SFU. Suddenly I had access and exposure to more films and screenings than ever before. I met filmmakers in person that I had only read about, and I joined the Frameworks listerv where I found a worldwide community of filmmakers interested in the same ideas and processes; synapses fired like mad.
Upon completing my MFA, I moved to Amsterdam, where I had a chance to look at how a new country and system functioned with the arts. I was fascinated with how a different national funding system directly influenced the aesthetics of the films made within that system. During this period, my productivity slowed, while I entered a period of reflection and took the time to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture. I was surprised at how obsessed I became with the little things such as garbage collection, traffic signs, and bathrooms. I shot a lot of digital video during this period, which is still sitting on a hard drive, and may or may not become material for a future project on anomie.
In January of 2008 I was an artist in residence at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, as a part of their Starting From Scratch Program. This residency provided me with materials, facilities and accommodations for a month to create a new film that premiered on the last night of the festival. This was an amazing opportunity for creation and exposure. I was tempted to (and had the opportunity to) remain in Rotterdam, however, as may have become apparent through my film v=d/t, which was created during that residency, I felt compelled to revisit my roots in Atlantic Canada.
Upon my return to Atlantic Canada, a re-evaluation of my approach was drawn out by a new aesthetic in this new community that was once old; as homes turn foreign after enough time away. It was here in Sackville, that I tried video art for the first time, and a renewed passion for still photography began to gurgle beneath the surface, pressing against the damp inner-flesh of my throat. Most significantly, I now find myself returning to the New Brunswick landscape, ten years later, both filming it as well as physically engaging with it through site-specific radio-sculpture performances.
My films began looking at my own body and situating it in the world. When viewed in chronological order, it becomes apparent that each successive film draws further and further away from my body and from representation. I gradually began filming more inanimate objects and manipulating them beyond recognition. I was distancing myself further and further from the physical world. There is a sense of loss and isolation in this return to stasis. Instead of a moving image frozen in a static photograph, I began filming static objects as moving images.
Over the past few years, I have been easing my way into film improvisation – working with loops and projector manipulation in real time, with prisms, mirrors, filters, and lenses. Unlike a film that can be viewed in my absence, a performance can only happen in my presence, and thus necessitates an immediate connection and interaction with the audience, and therefore bridges the gap that has been evolving in my films.
I continue to wrestle with the separation inherent in the nature of both photography and filmmaking. I am at once in love with the tragic beauty of the photographic moment – the light captured on celluloid – but I also mourn the loss of the fleeting physical experience and human connection - the sense of smell, taste, and touch. Now that I have found the wind in the leaves, I’m longing for the wind on my skin; the tactile sensation that does not translate to the projected light on screen. And thus begins a chapter of live performance and landscape intervention.
Sackville, NB. 2009