Sitdown is an Alchemy Film & Arts series of artist interviews, published to complement its exhibitions, residencies, and other events. You can find all other Sitdown entries here.
The Crumple Zone brings together nine recent moving-image works from a range of writers, poets, filmmakers, sound artists, photographers and visual artists in the Scottish Borders and South of Scotland. Named after a line in Jules Horne’s Unconformity, the programme presents a snapshot of tectonic movement, capturing the perceptible and imperceptible rhythms of geological time, meteorological shifts, graveyards, vocal expression, bodily gesture and rurality.
The Crumple Zone is part of the eleventh edition of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, available on demand, 29 April – 3 May.
Listen to a conversation between each of this programme’s artists and Alchemy Co-Director Michael Pattison.
Interviewer Michael Pattison
Artists Mooie Scott, Mark Lyken, Sue Thomas, James Wyness, Jules Horne, Sukjin Kim, Douglas McBride, Jane Houston Green
Michael Pattison (MP): Sue Thomas, Mist, the opening film of the programme The Crumple Zone. Sue, this film is all about flux. It barely stops for a moment from the beginning right till the very end. And yet it’s also quite slow because of the nature of the fluctuations that it’s seeking to capture. How did you, firstly, come to conceptualize this film? Was it a simple case of seeing right, I’m going to make a film about mist?
Sue Thomas (ST): Well, my style of work is what you would call artists’ moving image. So I describe it as being ‘painting with film’. And my style of work is always very, very similar. It’s what you would think of as a slow burn. And durational film is not everybody’s cup of tea. And normally my films are quite long. They can be 20 or 30 minutes long. But for many people that’s just too long to sit and watch something not very much happening, even if it’s a gripping content. And the last year, I was due to present at a conference in Lisbon, on spirituality and durational film, and I wanted to make a film that was short enough to add to my presentation that would give people a flavour just of what durational film is all about for me.
So I decided on the topic, but I’ve got a huge archive of material because you can’t just think, ‘I’m going to make a film about mist and run out and find it’. You know, it doesn’t work like that. All my film is taken in real time. And it’s all outdoor. And it’s never scripted. So I went through the film and part of the film there’s a rolling mist comes down the valley. And I really loved that. And to catch that on film was a great moment. So I thought, okay, I’ll use that. And I’ll use other film that I’ve taken. This is my landscape. This is where I live, other places that I filmed in that in those kinds of conditions. And then I wove them together as if I was painting in a way where one stroke would flow into the next. And I wanted the film to have that kind of flow to it. So it was more about explaining the way the film works. It was about how durational film works than any kind of narrative. There’s really no narrative to the work. It’s an experience of what it’s like to be in the mist.
MP: Mark Lyken, Rue du Dernier Adieu. The film is dedicated at the end to Chris. I’m presuming Chris Marker, who made films in Tokyo, who loved cats, who also wrote the lyrics to the Michel Frenc song on the soundtrack. Firstly, Mark, how did you come to find Yanaka cemetery? And to what extent were you or did you feel like a visiting tourist as, quote unquote, a South of Scotland artist, setting out to make a film about the cats that live in this Japanese territory?
Mark Lyken (ML): I was 100% a tourist. I’d just finished shooting a feature in Taiwan and decided to go up because I was that side of the world. I thought it would be a great opportunity to go to Japan for a restful holiday in Tokyo, which obviously didn’t work out. But yeah, was there as a tourist. And so I had no intentions of making a film. In fact, I’d intentionally left my camera in the apartment. Just wanted to be a tourist and just have a holiday. And so we were kind of doing a bit of a Marker pilgrimage, going to some of the sites from The Renaissance Life and, in particular, the Gotakuji Temple that has all the waving cats, and La Jetée Bar in Shinjuku. And so as we were wandering about, I was thinking about this notion about making a film about Chris, and how there’s a post-it note above my desk that said, ‘make a film about/not about Chris’. So I wanted to make something that was indirectly about Marker.
Visiting those places in Japan, they were straight from Sans Soleil and even though they’ve moved on, and that’s interesting in itself. So we went to Yanaka purely as tourists because it’s cat town, you know, and myself, my partner and I both love cats. So we went there to really like, cross that line and stock up on cat paraphernalia. And we ended up in the cemetery just because it’s a lovely place to go. It’s a lovely walk, there’s a really broad avenue cut straight through the middle of the cemetery. And it’s really bustling, people are there tending the graves, but also having lunch and also there for the cats. It’s quite a draw. So we did that, and then we came back and and I didn’t find anything that trip at all. I thought that if the opportunity ever arose again to go back to Japan, then shooting something at Yanaka cemetery would probably be the way to go. It’s visually really interesting. And the interplay between the cat and the crows, and it’s just, it’s an interesting, interesting place.
Yeah, but still not knowing how the Marker, that side of things, might figure into it or if it would, so that didn’t come until later. So I wasn’t able to go back to Japan that time. Emma [Dove] was there working on another project and she was good enough, on her days off, to spend them in the cemetery, gathering footage for the film. So I was directing via FaceTime. And she was gathering footage based on my notes. And we’ve made films together so often that she has the understanding of the kind of shots I might like. So she brought back all that footage. So I just had a cache of footage to work from but no emotion of how that might cut together or whether there was a film there at all.
MP: Sukjin Kim, Kashiri 2020. This film is so beautiful, and it’s so rich, the dresses, the choreography, the lyrical performance by the soprano Moon-Sook Park. Could you say a little bit about the origins of the emotional and historical background behind the folk song that the film is an adaptation of.
Sukjin Kim (SK): Yeah, Kashiri is, originally, a folk song that expression, that said in his soul break, but with the hope for returning and then that really was adapted to the court to music during, in Korean word, Koryeo dynasty, so that is the medieval fourteenth century. And that became a tribute to peace and happiness for the nation. So actually Kashiri, that word itself, meaning is: will you leave me? So Kashiri has got four different emotions. Sadness and anger and grief and hope. We had a really weird and tough year in 2020. So basically is a time to say goodbye. And then we hope for the better years. So that’s why I use Kashiri as my mini project over this thing because this Kashiri is actually my other project called Assume. That project is part of it, it’s a mini project.
So the Kashiri idea came from the soprano I know, Moon-Sook Park, because once we finished the film, and then looking for the right musicians, and then February musicians was really interested to take a part of it, but I was really kind of choosy and picky of it. So it took two years to meet that right musician, and then I love how she presents. And then, luckily, she fell in love with my project. She uses just lyric, but all the things she improvised. So Kashiri is actually mainly an olden-day poem. They don’t have a piece of music. But she improvised it beautifully and then that’s how I came by Kashiri.
MP: Jules Horne, the maker of Unconformity. Jules, some context about the film, firstly. This is the fifth film in a programme of nine. It sort of comes smack-bang in the middle of the programme, and it’s about the Tweed catchment and the rivers of the Scottish Borders, which in its own way is quite a central mass of land, if you like, not to privilege this film too much over the others in The Crumple Zone. I don’t want to do that at all. But the programme, as a whole, does take its name from a line in your film, which refers to both a car crash and also to a movement of tectonic plates. My first question is about the film’s sense of deep time. It’s about geological time, about the imperceptible movements of land and how we might think about land in this way. Could you give a bit of background about the genesis of the project as both a spoken word form? And then as a film adaptation or translation of that spoken word?
Jules Horne (JH): Yes, it is quite an epically structured, sort of, idea. And I’ve always been very interested in kind of epic storytelling. And I think because I come from the Borders and discovering that it was sort of sitting on not just a political fault-line but also geological fault-line is really exciting. Oh, I’m giving too much away what the film’s about in some ways. But it started off as a piece for Paines Plough Theatre. I was asked to write a short monologue, which was to fill in this map of Britain, which had little plays from different parts of the country. And there’s this massive gap between Newcastle and Edinburgh. There was like no place in between Newcastle and Edinburgh. And I was asked to sort of fill in the gap with a play from where you’re from. So ‘come to where I’m from’. And it was ‘Come to where I’m frae’. I’m from Hawick. And I wanted to write about some of the interesting things about being from Hawick.
So it’s from a bigger piece, which has got things about the invention of tweed, which is related to the invention of the Tweed. It’s a kind of humorous piece and it was written as a spoken word piece to be delivered by an actor, but because they didn’t have a budget, the writers had to do it. And this was up at the Fringe. So I did this piece for the Paines Plough Project. And so it was written for performance, and it was written with these objects in it as well. So the two stones that, that appear are actually the stones that were using the performance, and also I bribed the audience with Hawick balls at the beginning of the performance as well. So it’s very much a play about, you know, where I’m from.
And you’re asking about geological time, and I think the jolt, the epic time and the epic place are both related. So it’s like that, that’s where you’re looking at it from. And I’ve just found it really exciting that where we are is on this amazing, amazing fault-line. And you see in Iceland, where things bubble up out of the ground, and so on, you don’t see it in that way here, but you can kind of feel it in your imagination. And of course, in Jedburgh you can see in the car park there’s a sculpture which represents Hutton’s Unconformity, and it’s a bit lost to us. It’s kind of buried, we can’t really see it. But if you go to Siccar Point, you can see the geology made manifest. I suppose the idea of the story is really to help people know that about this place.
We look back maybe to the 1800s and a bit earlier than that, but do we really look back at that bigger spread. And I just think that bigger story… You know how people say, ‘Go out into nature and you experience your tininess in nature,’ and it’s actually quite a healing thing to do that, it’s actually quite a good perspective. It’s a positive perspective. But, even more so, if you go out into that really massive perspective and it’s a kind of wonder, and I really enjoy the sense of wonder that you often get in different viewpoints, which are maybe not human scale. So the scientific scale or the very, very close-up scale. I find that really interesting and quite inspiring as well.
MP: James Wyness, Crusts. James, tell me firstly about the timescale of this film because I’m interested in the idea of a daily routine. One as banal as eating breakfast. That’s to presume that the crusts here are remnants of a breakfast or of a series of breakfasts. I love the idea of a routine like this functioning as the structuring device of a film. There are a lot of crusts here. So my question is about the point at which you realised this was material for a film, did you set out to make a film about crusts? Or did the film kind of emerge from another project?
James Wyness (JW): Okay, well, I’ll give you the long answer. I started doing this from about 2006 onwards. And yes, the crusts are the remnants of breakfasts, when my son and daughter were very young, two years apart, so they’ve been about two and four, and getting on for three and five, maybe even younger. They were just toddlers, and we always ate breakfast as a family of four. So part of the routine was me, obviously, father, dad, telling the kids off for not eating their crusts, in a jokey sort of way, you know, you grow up properly and stuff. And this finds its way into a family culture. So there’s a kind of a, educating your kids and having a laugh, and it’s just part of life, you know. And so, the photographs came about, as another stern warning, you know: ‘I’ve got evidence that you haven’t eaten your crusts, the police will get you.’ It encourages routine and offers space for general bonding and chat, as well as raising your kids proper, you know, that thing.
What I didn’t realise at the time was this almost grinding nostalgia that I’d feel later on for that period of time. Not in a sort of romantic, emotional way. But it kind of weighs on you, you know, you look back and you think, ‘God, I took that so much for granted.’ And I think that would resonate with a lot of people, whether it’s with kids, or just with people or some situation you were in growing up. You can’t go back, once it’s gone, it’s gone and no amount of pictures or videos will bring it back. And yet the images, abstracted as digital objects, they carry more than a trace and what they represent and how they do so. The forms and shapes and colours, the movement of light changes across the series. So a lot more than just a memory. So for the photos, they were taken with a small digital compact, using the flash, I think most of the time, and I was working with a lot of visual artists, photographers, filmmakers, and how the idea of a series of small prints, you know, exhibited in a long line hung gallery wall, very minimalist. And that you would have to go right up and scrutinise a bit of an evidence-based thing around the room. I like to use the flash because it seems to dramatise the 2D plane. It throws the images forward. Again, it’s got that evidence thing about it, you know, the flash. There’s a cheapness about it, but actually, I quite like it.
And the temporal attributes, if you like, of the work emerge slowly over the course of a year or so as the light change and the table and plates. I realised that I was also documenting movement of time just by tablecloths changing, children responded to the work occasionally by arranging their crusts. And, you know, making little shapes. So it became agency, but of the antagonists if you like, rather than protagonists. And I work a lot now with film and photography over and above my experimental sound practices. And because of a lot of research, I understood that because of the social economy of photography and exhibition culture, I couldn’t really see much opportunity to have these images exhibited, you know, I mean, maybe, but it wasn’t something I was going to push just to get that done. I mean, a photo book may be a nice thing, you know, and that could be something that could go along with the film.
And I also decided that I would use this lockdown to drill deep into sort of backburner projects, film being one. And, I work on fairly geological timescales, you know, years and years, and eventually, I ken to understand it. Moving-image suited concepts and themes inherent in this and other projects, far better than my original intentions, which was photography, radio, literary presentational forms. I wasn’t missing out on film, but I needed to figure this out. So the image required some form of animation, basically. So hence the film. And apart from documenting work residences and things I’ve done before, I’d only ever really pottered and tinkered with moving-image largely functionally, you know, as a document of things. So over the last year, following an intensive period of R&D, and I’ve got eight film projects on the go, including one similar across to on a day-by-day changes in one tiny teenager’s bedroom. I’ve been shifted around. It’s kind of set me off on a train of thought about how to use material, whether it’s stills or moving-image and sound and put it together into, you know what you would call experimental film. So yeah, that’s a story behind it.
MP: Douglas McBride, the maker of Findhorn. Douglas, the film is a series of vignettes, wee vignettes. There are no spoken words in the film, no music, there is no narrative, at least not in the traditional sense. And yet, the way the landscape seems to move here, and the sound, always seems to be saying something. I’m not sure what it’s saying; maybe, maybe communicating is a better word. But it’s almost like a meditative poem, an imagistic poem. Could you maybe, maybe say something in response to that?
Douglas McBride (DM): Yeah, well, it’s phenomena in the landscape that I, I look for. I first discovered this phenomena in Dunkirk about three or four years ago. And it brought me to some poetry that I’ve been reading. I’m very much interested in the aesthetic of the east, and the way that they have brought together feelings about being in a landscape. One poet in particular that I really love was writing 700 years ago. So it just shows how the landscape and what it does is eternal. Yeah, well, when I went to Findhorn and discovered for myself, exactly the same thing that was going on before. And it had the same feelings as before. So I first tried to find the way to impart that. But there’s a Scottish poet called John Burnside who wrote a line in a poem. And he very kindly gave me permission to use it. And it’s, ‘Imagine they knew already, leaving gifts that others might find.’ And it’s the pure essence of the thing, I go into the landscape and discover, what he said, is very, very true.
And I mean, I could go on, I could talk about at great length, because I have discovered that Japanese Zen ideal, where, where you’d go in and you don’t look for something, you let it discover you and wash over you. And that happened for a long time, when I was in the forests of my last film. I spent nearly 10 years walking in the forests. Having two dogs, you know, you were obliged to take them out every day. But that wasn’t my motivation, really, my motivation was to get up at dawn whenever I didn’t have a commission and go into the landscape and drink in what it had to offer. And that was stills photography, because I’ve been a stills photographer a long time and that ended up an art project that I was very, very proud of. And at the exhibitions I tried to find a way of of getting the feeling towards people without going on and on about it. So eventually, I discovered the idea that I could make short films from it. And that’s how Findhorn as a film came, it came from the idea that there was something telling me that there was an effect to be had. I have other plans for the future. I started on what I’ve been calling the Dune project since that that time when I went to those dunes in Dunkirk.
MP: So Mooie Scott, Overturn. Overturn is such a dramatic experience, dramatic in quotation marks, I suppose, because the, you know, the orchestral music, it seems totally at odds, the orchestral music with the perceived serenity of the woodland captured in the film. And yet this very contradiction between a dramatic orchestral soundtrack and the serenity of what we see seems to be rooted, or the root, sorry, of the woodland’s character. Woodlands are incredibly dramatic places aren’t they? It seems fitting somehow that at the end of the film, for instance, you reveal that it was shot during autumn 2020, a season of real change in cinematic qualities. Could you maybe just say a little bit about that?
Mooie Scott (MS): Well, I think, um, I, all the filming that I do is on my iPhone, and I use it like a sketchbook and I’m always out looking for, for things or maybe not really necessarily looking for them, but they sort of happen around you. So I think woodlands are very, like you said, they’re unpredictable places. Something can seem very blissful. And then suddenly, you’re within the woodland experience. And I think in a strange way, once awareness is heightened, and you become a little bit more alert, depending on the textures and atmospheres that are around, you know, you can come into trees can be very closely placed together, the texture of the wooden floor can change, it can be, you can be walking with difficulty, and then suddenly, it becomes really quiet and one becomes aware of different things. So something that could be blissful. And apparently, you know, beautiful could become could change unpredictably quite quickly. And I think that I’m definitely drawn to those kinds of qualities.
I’ve been reading a lot of books about nature, in fact, and how trees communicate with their roots and the fungal network. And as sort of what one thinks of a quiet place could if you had the right recording equipment, and you had recording underneath the ground, perhaps that could be quite a dramatic sort of digestive extraordinary noise that was being made a bit like when cameras go inside the body. It’s just, it’s not what you think it is. It’s something quite extraordinary and, and strange. So I wanted to bring attention to that. Those qualities. I’m a visual artist, so a painter, and I work in a collage way. So a lot of the images I’m interested in, I sort of like putting things together in a kind of surprising way. When I use my recordings, it’s only when I get back home that I can see perhaps the perspective that the lens has taken. And there is a sort of control and a process but at the same time, some of it is a surprise, it’s not what you think it is because it’s to do with a light or a more abstract present has been able to be picked up upon from the, from the, from the recording in some way. So, and you can only see that when you get home, sometimes it’s disappointing. And sometimes it’s a total surprise and you’ve found you’ve got something that you didn’t even know you had. There’s that quality of ease and you know, that it’s almost like you didn’t do it something else was working through you. Something like that, anyway.
MP: Jane Houston Green, the director of Whispers of Waiting. Jane, tell me, firstly, about the title of the film. Whispers and waiting suggest, both suggest, quietude and patience, if you like, a state of contemplation. And this is a very quiet film, although we do hear certain noises and bangs and whatnot on the soundtrack. But it is a very quiet format. It’s also a very patient film, I think. What were you trying to achieve here in making it?
Jane Houston Green (JHG): I think the reason why I called it Whispers of Waiting, is partly to do with the whispers of things that happen around us, you know, while we wait. So the film is about these people waiting. But it’s also about what are they waiting for, you know, what is going on in their heads? And I think the relevance of that was to link back to that we all wait, we all wait in different circumstances, you know, we can wait for a train or for the traffic lights, you know, we can wait for some news in some shape or form. And, you know, we’re waiting at the moment for some kind of return to normal, whatever that might be, you know, it’s not necessarily going to be the old normal. But it’s, I think, in that is that where does the frustration come? And the frustration comes from this inability to have more freedom, to make the choices that we want to make.
Now, I would say that we are always influenced and affected by the choices that we can make by all sorts of different circumstances that are unique to everyone. So in the film is that you have these four people, and it’s like, why are they waiting and what are they waiting for? So there’s a whispers if you like, that is what’s going on in their head that we don’t know. They could be thinking about anything. And it’s also it’s like, there’s a sort of whispers for the audience, of are they waiting for each other? And if they are waiting for each other who is waiting for whom? So there’s that sort of question in there. But there’s many, many different levels that I tried to throw into the film, of which people will pick up what they want from that. Because there is this sense of, we’ll wait, what do we do when we’re waiting? What are these people doing while they’re waiting? So there’s that patient solitude. But also, within the pandemic, there’s this whole sense of, in that solitude of you finding your mindfulness of finding a place to be that can be a sort of place of sanctuary or safety. So it is that what’s going on in their heads? And then it’s the thoughts in our heads, as we’re watching it, of why are these people here? And why are they in this particular scenario?
And that, to me, is also what we, as a viewer can see that the waiters can’t see. So that, you know, we can see the raindrop on the umbrella, we can see the statue almost smelling her hair, we can see the thunder bugs in the glass. And we can see the whispers, as he’s looking at a fire in the distance. So I wanted to experiment with what we can see that they can’t, which is almost magical things happening around them, whispers of things that are happening around them, that are not something that they can directly experience. So we’re seeing on two levels, we’re seeing what they can’t see. But then I also wanted to try and make it show or highlight what they might be looking at, which is why you’ve got this little extracts in the film that sort of pull the focus to: well, look, this is what the waiter is looking at.
So the whispers to me is on many different levels. It’s also is that they’re in the natural world. So there’s a beauty in the natural world and the landscape. But it’s what they’re waiting by. And for me, I love the arts and crafts movement. So there’s an element of what is beautiful in the landscape. And also what we as humans create that is beautiful that we put into the landscape. And that for me is about craftsmanship. It’s about something which is not mass production. It’s about quality rather than quantity. And of course in our ever increasingly consumer society, is that we need to reappraise that I feel. So there’s that sort of element, which is where some of the sound is as well. It’s about all those different things. So the whispers and the waiting is that waiting is not actually as simple as waiting. We put all sorts of different slants onto that. And then there is the magical, there is that magical stuff that flies around us, that swirls around us, that plays out. And we’re not quite sure what’s going to play out in our lives because there are sort of so many elements that we don’t have control over. And, you know, we can be thinking we’ve put that film in for a festival – is it going to be chosen? But we don’t know what the people are thinking as they are looking at our submissions. It is that whole sense of patience, but also hope, I suppose.
MP: Sue Thomas, Mist. Coming back to your film, the first one of the programme. Could you tell me a little bit about the sound because part of the film’s beauty, part of the film’s strength, its gripping qualities if we might refer to them as such, is the way the sound seems to sort of blend or bleed between different places and landscapes very much as much as the the images dissolve between these images. And sorry, these places in landscape.
ST: Yes. My soundtrack is always, it’s the second aspect of the film, it’s… although I record the sound as I’m filming, I will quite often separate the two and then use them differently. But in this particular film, I did add in some extra sound because I wanted the feel of the mist I wanted it to have a, an ethereal quality and squawking birds are not really conducive with ethereal mist. So I took some sound which I had used previously. They’re actually sounds from space. They’re from the NASA recordings of planetary sound. It seemed just, just for that short time to get that feeling of something otherworldly, because the quality of being in mist is very otherworldly, there’s, you’re not quite sure where you are, you’re not quite sure what you can’t see. And the same applies to the sound. When you’re in, in mist, it’s very disorienting, you don’t know quite where the noises are coming from. And they do sound very different when you hear rooks cawing, they sound different, depending on, I suppose, on the, the air quality, and I wanted a sound. And I also use, I use a very long feed between takes. I might use 10 or 20 seconds, and I’ll feed one in and out of the other. And again, that’s the quality which I felt worked well with the mist. Because it is such a strange state. And I wanted, I want the film to be absorbing, I want people to really know what it, what it’s like to be in the midst of that place.
MP: Mark Lyken, Rue du Dernier Adieu. The film is shot digitally but, the first thing we hear in the film is the crackle of the 1958 record, which we hear on the soundtrack. And it’s also the last thing we hear in the film. And it got me thinking, if not during the film, then certainly after it, in kind of retroactively thinking that cemeteries as depicted here in the film are very analogue places. The way memories of people are sort of literally inscribed onto gravestones which are themselves these, these kind of like analogue monoliths. Tokyo in many ways strikes me as a city, that sort of analogue and digital, as articulated in Sans Soleil. It’s full of concrete on the one hand, and it’s full of giant LED screens on the other. But coming back to the crackle of that record, and this isn’t really like a question, it’s more of a prompt, really, but it seems to entrap the film, and/or its location, as if they sort of exist in 1958. And at no other time, apart from the fact that the image is, you know, distinctly contemporary if you like, and I’m watching it as a viewer in 2021 aware that this film has been made very recent to the time in which I’m watching it. But the space that it’s depicting kind of isn’t.
ML: I think that’s… I guess that’s the thing about Japan, there’s no… It feels like the old and the new kind of coexist, even if to an extent… I guess that’s more tradition, religion and technology feel like they coexist. And the old and the new, but I guess in the sense of Tokyo, it’s it’s been destroyed and rebuilt so many times, but Yanaka, I think, my understanding is that, Yanaka in particular escaped the worst of the bombing during the war. And so there still is, you can, there still is the old town there, or certainly, to me, it seems like like the old town. And so it does have that sense of, in some ways, stepping back, back in time, particularly the cemetery where there’s no, I guess there’s less markers of modernity, unless it’s the, whatever the current fashions of tombstones are, I don’t know. But it does, it does feel like that.
And that, you know, when I, when I read that, Chris Marker had written lyrics to this song. And then I found the song, I found the record on Discogs and bought it and it’s in French and obviously, can understand fragments of it, but had it translated, and they just felt ideal, you know, it’s just describing the notion of taking Marker’s kind of real and metaphoric map of Paris, and kind of transposing that on to the kind of walkways and passageways sort of the, of the cemetery felt like a really nice way to kind of marry the two things together, you know, Marker’s love of, of Tokyo, his love of cats, given the, the cemetery’s feline residents, and, and just his kind of, his kind of romantic but slightly bleak notion of kind of Paris, that would have been in the, I guess, in the ’60s, but I was thinking about that.
And, you know, I guess Marker’s only been dead for 10 years. So the, I guess, his Tokyo and his Paris are, I would imagine are still very much recognisable. And so it’s an interesting idea that he’s, he’s gone but he’s only relatively recently gone. But the notion of a resolutely digital filmmaker, I have no interest in shooting an analogue medium. Although I love records and I love cassette tapes, but for some reason that doesn’t translate to film for me. I love the, I guess the autonomy of being able to, to have all my equipment in a bag and, you know, have no processing costs like that. And I’m limited by the size of the memory cards and, and that means a lot to me that you know, to be able to do that to, to run around and to film stuff. It’s really, it’s really important. I don’t think I would have that freedom if I was shooting in an analogue format. As much as I love analogue films, I see I have no interest in shooting that way at all.
MP: Sukjin Kim, Kashiri 2020. Sukjin, to come back to your film, the cultural specificity of the folksong, which you spoke a little bit about already. It’s complicated here by the cultural specificity, or the geographical specificity of the filming location, which is, which is in the Scottish Borders. Could you say something about the the process and reasoning behind the location for the shoot? Such as, you know, what, what were you looking for in this landscape? And what did that landscape bring to the performance in the film?
SK: Yeah, so I actually, I can really simplify is about the location itself, is I was kind of looking at this total green, because that green is presented as the earth, and then actually my performance, that costume as a white dress, and then we used 100 meters of white fabric. Because before I explained the white is actually the 100 metres distance is kind of symbolising life’s journey. Because in Korean the expression is ‘life is a marathon, not a 100-metre sprint’. But, personally, 100 metres running is really hard as well. So I chose, okay, I’m gonna make 100 metres distance between a tree and another dancer and me, and then we just working through and then just, you know, keeping an eye on each other. And then we tie them up dancing together, and then ended up just looking back that is kind of where we’re looking back on our memories, which is all reedited. So, sharing life. And then just doing like, a journey together, that is all kind of symbolising things. And then I chose white, because, you know, the memory has got so many emotion into it. And then we can actually explain through colours of lights. And then when you mix all different colours of light, actually they become white. So the white is, actually looks like a blank and empty canvas, but because so many emotions, and then all the different colours of light in there. So the location itself, of course, I needed hues, you know, hundreds of metres and then we became 200 metres. So I was looking at just space as a total green. So then white was so physically, life journeys takes place. So that’s why green and white, and then that is present on our memories and a life journey.
MP: Jules Horne, Unconformity. Jules, let’s come back to the film and chat a wee bit more about the spoken word aspect of the film. It seems that Scots is particularly onomatopoeic. And it seems to be tailor-made for a film about collisions and crashes and movements. It’s almost as if the language itself is making a claim of ownership over the geology here. Or not a claim of ownership, but rather a claim of deep affiliation with the land and with the landscape. That’s a prompt more than a question.
JH: No, that’s interesting. I wouldn’t talk about ownership. I think it’s, I think it’s, it’s much more, it’s much more sort of natural to you than than that because it’s, it’s, you know, it’s the language of your breath. And it’s the language of your body. So it’s, kind of comes from, from there. And I think it’s interesting that, you know, it’s something that you grew up with hearing all around. And so it’s very much imbibed, and it’s kind of trained out of you in different ways later on in life, but I think writing, writing for spoken word because I write for theatre, mainly but I think even in, even in writing fiction, there’s still a kind of Scots storytelling sensibility, which is a bit like in the Irish sensibility that there is a kind of a sense of, of performance in written language. I think. So. So there’s, I think there’s a degree of that. And I would always read aloud what I was writing in any way.
So, and I’ve heard Philip Pullman talk about this as well, that when he’s writing, he’s listening for, he’s feeling a shape that’s ahead. And he knows how the sentence will feel and rise and fall and end in its music, without necessarily knowing exactly what’s in it. So there’s definitely a musical shape that I’m conscious of. I’m a musician and, and definitely, rhythm and pattern of, of language is very important to me. I’m not sure whether Scots is more onomatopoeic than other languages. I think there’s, there’s in English you have the two language strands, you have the Germanic and the Romance language strands. And of course, the Scots, the Germanic common route is very pronounced. So our German teacher at Hawick High School used to come in and get candidates for learning German by going hunt, fuss, finger, kirche, kirk, exactly the same. Moose, hoose. All these words are exactly the same. German’s really simple, come and join and learn German, so we all fell for it. Of course, that’s not true.
And so there’s, but there’s definitely a robustness about the Anglo Saxon vocabulary. And I’m really interested in, you know, going back and discovering in terms of landscape, you know, the kind of etymologies of words are very shared between those languages and go back a long way and things like beech, beech tree is Buche in German, and it’s the same etymology as book. And if you sort of go back, you’re finding these very, sort of human material objects that are very rooted in the language, that have that sort of common root. I don’t know that quite answers your questions, question.
But I think there was an interesting point about landscape and the nature of what’s underfoot, and whether that may be influenced influences rhythms. And I think in Ireland, I’ve heard that the six eighths rhythm, you know, the jig rhythm de de de de de de de de de de, is kind of, it’s not a flat rhythm. It’s a dance-like rhythm, which might have been influenced by the, you know, tumbling underfoot, sort of turf, and in Scotland, interestingly, our only sort of very distinctive musical rhythm is a Strathspey. So that’s, dum du de dur dur de dum du de. Well again, you know, is that like hurtling over and stumbling around rocks, I don’t know. I do think there’s a jumpiness. And a robustness, sort of in the language that comes from the Saxon roots, but maybe also comes from the landscape to a degree. Certainly, it’s fun to say and definitely be thinking about musical rhythms aligned to the visual rhythms when I was making the film.
MP: James Wyness, the maker of Crusts. James, let’s return to the film and, and speak about sound because I know you’re a sound artist, which you’ve mentioned already, but the sound in this film, it really does have a strong grip over the images. It’s as if the sound itself is generating and sequencing the images as part of some kind of algorithmic process, or as if it’s, as if it’s trying to make sense of these crusts, as some kind of alien life form. Could you maybe say something about the sound of the film?
JW: Yeah, Michael, that’s a good way of expressing what sound can do, you know, to have a grip on the images and, and sort of have a grip that you can also sort of drive along and that’s very important to me. I’ve done a lot of research into this. Just, you know, for years, just how sound works with image, how it doesn’t, how it might. The sound that I used as far as my box set of CDs, assembled and published by a long-time colleague of mine, an Italian composer called Giancarlo Toniutti based in Udine in northeast Italy. We’ve collaborated on several projects, are co-authoring a book, for example, a series of dialogues on new music and sound, which also includes reflections on sound and moving image.
And, and the box set is devoted to the work of Enrico Piva, who was a friend of Juan Carlos, who made his music in the late ’70s and ’80s and sadly took his own life as a young man in the early ’90s. And he’s possibly one of the finest composers of the era, which is a difficult thing to say but you know, the academics and historians will take some time to catch up. This is the way it is with you know, experimental forms. You get a canon established and then you get artists who kind of may not be recognised until someone puts their work together. Their CDs are compiled from dozens of cassette tapes which was really the only form of dissemination back in the day, you know, people used to post things. They weren’t carried out to realise that publication is really a kind of feat of archaeology, tapes, letters, sketches, conversations, memories, and so on.
So I wanted, I want my emerging moving film practice, if you like moving always practice to be defined by a few carefully chosen features. And one of the principles is that as far as possible, I want films to be driven by sound, because obviously, it’s something quite close to my own… my life really, what I’ve been doing, whether it be music, incidental sound, or spoken word. So I went through hours and hours of my own work, and other people’s, eventually drew an excerpt from one of Piva’s pieces, just by watching what I’d done, you know, and looking at the digital rendition of what I’d done, and listening to various things. This particular piece, I thought worked well. And I should say that Enrico Piva, he worked with microphones and analogue tape recorders. And he kind of blended organic environmental electronic sound sources. And there’s a magic to really, speed it up and slow them down, layer them, filter the spectrum of the sounds, which is actually what I do myself through the digital domain. It’s called electroacoustic music now.
And so you have this tendency to sort of acceleration and the opposite, slowing down alongside these alien artefacts, if you like, bleeps and blips. And another of his innovative features was used to the voice, which often sort of interrupts things aggressively, quite an unearthly sound at times, this is quite unique for that time, you know, it wasn’t, it’s not studied academic use of the voice, it’s quite sort of visceral. And I don’t really favour establishing a complete sort of point-to-point geometry between sound and image, you know, and like scoring, if you like, the music so that it does that thing. So the blips work better in kind of offering this sort of occasional synchronicity, you know, you can almost be completely off with it, but your mind will establish or there’s some blips going on, and there’s a cut. And so, I mean, this is probably very basic film theory, I mean, but this is it in practice. So it’s like a rhythm of sorts, it chimes with the passage of time and the imagery. And as you pointed out, this is the beauty of sound and image together, we perceive something more than the sum of parts. So there’s a sense of the possibility that, yeah, this algorithm is working through its code, which I quite like, you know, you, you get that with some conceptual work, you know, you, you get the project, you get the programming, and then you watch it unfold. And there’s that sense. And then so it’s presenting this temporal conjunction on one level, sort of points of the materiality of the leftover crusts on the plates. And on another level, it gives you sort of emotional resonance as the concept of the themes teases itself over the piece.
MP: Douglas McBride, Findhorn. Douglas, returning to your film, tell me about the sepia tone of the film. You know, I know your practice as a photographer, and your fascination with landscapes such as the one scene in this film, and your frequent use of sepia or a tone very similar to it. I invite you to say something about this because it gives the the images of the film a kind of otherworldly quality. It’s as if we’re watching some kind of video dispatch, I think from another planet.
DM: Yeah, I don’t want to go to the technical side of it, because that, that’s uninteresting, we call it, we call it these days monotone, the digital age, we call it monotone. When I, when I was a student of photography, black and white was very much the way you express things. But I never liked that blue black, and the coldness of it. And then, but I continued, I kept, I kept at it, and to this day, I love the black and white image. But I’ve discovered the idea of the monotone and looking at other artists. Not that I can call myself an artist. That’s for other people to decide. But you know, that the, I looked at the work of artists that that worked in a monotone and I felt that there was something going on there. Personally, I tend to the melancholy in what I do, so I I hope to make that kind of work. And I try to impart that by going at a particular time of the day that gives me that feeling. I normally go out pre-dawn to be in the place before before the light arrives. And when the sun comes up and creates a contrast, for me, the day is over.
If you imagine some, somebody like Picasso, for instance, he created a piece that’s very famous: Guernica. And that’s a monotone. And he said of that the reason why he didn’t make it in colour was that he wanted to impart the depth and the gloom in that piece. And that got, which is back to his blue period, thinking of his blue period and the blue period is effectively monotone also, and that specific melancholy was because of a death of a friend. So so there’s a preference for keeping the colour out. The Chinese, for instance, over 1000 years ago, came up with the idea that colour was too busy. It was it was on surface, it didn’t impart feeling. And the way that they went is that, that they started to create works in black and white, to have looked at all that black and white landscape… I mean they have stunning places for landscape drawing to be made, just like the Japanese, were. In both cases, they come up with the idea that you were to make a feeling of the thing rather than, rather than make a record. And so to work in a tone that I work on is to try and create a feeling.
Another artist I’m really influenced by is a French artist called Pierre Soulages who paints in black, very deep black paintings. What he says of his paintings, the paintings are not about the black, they’re about the light. And that’s what I’m trying to do also, I’m trying to do something about the light. And because I’m shooting a dawn, I wanted that monotone and that melancholy and so an awful lot of the pictures I take and now the film has come to a place where I hope it makes people feel something, something visceral, something real.
MP: Mooie Scott, Overturn. I have a question around the arrangement of sequences and the sequencing of images in your film. What kind of process did you construct for yourself to order the scenes in the way that you have of these woodland scenarios or scenes?
MS: Yeah, so I started off with this kind of idea, I wanted it to, I wanted these dark images, working with the autumn light, shorter days, and to capture somehow, you know, you don’t always know what the lens is able to pick up when it’s very, very dark. And I’m drawn to the reflective qualities of water and edges. And, you know, this collage effect. And I had this idea when, you know, when I’ve got all these images together and find out how, and what I’ve got is almost like a palette. And I to begin with, I put the all the images together in some sort of order that I think is going to work. And then it’s again, it’s a surprise, what can follow one image, it’s not always what you think. So you have to leave it quite wide open. And then I think there’s some sort of language that begins to come through. And you think that that’s how it’s kind of working.
And I think the biggest lesson that I learned… I haven’t made many films. But with this film, in particular, I realised I made it and once I got the structure together, which does take a bit of time, and you make it over a series of evenings or days or, or even weeks, but it’s, there’s a sequence that’s going on, you’re threaded into it. And if you then take a break and come back to it, it’s really difficult to change it. I don’t think you can. I think you either have to make a new film. And I found that really interesting because there were things I thought, ‘Oh, I can make this a little bit different.’ And then when I came back to it after some sort of space, I realised I couldn’t and that was quite a big learning curve for me. And I think sometimes when I make paintings, the process is incredibly slow. And then once you have made these initial decisions of bringing these elements together, it comes about quite quickly. And if you then go on to fiddle with it, and it is it is a bit of a you know can be a fiddle, you take something away, you disturb the surface, you disturb this rhythm that comes about innately I think.
MP: Jane Houston Green, Whispers of Waiting. Jane, let’s return to your film and discuss the visual style. Because it’s very, very fluid. It’s always moving, the camera, it’s always in a state of fluctuation, which I think speaks to the broader themes of the programme, The Crumple Zone. The camera’s moving between inanimate objects on the one hand and human figures on the other, as if it’s some kind of wandering investigator. What were you trying to reach at, or to reach for, with this sort of visually fluid style?
JHG: I think there’s a, for me, the rhythm in a film is very important. So it’s obviously, so much is about the light. But it’s also about the rhythm of… coming from a dance and theatre background is what are you trying to convey in the movement of that film through a piece. Now, for me, it’s yes you’ve got this patience, and it’s waiting, which kind of dictates to some extent that there’s nothing happening. What I wanted to say was actually, there’s a lot happening. I mean, there’s a lot happening in terms of, as I’ve just been saying, about the thinking, about what they’re thinking about, about what we think they’re thinking about, about the scenarios or the settings that they’re in. And there’s so many very deep issues that I think I’m trying to touch on without necessarily exploring them in any great depth. And I think any viewer will take from it what they want to see or come back to, as is so often with experimental film where you are at as a human being, is gonna affect what you perhaps pick up or absorb from a film. And I think there’s those different levels.
So the fluidity was very important to experiment with this sense of going from A to B to C to D in terms of the people who were in it, and the connection between them. And what is the connection? And you don’t know. I mean, I personally know the connection between those four people, but the audience doesn’t and a viewer doesn’t. So, and I think there’s to some extent, we don’t know what is swirling around us, you know, what is going to be played out as time moves forward. So it’s, and for me, there’s also this whole sense of, we live a life which is fluid with all of its ups and downs, and trials and tribulations, but I don’t think it’s also limited by death. Because who we are, and who we were, and what we did, as a continuing influence on our family and our loved ones, but also on the world, you know, wherever we charge, and what have we done, the good and the bad, and the ugly, and, you know, our story in the world. And I think that in this time, there was that element of also wanting to share that of conveying some sort of beauty and hope in the world that is not defined by all the difficulties and the angst and the aggression that has been out there, you know, it’s been a difficult time for the people mentally, and I and I wanted to sort of give a chance in this to sort of say, just absorb this and take from it whatever you like, and just feel a little calm at the end of it.
Be aware that, you know, take these times to be mindful, and to be proactive, you know, not in a frenetic way that we do put things out. We, you know, if you don’t make a film, you can’t actually submit it anywhere, if you don’t, if you don’t plan something, if you don’t put in that job application, then you can’t even be, you know, seem to be accepted by something which might be out there for your future. So I think there was an element of, I wanted to convey a calmness in the whispers, in the waiting, in the fluidity, but also some sort of hope and that there is a beauty, there is a beauty in us as human beings, there’s a beauty in the world.
MP: Thank you very much Jane Houston Green, and indeed to all of the artists in this programme. Thank you.