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Urgent Nature

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Feb 2021

Abstract

Urgent Nature is a high-definition stop motion film for projection in a gallery space, duration approximately 18 minutes. I began the project by taking a series of documentary photographs of the wetland grasses that now inhabit the post-industrial banks of the River Carron, in Falkirk. The river once powered The Carron Company ironworks. The largest ironworks in Europe in 1814, it went into receivership in 1982 and now wetlands have been created to reclaim the land. A landscape once poisonous is now populated by birds, deer, and fish living in close proximity to areas still densely populated by humans. This hybrid, neither wild nor urban, has its own aesthetic. Trees are planted in grid formations. Traffic provides a backing track to ebullient birdsong.
Never has it been more urgent for humanity to negotiate with nature. I want this film to do what art has often done: observe and make viewers observe what we might often walk past without really seeing and realise the importance of the natural world. I asked the composer David Rothenberg to work with me and produce a soundtrack that would use recordings suggestive of the ambient sounds of nature and the background hum of mankind as well as his own beautiful music. The colour and movement I introduce to the still images is closely synchronized with the sound as it follows the complex matrices created by individual stalks and leaves of grass, tracing the tangled sweeping structures of dense shrubs.
Set in Scotland where I live, this could have been a local project, but the urgency of the threat to nature is international, and I crop the subject matter to allow no topographical detail. It is Rothenberg's soundtrack that evokes a wider environment: birdsong, wind, his own breath before long melodic notes on the clarinet, electronic intimations of jet engines. David is Professor of Philosophy and Music at NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) and has made music in response to the natural environment his major work, recording and improvising directly with birds. He is author of the book and BBC documentary, Why Birds Sing and Nightingales in Berlin.

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