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Landscape Films

Chris Welsby has been described as a film ‘landscape artist’, but the interview that accompanies this DVD reveals him rather to be a ‘weather artist’. While the landscape stands as an object for the exterior observation and contemplation, the weather is a force for change.

For Welsby as a filmmaker, the difference between ‘landscape’ and ‘weather’ is of crucial aesthetic significance; just as the cinema is a medium of movement so the weather controls movement in nature. For instance, in the film Anemometer (not included), a wind-sensitive device controlled the camera-motor so that any gust of wind would alter the exposure, accordingly speeding up the movement of trees and traffic films. In this way, the presence of the wind affected the appearance of the image itself and is now registered in it. Just as changes in light and shade may alter the filmed image, here the impact of the wind is also inscribed onto the celluloid.

In several of his films, Welsby draws attention to the fact that light, the cinema’s essential material, appears in nature as an effect of movement; the earth’s rotation around the sun controls the presence of light in the alternation between day and night and the changing seasons. In Seven Days the effects of the earth’s rotation meet the effects of the weather, making tangible the affinity that light, as well as movement, has with the cinema. Welsby mounted the camera on a stand aligned to the earth’s axis and directed it at the sun, so they rotated at the same speed. Filming in Wales, where the weather changes rapidly, the camera followed the sun when it was covered by cloud but recorded its own shadow on the ground when the sun was out. Welsby’s extraordinary originality lies in the way that he harnesses these natural effects to those of the cinema, allowing one to enhance the other.

As his work came to concentrate more on installations, Welsby returned more frequently to his early love: the sea. He was fascinated by the opportunity offered by large gallery spaces to create pieces that seemed able to contain the vastness of sea, only to find the two ultimately incommensurable as the seascapes dwarfed the gallery walls. In the installations, the process of presentation began to take precedence over the process of image-registration and this shift was then taken further with digital technology. The move into the gallery opens up dimensions of time and space that are not accessible in the cinema. In the gallery, the spectator is free to move at will, to look at the images from varied perspectives but most of all, there is time to slow down, to fall into a reverie. There is time to consider not only the extraordinary beauty of the work but also the creative intelligence that lies behind it. Welsby's meditation on the aesthetic relation between man and nature, the environment and technology now gathers a new urgency as nature and the environment are increasingly contaminated by man and machine.

In the interview, Welsby discusses his life and work from his early days as a filmmaker in the British avant-garde movement of the 1970s to his recent digital installations made in Vancouver, Canada, where he now lives. He traces the ways in which he responded creatively to changes - in his own life, in the environment and in moving image technology. The result is a fascinating and thoughtful portrait of the artist and gives a privileged insight into his creative processes, from practical detail to complex ideas. His thoughts and his works will delight filmmakers and artists - lovers of art and lovers of film.

Laura Mulvey
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