The BFI’s British Artists’ Films series produced in partnership with arts documentary producers Illuminations and Arts Council England features a wide selection of important film and video work by British artists from the last thirty years.
The second release focuses on the work of Chris Welsby, landscape artist and pioneer of the moving-image installation in Britain, whose subtle meditations are exhibited in museums and galleries around the world.
Featured on the DVD are works from different stages in his career, uniquely tracing his development as an artist, from his early critical responses to British structural filmmaking and Minimalism of the 1970s to his mature, contemplative landscape works of the 1980s and 1990s.
The films are: Stream Line, Park Film,Windmill lll, Seven Days, Wind Vane, Sky Light, Drift, and River Yar (made with William Raban).
The twin-screen films River Yar and Wind Vane have been digitally remastered for this DVD to reproduce their original projection format.
Sleeve notes written by Laura Mulvey.
In this interview, Chris Welsby discusses his life and work from his early days as a filmmaker in the British avant-garde movement of the1970s to his recent digital installations made in Vancouver, Canada, where he now lives. The interview 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 personally as well as giving a privileged insight into his creative processes, from practical detail to complex ideas, that will be of the greatest interest both to filmmakers and film lovers alike.
Chris Welsby has been described as a film ‘landscape artist’ but this interview reveals him rather to be a ‘weather artist’. While the landscape stands as an object for exterior observation and contemplation, the weather is a force for change. For Welsby as a film-maker, 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, 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 filmed. 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, so that the affinity that light, as well as movement, has with the cinema is realised. Welsby mounted the camera on a stand that was aligned to the earth’s axis and directed at the sun, so both 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 both to enhance each 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. With 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 technology.
DVD available from:
Gartenberg Media Enterprises, Inc.
143 West 96th Street, Suite 7B
New York City, New York 10025
The British Film Institute Book Shop, Southbank London UK