Double Negative: Chris Welsby
Double Negative presents
Landscape and Technology: Films of Chris Welsby
Originally from England, Chris Welsby emerged in 1970s as a major figure in the experimental cinema scene in the UK where he was associated with the London Filmmakers’ Co-op. It was during this fertile period when he produced many of his seminal works in 16mm including the six films presented in this programme. Like many British experimental filmmakers issuing from the Co-op, Welsby first trained as a painter at an art school and then quickly discovered creative possibilities of film as an artistic medium. Welsby was particularly interested in film’s abilities to express the notions of process and structure in time and began creating a series of films in the form of studies in natural landscape.
The characteristic strategies Welsby employs to represent landscape in his films are interlocked with various forces of nature that he treats as collaborators of his image-making. Instead of using the camera as an objective recording tool for observation, he lets natural elements such as wind, tide and the earth’s movement influence the structure of his work and intervene in the ways in which the camera registers images. To achieve this unique form of collaboration with nature, Welsby often uses external mechanical devices – many of which are his own contraptions – that dictate the motion of the camera and its functions according to the behavioural patterns of nature that are present at the time of filming.
In the double-projection piece Wind Vane, for example, Welsby builds a set of two wind vanes and mounts a camera on each so that the panning movements of the two cameras are solely governed by erratic wind patterns. Although the two cameras record simultaneously the same scenery around them, their points of view never quite match. When the resulting images are projected side by side, the physical interaction between the wind and the cameras is translated on the screen into a perceptual play by the two contiguous spaces interacting each other, constantly oscillating between convergence and divergence, stasis and movement. Welsby again incorporates wind into the making of Windmill III, but he does it differently from Wind Vane. This time he places in front of the camera rotating blades whose movement is triggered by the wind. Unlike Wind Vane, the wind does not affect the movement of the camera, which remains static, but acts instead as an agent to create the dynamic transformation of the space portrayed. The blades, sweeping across the frame in varied speeds, carry the views of the camera and space behind it that are reflected on the surfaces. Their intrusion into the frame confounds space orientation and perspective and results in stunning kinetic compositions where multiple spatial dimensions simultaneously collide in Cubist-like fragmentation.
In River Yar and Seven Days, Welsby’s formal experimentation finds its most complex and poetic expression. River Yar, the double-projection masterpiece co-made with the Co-op colleague William Raban, who is one of the foremost proponents of British expanded cinema, and Seven Days, a conceptual sequel to River Yar so to speak, are both structured around the rotation of the earth and the changes of the weather. Filmed in time-lapse photography and, in the case of Seven Days, with a camera mounted on an equatorial stand, the two films offer breathtakingly powerful cinematic journeys guided by natural forces.
Welsby left England and moved to the West Coast of Canada in 1989 where he became professor of Fine Art at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. Since the 90s, his practice has largely shifted towards digital media installation while continuing his investigation into the structural relationship between technology and the representation of the natural world. His films and installations have been presented worldwide in venues including the Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern and MoMA. Landscape and Technology: Films of Chris Welsby is the first semi-retrospective of his film work in Montreal.
Daïchi Saïto and Malena Szlam
About Double Negative:
Founded in 2004, Double Negative is a Montreal-based group of moving-image artists dedicated to the creation and exhibition of experimental and avant-garde cinema. Through its sustained grassroots efforts and DIY approaches to revitalize the independent filmmaking scene, Double Negative occupies a unique position in the local and national artistic communities. Besides organizing various screening events, members of the collective maintain individual artistic practices ranging from film and video to live projection performance and installation. Double Negative situates film in the wider context of contemporary art practices and actively promotes cross-disciplinary imagination to redefine the importance of the tradition of film art.
This event is made possible by the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts.