directors lounge special screening
the delicate landscape of crisis
15 April, 2011
FREIES MUSEUM BERLIN
Potsdamer Strasse 91
A premier survey of California-based McPhee's experimental films from 2002-2011 will screen Friday at Freies Museum, Berlin http://www.freies-museum.com/
Christina McPhee's video work is made of combined textures, colors and details of the landscapes she is exploring. The flow and beauty of her kind of compositing lies in its immersive qualities, which may even become hypnotic. The colorful layered textures the artist is creating with video are not unlike her paintings, composed by layers of expressive drawing lines.
Christina McPhee is specifically exploring landscapes of destruction and landscapes that are shaped by large technological installations for energy production. Footage of severe earthquake damage and television crews meet images of a recorded performance on salt beds at the San Andreas Fault, in the aftermath of deadly tremors ("Salt, 2004"). In 2005, it is the second time a massive landslide hit La Conchita, a coastal village north of Los Angeles, and buried several homes. The debris in the village center has been closed for the public, but people built their shrines of memorial on the site, which McPhee recorded for "La Conchita Paradise, 2006". San Ardo Oil Fields in Monterey County is another place for one of her videos, it is the biggest area of oil explorations in California. The film is a composition in red. Landscape, nature, moving oil pumps and spills of water, are combined with footage of Carolee Schneeman's famous 1964 performance 'Meat Joy.' Oil spills (of paint) on canvas, on bodies and on natural ground become one of a kind for the viewer. ("Meat Oil Joy Paint: A Tribute to Carolee Schneemann " (2010).
One may think, that the kind of beauty Christina McPhee creates and the subject of her films contradict each other. The artist however would respond, that it is exactly this kind of contradiction she is aiming for. Living on the Californian coast close to Big Sur, a scenic area where many artists and writers found retreat to create work in the past, Christina has been sensitized for the scale of man-made destruction happening in so called remote natural sites, and for the contradictions of modern civilization spreading into areas of rough nature, including deserts, swamps and geological active zones. Asked about the oppositions of beauty and destruction, Christina tells me, "I follow the Romantics, I am interested in the post-natural sublime". The post-modern "romantic ruins" however seem to turn into the traumatic landscape. She refers to the filmmakers Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, who developed audio-visual languages for traumatic memory such as Hiroshima.
"The destruction of nature happens on a scale that we can't easily comprehend." As another example, she tells me about the designated area for a solar panel farm in Carrizo Plain, a high desert ecosystem with the greatest biodiversity in California, where it is completely unknown how much ecological damage will be sustained by the large-scale exploitation for alternative energy. "Our use of nature is totally opportunistic", with scant respect for ecological preservation. Her films, she says, are not about nature but about us in relation to nature. In 1972, Günther Anders wrote the book “Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen" (The Outdatedness of Humankind) about the inability of the human mind to imagine the scale of destruction possible by modern technologies, specifically nuclear power, once set in motion. It is possibly this kind of totality she has in mind, when composing her very dense and beautiful videos.
"I am opportunistic too. I shoot what I find. It is a kind of guerilla filmmaking." The sign “forbidden to photograph" just triggers her interest, and makes her find ways around for both shooting the swamps on the North American coast, affected by the oil disaster from the oil platform Deepwater Horizon ("Deep Horizon", 2010) and the area of destruction called "Ground Zero" in Manhattan, N.Y. ("Seven After Eleven", 2008. "I never ask for permission." The recorded footage to her then becomes material for her art. "Video has some material quality like painting." She focuses on details and nuances as indicators of massive environmental change. She also uses scientific data fields, such as sound recordings from earthquakes and aftershocks as ambient elements in her complex mapping of seismic sites. The human body appearing amidst becomes the signifier for the traumatic relations that modern civilization seemed to have forgotten. (Mike Davis, The Ecology of Fear 1998)
The kind of slow motion disaster that is unfolding at the Fukushima plants in Japan these days, is an example of how little the banal repetitions of stock footage on news media have to do with what is really happening. How can we move to a deeper understanding of the meaning of such crisis? Christina McPhee believes in the power of visualization of a different kind. The artist searches for layers of future possibilities, latent in the very places of crisis that seem most desperate. In this respect, the material aesthetic and beauty of her films point to a chance for transformation even in the most traumatic sites. She thus may even ask for different body-(post-)nature relations. Would this be related to the kind of responsibility the volunteers took, when cleaning the oil spill on the coast, and whom Christina was joining when recording "Deep Horizon"?
Christina McPhee comes to Berlin for this screening and will be happy to discuss her films with you.
Curated by Klaus W. Eisenlohr
with support from Walden http://www.galerie-walden.de/
and Galerie Suomesta http://www.suomestagalleria.net/