Under a Maginifying Glass

“To use a magnifying glass is to pay attention, but isn’t paying attention already having a magnifying glass?” (From Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space)

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Nameless wood

Here is an excerpt from my interview about Wistman’s Wood, a video installation I made in 2o11.

  1. Wistman’s Wood presents unique challenges and opportunities for a film-maker. What determined your approach to the project?

My interest in Wistman’s Wood was triggered firstly by the last chapter of John Fowles book The Tree. In it Fowles describes the wood, one of the last remaining patches of ancient woodland in Britain, in terms of its simultaneous existence within various temporal dimensions, some of which are so vast (due to its ancient age) that our human life cannot comprehend them: “a drama, but of a time-span humanity cannot conceive. A pastness, a presentness, a skill with the tenses the writer in me knows he will never know…”

Since much of my work is about exploring, capturing and communicating memory in the medium of film, it seemed to make sense to go to a place that is literally shaped by centuries.

One of my main artistic challenges or preoccupations is to access and express the interior, invisible, through the external. As the great psychotherapist C. G. Jung states: “There is nothing without spirit, for spirit seems to be the inside of things. Dionysus is concerned with the outside of things, with tangible forms, with everything that is made of earth, but inside is the spirit, which is the soul of objects. Whether this is our own psyche or the psyche of the universe we don’t know, but if one touches the earth one cannot avoid the spirit.” In line with this conception I believe that it is in fact by closely studying the physical, purely material, that I can in a sense get beyond the surface, and to some extent uncover the interior world of objects, trees, or rocks.

My way of looking (or filming) as well as structuring the journey into the interior, is of course informed by my investigation of the tactile sense, and in this particular exercise I attempted to alter the viewer’s relationship with the forest, so that one was no longer looking from an external point of view, but in fact from within.

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2. How did you engage with the issues of scale the site presents?

The idea of scale is crucial, most obviously because the trees in Wistman’s Wood are all stunted oaks, only about four meters high. There is therefore an immediate sense of this forest being something miniature, but this feature, rather than diminishing the experience, seems to heighten it, because it takes one into childhood and space of the imagination, where things can be expanded and shrunken according to one’s desires, and it is the miniature rather than the vast, that has the ability to draw one into its depth, one’s own depth. Other scales one can speak of are temporal scales, as the forest seems to exist on both the micro scale of most minute movement connected with the most ephemeral aspects of existence, while also holding the stillness of slow moving centuries, as previously mentioned in the Fowles quote.

In terms of practically engaging with scale, I have used a macro lens to shoot the footage, which allowed me to more or less discard an external perspective (so closely linked to sight), and approach the forest through the dispersed point of view of deep proximity, which is an approach much more akin to touch, and which, as mentioned earlier, helped to erase the division between the subject and object, the inner and the outer.

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3. Were any expectations you had for the place confirmed / altered by the actual encounter?

What struck me most strongly when I encountered the wood was that it was both less and more powerful than I visualized it. In my imagination it was to be much bigger and denser, more forest like. When I first encountered it, it felt slightly incomplete, as if it were a dream posing for reality, full of “holes” that were ready to give the illusion of reality away at any moment. Yet the longer I stayed there, the more my understanding of this particular impression altered: It was not in spite of, but precisely because of this incompleteness that the wood’s power and weight grew on me, as it gained the very vividness of the most acute dreams. The place was no longer pretending to be real, it crossed into a realm of hyper-reality, or perhaps surreality, so that finally a square meter of this wood seemed to contain an almost infinite depth of possibilities and expressions.

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Here are other impressions that I noted down when I returned from my first visit:

“What I find interesting are the shapes/curves mirrored between the lichen, the trees and their branches and their roots, as well as the rocks all covered in moss.

There is a palpable sense of tension in their contortion, a sort of active rather than passive force (or a force coming from within as well as without).

There is also a feeling of weight (in a positive sense) – which I think is detectable in the photos but certainly in the moving image, as it is apparent in the way the branches move, and of time being suspended (as if the forest were frozen – something that to me is directly linked to retention of memory), of things/stories “just under the surface” of the veil (of moss), at once very still and contained while very alive, bursting to get out.

The moss, which is covering nearly every surface, has an effect of a sea, like underwater world, a seabed.

In regards to touch – everything there feels soft, warm, and moist, breathing and animal like, as one would expect, only more so, as if the limitation imposed by space, the containment imposed on the growth of vegetation, resulted in a sort of compacting of experience, so that every inch is saturated with the most rich sensations.”

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To see the video work please visit http://terezast.com/?films=wistmans-wood

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One response to “Under a Maginifying Glass

  1. Pingback: On mental morphology | Cinesthetic feasts·

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