Above Gudgenby River, Namadgi National Park 2020
Film scholar Kim Knowles argues that materials like 16mm film offer an aesthetics of contact, a means to enact practical ecological thinking by inscribing images through literal contact with the world (Knowles 2020). In May 2020 as Canberra’s first Covid-19 lockdown ended, I paid a visit to to a slope east of the Gudenby River in Namadgi National Park to see the consequences of the Orrorral Valley fire. The desolation from a hot burn followed by a huge storm was deep. The bird dawn call was limited to a single tree creeper. Burnt hulks of trees were low down on the slope, higher up, fire shadows showed where trees had been, immolated in the heat leaving pale pink outlines on the gravel where the trunks had burnt up completely. There was new growth but it was sparse – what looked like indigofera, solanum, an occasional eucalypt, lots of lamandra, a crevice community emerging on the basalt. Barely any epicorpic shoots on the think trunked trees still standing, a density of about six metres per tree. The fire line was uneven, west of my hill was unburnt eucalypt but east and north, everything in view was matchsticked. Does re-enacting the searing fire by searing the film with light during processing reinforce the image of catastrophe? By literally enacting a small and controlled version of the fire on the film strip, does some of the ‘truth’ of that event stick with us more viscerally?
This work investigates Knowles’ aesthetics of contact and how this kind of material ‘truth’ might help us face the climate catastrophe through re-enactments of its processes to make images that represent it. This work explores the crevice in two ways: through the content of the regenerating fire environment, here the crevice is as an unusual environment that does something against the odds. This survival against-the-odds quality also adheres to the 16mm film. Film is dead has been proclaimed again and again and yet as Kim Knowles argues, there is a vibrant international community of 16mm film makers who trade in an aesthetics resolutely bound to their material, persisting and bringing a newly relevant message of direct, analogue contact with the world.
Reference: Knowles, K. (2020). Experimental Film and Photochemical Practices. Springer International Publishing AG. http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=6360717
Louise Curham uses her art and her expertise as an archivist to explore how we can look after things we can’t digitise. Louise invites us to think about the wisdom that accompanies things we want to keep and how we can pass that on.
Provenance: Peer reviewed submission