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Urgent Nature

November 29, 2019

Urgent Nature will be on display in GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow) as part of Drink in the beauty, 19 February – 20 June 2021 commemorating the pioneering environmentalist, Rachel Louise Carson who wrote: “Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see”. The exhibition is curated to include works that invoke a curiosity to delve deeper into the
concerns and changing environment around us.

My working title for this project was Moving Stills because the film is made from a series of stills that document the wetland grasses along the River Carron in Falkirk, Scotland. The river once powered the Carron Company ironworks. In 1814, this was the largest ironworks in Europe. It went into receivership in 1982 and now wetlands have been created to reclaim the land: once poisonous, it is now populated by birds, deer and fish living in close proximity to areas still densely populated by humans. This hybrid landscape, neither wild nor urban, has its own aesthetic. Trees are planted in grid formations. Traffic provides a backing track to ebullient birdsong.

I asked the American composer and musician, David Rothenberg to work with me to create a soundtrack that would use recordings suggestive of the ambient sounds of nature and the background hum of mankind as well as his own beautiful music. The colour and movement I introduce to the still images is closely synchronized with the sound as it follows the complex matrices created by individual stalks and leaves of grass, or traces the tangles sweeping structures of dense shrubs. David has made music in response to the natural environment his major life work, recording and improvising directly with birds. In his book, Why Birds Sing, he argues compellingly that birds sing with joy and enjoyment rather than simply to attract partners.

Set in Scotland, this could have been a local project, but the urgency of the threat to nature is international, and I crop the subject matter to allow no topographical detail. David’s soundtrack evokes a wider environment with wind, the rustle of his own feet and his breath before long melodic notes played on the clarinet as well as birdsong and jet engines.

I did a final edit of the film in New York with David in November and we screened it at the XIX Collective ( in Long Island City, Queens on the 19th. XIX is directed by artist Tim Leung who has created a dome with camera, projectors, wind machine, speakers and a sub-bass platform to enable 3-D sensory experience for a small number of spectators. It transformed my film to three dimensions. I felt as if I’d fallen headfirst into the computer screen I spent so many months working in front of. A fantastic experiment.

Tim Leung, Director of XIX Collective
Artist Rosanne Retz views the projection
David improvises live during the projection

My ultimate screening solution is large-scale projection on a flat wall, possibly more than one wall as the film moves from one ‘still’ image to another.

Urgent Nature projected in my studio in Glasgow

I am dedicating the film to my dear friend Polly Higgins, eco-warrior and barrister, founder of Eradicating Ecocide. Polly was born in Scotland but travelled the world to demand an international law against ‘ecocide’. Her death in 2019 was a great sadness to me and a loss to the world.

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