‘a delicate landscape of crisis’ at freies museum berlin

video retrospective 2003-2011

Director's Lounge at the Freies Museum, Berlin

15 April, 2011
Potsdamer Strasse 91
10785 Berlin-Schöneberg

A premier survey of California-based McPhee's experimental films from 2002-2011 will screen Friday at Freies Museum, Berlin

Since 2001, Christina McPhee has been shooting at environmentally traumatized sites.  From Ground Zero, to the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Oil Spill, to the seismic landscapes and geothermal energy installations in remote California, she is concerned with mapping  a post-natural world-- often at sites of large technological installations for energy production. At San Ardo Oil Fields in Monterey County, California, a huge remote area of oil explorations in California, McPhee shoots documentary footage, then remixes with Carolee Schneeman’s famous 1964 performance ‘Meat Joy,' and shots of spilled and pouring paint. (“Meat Oil Joy Paint: A Tribute to Carolee Schneemann “ (2010).  She also works in geologically active zones, for example, the Carrizo Plain, a high desert rift zone north of Los Angeles, where she combines remote performance with geophysical seismic data and documentary photography ("SALT", 2004).

Her work addresses huge technological scales of production-- using the intimate, close shot, and delicate, shimmering montage.  At the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana,  McPhee's montage techniques develop an ambient texture of human and natural life affected by the oil disaster from the oil platform Deepwater Horizon (“Deep Horizon”, 2010).  Seven years after 9/11, she shoot the fences around “Ground Zero“ in Manhattan, N.Y. (“Seven After Eleven”, 2008)--in a literally roundabout way, since the site is banned from photography. The problem of visualizing trauma-- in sites after disaster-- compels McPhee's approach to a village destroyed by a mudslide ("La Conchita Paradise" 2007)

The material aesthetic and beauty of her films recalls Chris Marker's "Sans Soleil" and  point to a chance for transformation even in the most traumatic sites.

The filmmaker will be present before and after the screening.

Christina McPhee notes that '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"?

-- Klaus W. Eisenlohr, Berlin 2010

McPhee...imbues documentary realism with subjective evocation to such an extent that the project effectively displaces the importance of thedocumentary image's  indexicality...Still photographs, composited images and video clips of the landscape, environment and vernacular shrines allow the viewer to piece together the relationship between geological instability and psychological trauma....

Sharon LIn Tay, film critic, London (Studies in Documentary Film 2008), London 2008


with support from Walden http://www.galerie-walden.de/
and Galerie Suomesta http://www.suomestagalleria.net/

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