Full HD video, 16:9, Sound, 28’49”
Is it ever truly possible to be in the landscape that surrounds you, to be one with it, so to say? Landscape is, first of all, an image, it is an art-historical category, a thing that is shaped by cultural and political ideals, as much as it is real and living matter. Landscape is out there, it confronts you and you can encounter it in a physical way in relation to your bodily self, yet, at the same time it is a product of complex systems of values that work in a subtle, often unnoticed manner. Landscape is a complex idea, for, presumably, it exists in a dialectics of a concrete location and cultural ideals. However, it is exactly such a binary opposition that we seek to problematise.
The village of Beetsterzwaag, where Kunsthuis SYB is located, was shaped by local nobility who designed their estates to resemble forests, and is surrounded by farmland, which has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. In that sense the area can be seen as a typical Dutch landscape, every centimeter of which is the product of intentional design. Taking the location as a backdrop for our film, the storyboard and script grew organically out of experimenting with a filmcamera and sound-recorder, by undertaking activities such as marking the land and using found materials to make music.
One possible perspective would be to say that our discussions evolved around the notion of distance, and the way distance is cultivated and problematised in artistic activities that takes a concrete thing – in this case a place – as their object. Paradoxically as it may sound, we were neither particularly interested in the specific history of Beetsterzwaag, nor did we want to point at some presumed unique qualities of the place. The elements we were playing with – water, text, sand, camera, wood, sound-recorder – create something new, a work which intends to collapse an all-too-simple dialectics of the land as a physical object and the landscape as a set of imposed socio-political representations.
The work explores the limits of our own artistic agency by confronting direct, intuitive action and the question to what extent our acting is shaped by the tightly delineated roles of the artist and the researcher. In particular, we worked with two aspects of the notion of camouflage, standing both for a complete blending in with your surrounding, as well as the strategies that one painstakingly needs to employ to reach this moment of supposed unity. Camouflage points at an impossibility that is at the core of the project. None of the attires we used as a costume – a camouflage suit for hunting and a yellow raincoat – was particularly successful in making us blend in and that was precisely the point. In a recorded dialogue which became the soundtrack for the second part of the film, we discuss the suits and the notion of camouflage more metaphorically, for instance by talking about how adopting certain ways of speaking as an artist can be seen as a suit one puts on to conform to a certain institutional environment. Also here we seek to go beyond a simple dialectics, in this case of a supposed ‘purity’ of direct action and the ‘artificiality’ of discourse.
A way out is maybe to think differently about the notion of distance. It is not so much about a choice between being close to something, or being far away. There is neither unity with a landscape, nor a position completely outside of it. The right distance is something one finds in cultivating it, it has to be developed over time in working with a place, materials, or whatever the concrete object may be. In the end it is also about developing a certain distance to oneself and each other. We ourselves are the characters in the film and they do resemble us. Yet, we’ve only reached this resemblance by cultivating distance, by exploring the space between scripting and simply being ourselves, which is the space of playful acting where also all other elements of the film can be situated.