Screening Nature Network: Flora, Fauna, and the Moving Image

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: School of Languages Linguistics and Film

Abstract

The Screening Nature Network addresses the relationship between the natural world and the moving image via a mixed platform that includes a series of symposia, curated screenings, discussions between filmmakers, academics, and the public, and a project website. The research asks how ideas about the natural world contributed to the development of early cinema and how nature continues to inform the medium today. Ideas about cinema's ability (and limitations) to convey a non-anthropocentric perspective are at the heart of the project, whose eco-aesthetic focus is intimately linked to topical questions about the status of nature as an economic and aesthetic resource. Other themes that will be explored are the question of nonhuman agency, climate change, sustainability, and human-animal relations.

The network showcases a programme of rarely seen moving image work, from early archival pieces to recent film and video work, with the aim of broadening the scope of debate on representations of the natural world beyond popular natural history broadcasting (e.g. the BBC's Planet Earth or Frozen Planet). The network will bring together stakeholders across several disciplines: Film Studies, ecology, philosophy, film and arts practice, cultural studies, as well as the general public.

The first series of events will take place on 7-8 September 2012 at the Whitstable Biennale. This is the first time that an academic symposium and a themed series of screenings form an integral part of the Biennale, establishing an innovative crossover network between academics, artists, and the public. The Whitstable events will open with the Symposium Screening Nature held at the Horsebridge Arts & Community Centre, with confirmed keynotes by the renown scholars W.J.T. Mitchell (University of Chicago) and Claire Colebrook (Penn State), and invited speakers, ecocritic Greg Garrard (Bath Spa), historian Jonathan Burt (author of Animals in Film), and media and cultural studies scholar Jodi Berland (York University). The Symposium is followed by six curated Flora & Fauna screenings featuring a mixture of early film and contemporary artist film, video and sound works that deal with the relationship between ecology, nature, and the image. Screenings will include Question & Answers with the filmmakers and artist panel discussions, resulting in a comprehensive dialogue among filmgoers, visitors to the Biennale, academics, and artists. The second series of events (November '12-January '13) will be at the Goethe-Institut London, and include two public premieres of award-winning documentaries on ecology's place in the wider political and social context. The screenings will also be followed by a discussion between the filmmakers, film scholars, and the public. Two additional symposia in 2013 will complete this phase of the network's research and pave the way for its future work.

By linking a wide range of communities, including local residents, visitors to the Whitstable Biennale, filmgoers, academics, activists, and artists, the project centres on fostering a genuine intersectional dialogue on the place of nature in film and the historical, political, and everyday consequences of the media circulation of natural images. The recent surge in natural history TV programming, commercial documentaries (e.g. March of the Penguins), or the BFI's DVD release of Secrets of Nature suggests a growing appetite to explore a wider range of nature filmmaking. The network harnesses this appetite to exhibit and debate historically crucial filmic materials (early scientific and exploration films, contemporary artist film and video, and experimental film), all of which offer fascinating counterpoints to popular wildlife filmmaking. The network sets out to bridge the gap between art, academia, and public engagement. Thus, the network seeks to make a concrete intervention into existing conversations on nature's place within a diverse film culture at a time of ecological crisis.

Planned Impact

Central to this project is an engagement with arts and cultural institutions (the Whitstable Biennale, Goethe-Institut), artists and film practitioners, academics, and non-academic communities interested in the intersection of film and the environment. As part of the Whitstable Biennale, the Symposium is open to the public, visitors to the Biennale, local residents, and members of the academic community. The six screenings are similarly geared towards a wide and diverse audience and include discussions with the audience and the filmmakers as an integral part. The accompanying brochure, Screening Nature Network website, and Facebook page will include details on the screenings as well as a non-specialist writing designed to provide the key concepts and ideas of the project.

Our aim is to enhance the exposure and profile of eco-aesthetics and ecocritical moving image work on the relationship between humans and their nonhuman surroundings, as well as generate mutually beneficial interchanges between communities and disciplines. We are committed to exchanges that draw on, disseminate, and develop existing ideas about environment and creative practice; we see the project as a launching pad for a more focused, long-term forum for conversation, action, and research on nature and art within institutions like the Whitstable Biennale, cultural institutions, online communities, academia, and the filmgoing public. As such, the network is an essentially democratic and democratizing framework for debates around the topical issue of the stakes of nature in film.

The network is set up to catalyze creative dialogue about ways in which inter-sector ecological and artistic activities may be used to benefit future communities and the cultural institutions serving those communities, be it a local institution like the Whitstable Biennale or a larger international cultural institution in London like the Goethe-Institut. The choice to hold a major series of events outside of London is part of our commitment to local public events that engage the local community as well as draw sections of the London art scene outside of the capital. As a first installment of what we hope will continue in a variety of formats in the future, in the UK and abroad, the research has potential to make a significant contribution to ecological-cultural initiatives, which are already gaining prominence on the small screen and beyond.

To ensure the project's continuation and upkeep, we will build and maintain a Screening Nature Network website and Facebook page, a useful, flexible, and efficient way of growing the community, advertising and promoting future events, and carrying on a dialogue on the network's research themes. An online presence is a vital dissemination tool and key to the network's future life beyond the specific award.

The network will benefit users and participants by:

* Interacting with local communities on the value of (small scale, affordable, even home-made) creative practice on the theme of nature and the environment.

* Fostering a dialogue with non-academic participants in ecological/ artistic interest groups, enriching the ways in which the relevance of nature to creative practice is understood and implemented.

* Introducing public audiences, academics, and filmmakers/artists to a rarely seen coherent body of work on the subject of moving image and the environment.

* Providing an online platform for public/ communal discussion on ecology, art, and the moving image.

Publications

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Title Film screenings 
Description The project was set up as a series of public specially curated screenings at our host institutions. Full details of the programmes are included in the description of our findings. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Links with leading arts institutions in London Successful running of public screenings Showcasing of new work by artists and filmmakers 
 
Title Screening Nature catalogue 
Description The festival brochure includes two short essays ("Flora" by Silke Panse, and "Fauna" by Anat Pick), and full details of the screenings at the Whitechapel Gallery 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The festival catalogue was freely distributed at the Whitechapel Gallery to all visitors and handed out to the audience. It has since been used as reading material in the Visual Essay and Film Curation modules I teach at Queen Mary. 
 
Description The project sought to showcase and publicly disseminate rarely seen work on flora, fauna and moving images. Our aim was in part to make visible and more widely accessible forms of nature and animal filmmaking that do not fit in the familiar categories of wildlife cinema and natural history films.

In the course of the project, we researched, discovered, made contact with, and screened work by emerging as well as established filmmakers and artists who are breaking new ground in what might be called "post-human" cinema. Alongside the curation and exhibition of this work, the project explored new ideas about cinema as more-than-human--in terms of perspective, agency, the ecological impact of film practice, and film ethics. We developed these ideas in our scholarly publications that coincided or dovetailed with the project, such as Screening Nature: Cinema Beyond the Human (Berghahn 2023), co-edited by PI Anat Pick, with a contribution by Co-I Silke Panse. Other published work has come out of the project, including a number of forthcoming articles in peer reviewed journals (including Screen, and Yale French Studies).

SNN had a significant and enduring impact on the research culture in the Film department at Queen Mary, informing and, as it were, bleeding into other areas of film research. For example, the project inspired the inclusion of nonhuman phenomenology to The Phenomenological Turn conference run by the dept's film-philosophy research cluster (on 25 May 2013). There is now a final year option module on ecocinemas, and a PhD student working on post-human film.

Another important development is nurturing links with cultural and art institutions like the Tate, the Goethe-Institut, and the Whitechapel Gallery, with which we will continue to work. Such links were made possible by the grant.
Exploitation Route The field of nonhuman cinema/ post-humanist visual culture, and the neighbouring field of Animal Studies are newly emergent areas of inquiry. Our project combined theoretical investigation of these ideas with public dissemination and curatorial initiatives. The impact of these is to further illustrate the viability of animal and nature films, and the important intersection between ecology and film in academia and beyond. An example of the project's repercussions is the forthcoming series of animal films currently planned at the BFI.

Further theoretical work is needed on the place of animals and nature in visual culture that does not reduce them into mere symbols or representations. SNN's main claim was that the significance of nonhuman subjects in film is not merely symbolic, but has the potential to review and revise our concrete relations to the world around us. Ecocinema and Animal Studies should, in our view, continue to explore the medium's non-representational dimensions, as a socially and environmentally embedded activity.
Sectors Creative Economy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://screeningnature.com
 
Description The Screening Nature Network (SNN) is a crossover project, combining academic symposia on ecological and post-humanist film theory with curated film and video screenings to the wider public, working in collaboration with artists and cultural institutions. Screenings and symposia explored the project's central contention, that film not only reflects but is integral to current debates on ecology, ecological crisis, and interspecies relations. The project's website includes information on all events, and will continue beyond this initial phase of the project. The project utilised its findings in two key ways: 1) Showcasing rarely seen moving image work on flora and fauna in major art institutions: Tate Modern, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Goethe-Institut, and the Horse Hospital. 2) Exploring the medium of film via a range of approaches that challenge the humanistic bias in film studies. We ran six events across the year: • Screening Nature Network launch and film festival, the Whitechapel Gallery, 17-18 May 2013. A one-day symposium at Queen Mary, University of London (with papers by WJT Mitchell, Jody Berland, and Claire Colebrook) was followed by a weekend of screenings at the Whitechapel Gallery, showing early films, experimental documentary, and artists' film and video, with artists' Q&As. A festival catalogue was also produced, with accompanying essays by Anat Pick (PI) and Silke Panse (Co-I). • Naturecultures: The politics of wildlife, Goethe-Institute, London, 5-6 December. The second series of events by the Screening Nature Network explores the connections between natural and social history with two screenings of award-winning documentaries: Philip Scheffner's The Day of the Sparrow, and Hannes Lang's Peak. Philip Scheffner was in conversation with Dr. Nicole Wolf (Goldsmith) after the screening. • Artist in focus: Rose Lowder. In collaboration with Queen Mary's School of Languages, Linguistics and Film, SNN invited the renown experimental filmmaker Rose Lowder for a 4 week residency at Queen Mary. During her stay, Lowder conducted a masterclass for postgraduate students, and held two screenings at Tate Modern, 17-18 January 2014, co-curated by Anat Pick and the Tate's film programmer George Clark. Pick wrote a piece on Lowder, published on the Tate blog, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/rose-lowder-filmmaking-frame-by-frame • Artist in focus: Vladimir Tyulkin, 20 March 2014. Tyulkin's documentary work in post-Soviet Kazakhstan is both politically and poetically pertinent, mixing together human and nonhuman subjects-especially animals. Tyulkin ran workshop with post-graduate students in film studies, and a public screening with Q&A of his films Lord of the Flies followed by Experiment of the Cross. • Symposium: Life, Ecology, Catastrophes and Images, 9 May 2014. With theorists and scholars Gregory Flaxman, Anne Sauvagnargues, Colin Gardner, and Silke Panse. Presentations examined the "ecosophical" potential of images, as immanent networks of relation, conveyors of a nonhuman perspective, and as affective connectors between the audience and the screen. • Screening the Forest. SNN's closing event was held at the Horse Hospital on 21 May 2014. Curated Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn, a PhD student at Queen Mary (supervised by Anat Pick), the evening featured new moving image work on the cinematic forest. Time Out listed it in its best film events of the week, with the following blurb: "We love the sound of this evening of shorts curated by the Screening Nature Network and inspired by the forests of South East Asia, with films from Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Taiwan. With titles like 'Forest Spirit', the tale of a wanderer. Expect the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul to be a major touchstone for many of the directors represented." In accordance with the project's intellectual and ethical commitment to sustainability, the events' catering was plant-based and used recycled materials.
Sector Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Naturecultures: The Politics of Wildlife 
Organisation Goethe-Institut London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration on curation, consultancy, venue.
Collaborator Contribution Venue, technical support and projection, organisational assistance, provision of film material, publicity.
Impact Public screening & Q&A
Start Year 2014
 
Description Rose Lowder--Under the Sun 
Organisation Tate
Department Tate Modern, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Curating two programmes in collaboration with the Tate film curator, and the filmmaker Rose Lowder. Tate publicised the event, and the project contributed an essay on the Tate blog.
Collaborator Contribution Co-curation, publicity, technical support, delivery of filmic material.
Impact The screening events were the main output. Essay on Tate blog: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/rose-lowder-filmmaking-frame-by-frame
Start Year 2014
 
Description Screening Nature: Flora, Fauna, and the Moving Image (launch event) 
Organisation Whitechapel Gallery
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We worked with the Whitechapel Gallery on a weekend of screenings, entitled Screening Nature: Flora Fauna and the Moving Image, a two-day public film festival.
Collaborator Contribution Projection and technical support, screening venue, and hosting the Network launch reception.
Impact The output was the film festival itself.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Screening the Forest 
Organisation Horse Hospital
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Curated screening of South Asian films
Collaborator Contribution Venue, technical support, publicity
Impact Screening was the main event
Start Year 2014
 
Description Public screenings and discussions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The activity consisted of a series of public screenings and talks in a range of cultural institutions, including The Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Modern, The Horse Hospital, and the Goethe Institut, London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://screeningnature.com/