Feeling for Nature
Land/Water and the Visual Arts research seminar: Working from Nature, a joint seminar with Dr Carole Baker
1 April 2009, Faculty of Arts, Scott Building, University of Plymouth
A presentation my recent practice-led research: an exploration of place, subjectivity and liminal states, through film collage and the (re)animation of found materials gathered while walking and wandering.

“The adoption of a mood as a way of transforming one’s experience of the world: the subjectivity involved is that of the wandering daydreamer […] The thrill they all seek is the frisson Aragon termed ‘a feeling for nature’ … there is something about a photograph or a shot in a film that exactly corresponds to the frisson that Aragon identified.”
(Patrick Keiller 2002)
Embroidery square sewn by my mother when she was a childEmbroidery square sewn by my mother as achild, reverseThe Crinoline Lady
My mother made this embroidery square when she was a child in the early 1940s. She sewed the pattern onto a piece of scrap white cotton material given to her by Bid, her mother, a seamstress. They lived in a council house on Sutton Way, Middlesbrough. My mum said that she “thoroughly enjoyed doing the hollyhocks”.

I explore the underside of embodiment. I hold my breath and dive under, beneath the skin of the world - searching to and fro, within/without, to find a feminine forensic. A feminist subversion of science and reason: working with the sexual organs of plants - petals, sepals; stamen, stigma, style and ovary; anther and filament - veins, stem and leaves; needle and thread, tweezers, surgical scalpel, bleach, glue, a microscopic probe, and a computer, to collect data - The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (Holden, 1906) meets CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, 2009).

Glimpse of the Garden
2 min extract 1957
In Martina Kudlácek’s 2006 film Notes on Marie Menken, Jonas Mekas comments on the “little, very, very invisible films” of Marie Menken: “They had no action; there was nothing spectacular, just little flowers, some lines, some colours."
Manohla Dargis writes: “Behind these delicate yet resilient, unmistakably feminized flowers, we intuit someone who could find beauty in the world, no matter how badly that world might have treated her. And not just find beauty, but also return it to the world, though on her own emphatic terms” (Dargis, 2007).

Numen of the Boughs
I showed this 1974 film (2min 7sec) by Margaret Tait, the first part of the collection of short films known as Colour Poems. “Some images [are] formed by direct-on-film animation, others are ‘found’ by the camera.” (Tait, 1974). I wanted to show Garden Pieces, the three part film made on Orkney in 1998, her last work before her death, but I couldn’t get hold of a copy to screen.
“Numen of The Boughs is an attempt at expressing something quite apart from the energy of movement and dance found in the earlier films. It was an experiment from which successful portions were incorporated into Colour Poems. The two-minute roll of film, painted without reference to a soundtrack, is almost entirely composed of black and white hand-drawn or scratched sequences. There is some colour in the original roll which has been applied over the scratches, but subsequent prints Tait had made were reproduced in black and white. The version which was incorporated into Colour Poems is black and white although colour was applied by hand to the negative over the animated sections.”
(Winn, 2002)

Looks Familiar
3min 1989, the first 16mm film that I scratched and drew upon.

2 min loop (no sound) 2006
16mm filmstrip of pressed wild flower petals gathered during a walk along the south west coastal path through the industrial Cattedown area of Plymouth on 27 May 2006. The filmstrip retraces the steps of a short walk when I left the path, drawn towards the intense saturated crimson of the poppy flowers colonizing the waste ground along the verge that had been scraped bare earlier in the year. The depth of field, from one side of the celluloid to the flattened top layer of petal, is less than 1mm.

Work-in-progress: stop-motion digital microphotography
New work: I follow the footsteps of Marie Menken and Margaret Tait around the garden, feeling for nature. A stop-start aesthetic: I showed the stop-motion manipulation of an unknown small plant growing next to the pond (‘Leaf white flower’ 6fps) that I had animated that morning; I also screened a QuickTime loop (6fps) of a Hyacinth floret photographed in the sunshine late morning, and other sequences filmed on the rostrum the evening before: a scratchy Lichen fairy forest from Dartmoor; and a QuickTime of the 16mm filmstrip artwork of Poppies - rephotgraphed frame-by-frame and top-lit so the surface texture is given a grisly prominence (15 fps, called ‘Wander’).

CBS (2009) ‘CSI: crime scene investigation’ [TV drama series]. New York: CBS Corporation
Dargis, M. (2007) ‘Who’s afraid of an artist who loved flowers?’ Movie Review: Notes on Marie Menken (2006) in The New York Times (9 February 2007) (online). New York: The New York Times Company. Available:
Accessed: 9 March 2009
Glimpse of the garden (1957) Directed by Marie Menken [Film] (online). 5min. Available:
Accessed: 9 March 2009
Holden, E. (1906) The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (2006 edn.) Woodbridge, Suffolk: Top That! Publishing
Keiller, P. (2002) ‘The poetic experience of townscape and landscape and some ways of depicting it’ in Danino, N. and Maziere, M. (eds.) (2003) The undercut reader: critical writings on artists’ film and video. London: Wallflower. pp. 75 - 83
Notes on Marie Menken (2006) Directed by Martina Kudlácek [Film]. BKA Kunst, Mina Film, and Wein Kultur. 97min
‘Numen of the boughs’ (1974) in Scottish screen archive (online). Available:
Accessed: 9 March 2009
Tait, M. (1974) ‘Animation: colour poems’ in Luxonline (online). Available:
Accessed: 9 March 2009
Winn, J. (2002) Preserving the hand-painted films of Margaret Tait. MA dissertation (online) Available:
Accessed: 9 March 2009