Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film 2012


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Thursday, August 1 - 5, 12:00 - 4:00 pm @ TBA (enquire at the Gallery)

Naturecultures: Three Works by Thomas Kneubuhler.
Curated by Corinna Ghaznavi

Hanover Drive-In
still from Currents - Thomas Kneubuhler, 2011

Canada is a vast land known for its changing and spectacular landscape, from ‘the rock’ in the East, through bush lands, the Canadian Shield, the Rocky Mountains, and the coasts on the East and West. We mainly inhabit the southern edge and understand the north to be remote, difficult to inhabit, and hard to access. Thomas Kneubuhler’s works focus on the myth of untouched lands and the exploitation of their expanses and resources. While we know that Native settlements and rich ecosystems are threatened by oil drilling, we less often consider how other human encroachment on traditional ways of life and animal habitats have marked the land we think of as unscathed and whole. By meticulously framing three different sites, Kneubuhler brings into focus the dense juxtaposition of nature and technology, highlighting how the needs of a consumption driven culture dominate the Canadian landscape. Kneubuhler’s strategy is both direct and subtle: Switch begins with a camera mounted in such a way that we initially think we are looking at a still image. Small dots of light twinkle at the bottom of a ski hill that is decorated with wide swathes of bright white and blue-tinged electric bands. Steve Bates’s audio is like a vibration that mounts as we continue to look at the image that we see to be animated, after all, through tiny moving points of light. The mountain is beautiful, crowned in its rich ribbons of electricity. Suddenly the right side falls into darkness. After several seconds the entire mountain is blacked out. The off switch has been pushed. The mountain is gone. The only bits we see are those small points in the town below.

The same dramatic effect between light and darkness is achieved very differently in Kneubuhler’s most recent video work, Days In Night. Narrated by a woman addressing the experience of living in the High Arctic, where there is no direct sunlight for six months of the year, we initially see nothing at all. As the video progresses we slowly begin to make out contours of the landscape, dimly at first, and then less faintly, until our eyes adjust to the dusky environment. Kneubuhler’s skillful technique allows us to experience the sensation that the audio narrates. We feel the strangeness of this darkness and are struck by the remoteness of that place which, however, is a military and research station. A station that hence signals that this place has been explored, mapped, and inhabited, in however small a way. And however empty, it seems there is no place unmarked by human presence.

Hanover Drive-In
still from Currents- Thomas Kneubuhler, 2011

Currents moves between these two other works, focusing on the hydro electrical installations in northern Quebec. Kneubuhler writes of ruptures in this work and formally the video plays on this idea: with some rapidity we are presented with a series of changing images from idyllic landscape to an empty road traversed by truck to new settlements and temporary housing. The persistent image of hydro lines and the insistent hum of electricity drives home the fact that roads are cut and landscapes split open to create power stations that provide a constant flow of power to the south. The work speaks of multiple displacements and reversals; Native inhabitants, traditionally Cree and Inuit, are resettled into subdivisions, workers are nomadic, the landscape is ravaged and the migratory paths of caribou destroyed. In what we think of as remote a truck chases down animals, humans settle, move and resettle, and always a line of hydro poles is visible in some background. Where there was nothing there are now vast power stations standing in stark contrast to the landscape we think of as remote.

All three works highlight that which we use so ubiquitously – power – yet rarely consider or even see. Being ‘out in nature’ on the ski hill is to be surrounded by technological and cultural mechanisms, like light, maintenance vehicles, ski lifts and sometimes even fake snow. The mountain becomes a luxuriously crafted culture that mimics what we understood once as ‘nature.’ The daunting darkness of the Arctic, something that we cannot control or light, is nonetheless under the ownership of civilization and studied intricately, and perhaps even ominously, by the military. And the high demand for power, in its physical and conceptual manifestations, radically alters landscapes and human and animal cultures.

Hanover Drive-In
still from Days in Night- Thomas Kneubuhler, 2013

Kneubuhler’s works read both poetically and like documentaries. His carefully crafted works present, in a direct and apparently objective manner, the intricately intertwined technological and natural landscape. We come to consider the resources that we cull from the earth and the wide cuts we make into it in order to gain what we want. We come to consider too the displaced, the ravaged, the recreated and the wondrous. For technology can be marvelous, enabling one, for instance, to film, develop, edit, and project. It can recreate and simulate, it can offer new experiences and enable travel, aid vision, and create zones of safety. It can also shut out that darkness beyond, push out that which was formerly there, alter and eradicate, move and destroy. Together Switch, Currents, and Days In Night bring a critical eye to that which we have created, we take for granted, and we rarely see, or see consciously. The marked success of innovation seeps through just as a warning voice does too: lest we take care the switch might be turned off forever.

Hanover Drive-In
still from Switch - Thomas Kneubuhler, 2009

(HD Video, 2009, 2 min.)
Thomas Kneubuhler
Sound: Steve Bates
Switch captures the moment when Mount Bromont’s artificial lighting network, is switched off, plunging the mountain and town below into an immediate darkness. The contrast between the artificiality of the illuminated mountain is contrasted with the natural darkness of the night. This rupture between light/dark, artificial/natural is startling in its suddenness and lack of ceremony. "It’s a hyper real discrepancy that comes full circle in Mountain (Switch), an accompanying video collaboration with musician Steve Bates. In a time-lapse recording, the artificial lights on a winter scene gradually turn off, with the traces of human presence on the landscape fading back to black." (Bryne McLaughlin, Canadian Art) .

(HD Video, 6 Min 26s, 2011)
Thomas Kneubuhler
Currents looks at the hydroelectric installations in Northern Quebec and their impact on the people and the land. Northern Quebec is traditionally a nomad's land, home to the native Inuit and Cree. Ironically, in the course of the development, it is the workers from the south that become nomadic: they are flown in for their work shifts and housed in temporary work camps, whereas the native population, displaced by the installation's progress, are settled in subdivisions. The video is also about movement and rupture. Where used to be rivers are now gigantic reservoirs. Caribous have to find new migratory paths and the Cree have to adapt their lives to an ever-changing landscape. Yet, the constant stream of electricity is flowing south without interruption. The video connects these different issues as a network of stories, similar to the network of the transmission lines, branching off in different directions.

Currents, Kneubuhler

Days in Night
(HD Video, 3 Min 45s, 2013)
Thomas Kneubuhler
Without the sun, it is difficult to orient yourself, especially in an unknown territory. Over time, the eyes adjust to the darkness, and the new environment starts to emerge. This video was made during an artist residency at CFS Alert, a military and research station in the high Arctic. CFS Alert is the northernmost settlement in the world, 800 km from the North Pole. From October to early March there is polar night, with no direct sunlight. Most people at the station are there for limited time, on average 3 to 6 months. Thanks to Elizabeth Hayman and the Canadian Forces Artists Program.