Transcript from post screening Q&A with Daniel & Clara, directors of Notes From A Journey, at Slow Film Festival 2019. This Q&A was led by Peter Treherne.
PT: This is the first time Notes From A Journey has been shown in Europe so we’re very lucky indeed. It feels like a fitting end for the festival. There has been a strong landscape theme throughout the weekend and now we have a British landscape, but a Britain made uncanny and unknowable. If you could reflect on landscape that would be wonderful, and about what you’re doing with landscape.
CLARA: Ok… I think we maybe need to start with where this film came from in order to answer that.
PT: Yes, that makes absolute sense.
CLARA: For the past 6 years, until Spring of this year, we had been living in Portugal. We moved there in 2013 to a little seaside town called Espinho and we lived in a creaky old dilapidated beach house where we could grow our own food, live on a small amount of money and dedicate all our time to making art. The situation we were in there was great because we could completely dedicate ourselves to our work, we created a lot of films and could spend our time exploring different ways of making art and being artists, but at the same time we never really felt that we could connect with the place and the culture there, so we often had a feeling we didn’t know where we belonged. We were making art all day everyday but it felt a bit like we were living in a world of our own, sustained by our imagination but cut off, in a kind of isolation or exile.
Then in 2017 we had the opportunity to take our work on tour around the UK, stopping off at different places screening our films at galleries, experimental film clubs and universities, and we instantly felt excited to be back in the UK. Particularly we were excited to be in the landscapes which we realised corresponded so well with our imaginations. So during the tour we were eagerly filming everywhere we visited, and also the places we passed on the train, and we amassed this mountain of footage. The trip started in Cambridge and took us up to Scotland then back south ending in Avebury.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Avebury, it is a village in Wiltshire that exists inside a stone circle, one of the largest stone circles in Britain. This place had a massive impact on us, the few hours that we spent there looking at the stones, walking the perimeter and then along the path to Silbury Hill, which is a huge mysterious prehistoric mound that stands just beyond the village. It was just an incredible experience and was completely unexpected. It did something to us. It changed us in a way we can’t really explain, we weren’t the same after.
And then suddenly we were back in Portugal and back to our work which we had been doing. And we had these images and this footage which felt really significant and yet we didn’t know what to do with it all. So this material just sat there for a long time and occasionally we’d look at it and feel like there was something there but we couldn’t quite work out what to do with it. Until, about the end of last year, Autumn 2018, we suddenly felt like it was time and we had a sudden breakthrough and managed to find a direction for the material. So it was over a year and a half later after filming that we were able to begin to make some sort of sense of what this film wanted to be.
Interestingly it was also about that time that we decided to move back to the UK, which we did six months ago, one week after we finished editing the film. So the film in some ways is related to that, the relationship with the landscape has somehow been a part of working through within ourselves this moving towards where we feel like we belong. But it’s also about the impact that the landscapes or place can have on you, this inner/outer experience existing as one.
PT: Could you unpack Avebury a little – its filmic, artistic and pagan history.
DANIEL: We didn’t know a lot about Avebury before visiting, it was only really during the editing of the film that we began to find out more about the history of the place and some of the artistic responses to the site. We knew of course about Jarman’s film and paintings, and Paul Nash, but it was only later that we realised the great extent to which this place has impacted on British art.
This is the first time we’ve seen this film projected, and it’s a really strange experience. As Clara was saying, this film is the culmination of a journey that we’ve been on for 6 years since leaving the UK. It has grown out of our time in Portugal which was amazing but became quite tough at the end. We felt very isolated there but this also enabled us to do some very deep explorations into ourselves. Alongside making work our time there was spent studying, things like psychology, alchemy, mythology and dreams. We had a daily routine, every morning after feeding the chickens and watering the garden, we would start the day with two or three hours of looking at our dreams from the night before, investigating the images and symbols that were coming out of this dream material. We had this kind of hermetic existence for a long time, and it was amazing, but then it started to become heavy and restrictive. We needed to get back to the world. And watching this film here today I can see how that feeling we had at the time, some depression and darkness, is there on screen. But now, since then, and maybe because of making this film, everything has changed, we are living back in UK, feeling that we’ve very much found a place in the world where we want to be and people that we can connect to. So today I’m sort of digesting this whole experience, I’m seeing how this connects to that journey we’ve been on.
Also, on the filming, that moment when we filmed it, we were there only briefly, it was a two week tour and we were constantly on the move, we weren’t in that time able to settle or fully connect with the earth. We were flying over it, gliding round, looking at places, wanting to connect to the land, some spirit, some artistic history, but not being able to. So it was the beginning of that journey back here. I’m only realising now how personal it all is. When you make a film in the way that we do, it’s very personal and very intuitive and you go on this journey with the material but you don’t know where you’re going. You’re just going through it. Sometimes it’s only years later when you watch them again that you discover what it was all about, you discover something about yourself. Making art is like a journey that never ends.
CLARA: I think one of the things that was very attractive about Avebury is that it’s a place that has existed for a very long time but it also has an undefined history. When you investigate the history of Avebury you realise that it’s very much a place that has been constructed over the millennia, and is still being constructed. Even over the last century it has changed, some of the stones have been re-erected, others moved and a general neatening up has taken place. So in a way the form of Avebury has never been finalised, it is unfinished, or it is still being formed by humans and by nature, in this sense it is a living monument. Something about that spoke to us.
PT: I know you guys love Mark Fisher’s The Weird and Eerie, and in that book he talks about standing stones and how their semantic framework has disappeared, so even though they were made by our ancestors they may as well be alien spacecraft that have just landed, and there’s something about how you’ve done that with pylons as well. Somehow everything is this strange, foreign, unknowable, uncanny separation.
DANIEL: It’s really weird being alive and being in a body. And being a human. Even being here in this room now is a strange experience if you think about what is going on. While being present and observing and participating in this shared experience, we’ve also all got this stuff going on in our minds which is another reality existing simultaneously, and then unconsciously there is yet another reality that is going on too. We’re really interested in that. The experience of experiencing being in the world and being in a body. Moving images are for us a way of exploring that.
The real subject of our work is the exploration of the relationship between inner and outer reality, the things we come in contact with that activate something that is both out there in the world but also something internal going on. It is about paying attention, becoming conscious, observing those feelings when you’re drawn to something, a particular image or place or whatever it is. If you find yourself returning to something, or a certain image keeps appearing in your mind’s eye, then we should pay attention to those things because it’s coming out of us, it’s calling us to something, it’s representing something going on beyond the surface. That’s what we’re following. It’s intuitive. So something like the standing stones, we are drawn to them because they are mysteries, they represent something unknowable but their visual impact and their presence is effective. But that feeling can be carried over to everything, actually everything is mysterious. When you really look at something, when you pay attention, everything is so mysterious and strange and amazing. Our films are driven by this fascination.
PT: I’m very interested by what you think of as your roles, both in the film but also during the making of the film. There’s something wonderful about how the film is comprised of you and devised by you. There are obviously practical reasons for having yourselves in the film, you don’t have to work with anyone else, you don’t have to be dependent on anyone else, it’s not as costly. Are there other things that it helps and unlocks?
CLARA: Yes! Because of the way we make films, like Daniel said, it’s very much a personal exploration. And they’ve been like that since the beginning of our collaboration. For us there isn’t a separation between our work and our life. Everything is interconnected. I think there has always been that awareness in our films of our presence as the makers, or of the films themselves as personal journeys that we have been on and that the audience get to participate in. Through everything that we have done we got to a stage in which we felt it was right for us to be so present in our films as characters. It just felt really natural.
DANIEL: I feel there is a ritual involved in making a film, because it is so connected with our personal journeys, our psychological journeys, it’s like making a film is a process of transforming ourselves. And even if we’re working with actors that’s still happening, but when we’re embodying it and going through these actions ourselves I feel we’re in a direct encounter with the ritual of these investigations.
CLARA: There’s something about experiencing things in your own body, even just rigid or static positions, if you put yourself in those positions for a certain amount of time something starts to happen. When you’re a performer you become really aware of that. And because filmmaking involves forcing reality to conform to artifice, even if that’s just the actor having to hold themselves in a particular way to fit the composition, it creates a tension in your body that you don’t normally experience, and that reveals something to us. When we started exploring performance for films that aspect became extremely interesting and we wanted to go further with it. I think it’s connected with our desire to make the films into these intense bodily experiences, even just to watch, and this has been one of our interests since the beginning.
PT: I feel there’s a lot of commonality between your work and Scott Barley’s work and especially with the emphasis on the corporeal spectator. But also in terms of sound. You both drop images to give sound space to work. Could you talk a bit about your sound design?
DANIEL: When we make a film, and this has been the same since the first feature film that we made together, we don’t record sound simultaneously with the camera, we shoot entirely silently. We then also edit the footage completely silently, letting the images create the pace and rhythm. Then once the edit is locked, we construct the sound afterwards in a studio. Everything you hear, every shuffle, every breath, every footstep, is created separately so we can isolate those sounds and mix them to create those perfect feelings. We always want the sound to activate physical sensations and have a mutating relationship with the image. Here, in this film, the sound goes close to the image, seeming to synchronise at times but then at other times it goes away from the image, so you are hearing one space and seeing another. It is as though there are several realities existing at the same time. Sometimes the sound adheres to the same world as the image, and sometimes it’s coming from an entirely different space or time. We’re really interested in exploring what that does. This act of having a shot from one space and having a sound from another and putting them together to create a third zone, what is that third thing that is created?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Could you talk more about being two humans and one artist, the dynamics of that, and how it’s different to collaboration?
DANIEL: We see ourselves as being servants to a creative spirit. When you’re making work it’s as though something flows through you. We have a dynamic and a relationship that is very balanced and early on we realised that our collaboration is born from the ongoing dialogue that we have. We’ve lived together and worked together for nine years. Anything that either of us comes up with individually goes on the table and belongs to both of us, we don’t fight for ownership, we don’t seek individual credit because we are servants, the art comes from this third being, not Daniel, not Clara, but the artist Daniel & Clara. What we create could not be made by each of us individually, it grows from that space created between us, by the two humans combined.
CLARA: In some ways, when we’re working on a film, we always feel the film is teaching us, or the film is forming itself and showing us what it wants to be. Saying two humans one artist is the truest way of describing that particular relationship between our persons and the artwork and the role of the artist. We often encounter this question, people want us to define who does what. But our answer is that we both do everything. Every aspect of the work we do together. It doesn’t belong to one or the other but to both. So it makes sense. It’s something about filmmaking that makes people doubt that relationship, but for us it’s something that just happened naturally because our preoccupation was to always serve the art and not anything else. We never have that moment when we disagree or fight about the work, if one of us isn’t happy, then it simply means there is more work to do, that there must be a solution we just haven’t seen yet. So we keep going. It’s only good when we’re both happy with it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do you have an audience in mind when you’re making your films?
CLARA: We are the first audience, and our responses are the things that we use to guide us in the creation of a film. We pay attention to what is happening within ourselves, how the images and sounds affect us, what they reveal about how we see, how we hear. We trust that we are responding as humans and that the other people who are watching are responding as humans too. But we’re quite happy that – and want to encourage – that people have their own unique journey through the films. And that happens with everything, not just films and art, but at every moment we are experiencing something completely unique to us, and that’s amazing. If anything, we want our films to be an opportunity to really understand that that is happening within us and to identify what our particular mechanisms for outer and inner perception are, and how our inner world encounters the outer world.
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