Dr. Amy Cutler’s residency explored ecological film-making practice and narrative voice in extinction memoirs and geographical memoirs. The project’s stumbling double vision also returns again to the unstable figure and meaning of the “geographer” as a grieving narrator – as land writer, illusionist/fantabulist, or even fantasist, from Strabo and Mandeville on. What is the key to unlock this cryptic geography, from naval surveillance, coastal artillery, Tarkovskyesque zonation, and the building of scientific pictures of the island in recurrent torchlight navigations and candle lit visits to the out-of-season nature centres? Cutler’s several screen film installations, sound pieces, specimens and live cinema narrations explored the crossovers in ideas of orienteering, from the construction of scientific observatories and quadrat ecologies in the original environment, to the construction/generation/staking out of a film environment using light and spatial senses.
In particular, it explored the range of approaches available to an experimental film-maker from using just a simple hand torch or head torch. Between fieldwork, lab-work, and film screening, the use of the torchbeam to both navigate – and then to later project – an environment places it as both a stand-in protagonist (the point of view tool of the walk-through in video games), and as the “live” element: to bring geography to life on film, just “apply light”.
Amy Cutler’s multi-screen, non-linear Örö film will be performed in a live light show at the MörkÖ festival in Örö in November, and the album she completed based on her residency is listenable here.
ÖRÖ TAPE: FIELDTRIPS OF THE DAMNED
From Dec 2019-Jan 2020 Cutler was on a residency on the fortress island, working by torchlight and by cemetery candle (as no open flames are allowed on the island). Spending winter exploring the geo-types of the military zones on the island between storms, Cutler’s residency brought certain science fictions to mind: the dreamed islands (or hologram machines) of experiment in The Invention of Morel and The Island of Dr Moreau, or the single-narrator accounts of extinction by characters such as Mary Shelley’s Lionel Verney. However, the intended narrative threads of extinction (such as, specific to Örö, the stories of the ghost antler lichen and the rare Apollo butterfly) were overtaken by real-world events during the period of the residency, from reports of the UK election watched via laptop screen in the military bunker, to the explosive world news of Australian wildfires and the record heating of sea temperatures. Receiving these messages in the dark of the Finnish archipelago, with only a few hours of light per day, Cutler’s project to explore the fractals of ice and extinction began to seem strangely wrong – closer to the experience of Adam Jeffson in M. P. Shields’ The Purple Cloud, whose expedition to the North pole, unbeknownst to him, unleashes a deathly vapour from the ice, killing off the rest of the social world with his ironically misplaced Romantic sublime isolationism.
The result is this tape, mixing field recordings with sounds referencing the “epic” style of expedition, based on Romantic ideas of isolation and bleakness – a kind of B-movie “isolation kitsch”. This was brought together with a different kind of bleakness, including the social realities of quarantine lockdown. The tape gives a semi-fictional audio testimony or grief vigil / storm vigil, combining fairy-tale harbingers with the more prosaic and unexpected realities of winter 2019/2020. (This included recordings made on the solstice marking of the “cold moon” or Long Night’s Moon, i.e. the final full moon of the decade.) The unknown voices explore the strange figure of “the geographer” as warden of a site, and as a haunted, ice-locked, or grieving narrator. The sounds are shaped by forms of orienteering on Örö island – a constant strange, stumbling double-vision, caused by travelling the same space over and over by torchlight, and living for a month within range of the inescapable sound of the military radar.
The tape reflects the nocturnal mechanics of the residency, at the year’s end, including days spent in the dark building a makeshift moth examination station, at lichen specimen desks in the woods, or staking out quadrat ecologies for observation in the different terrains of the island. As well as sci-fi and other inspirations, it is drawn from the real ways of marking time alone on Örö – re-tracing the Tarkovsky-esque zones, ice swamps, out-of-season nature centres, and abandoned railway tracks leading into the sea.