‘Disrupted Views’ seminar

The 2nd October seemed a lifetime away when I booked my place at the ‘Disrupted views’ seminar at Hestercombe, so pre-conference research procrastination set in.  I had not seen the Sear exhibition before as it had all seemed too expensive to go twice.

Laurent Châtel, Professor of British Art, Culture and Visual Studies of the University of Lille, opened the event with his talk on ‘Prospect and Refuge, Open and occluded eyes in 18th C. gardens’.

The main points I learned from the talk were:

  •  we read and decode a garden
  • there is an art of / arrogance in hiding and / or framing what you want viewers to see
  • there is a dual narrative of prospect (I see this as the framing) and refuge in a garden
  • Hestercombe gardens are seen as paradise regained
  • the seeing of the restructuring of a landscape as an improvement or a restoration = a putting in order

Helen Sear’s talk and work:

What was the relevance of this to the exhibition?  Much of Sear’s work concerns the body and the landscape and recently, the body immersed in the landscape, and looking more closely at the managed countryside.  Sear appears to record what is there but how she does that is what brought her work into the seminar.  Although I had never assumed that her work was in the documentary genre, Helen said that her work cannot be seen as documentary because she has edited it all.  I may have mis-heard, but I never knew that self-editing precluded a work from being considered a documentary.

She uses occlusion very effectively, in my opinion. In ‘View finder’ (2017) and ‘Blocked Field’ 2012, the hay bales, both cylindrical and cuboid, were arranged in the images in such a way as to occlude what the viewer would normally have seen.  She also removes the shadows in these examples, thereby flattening the images and collapsing the distance between the viewer and the viewed.  The long landscape, ‘Stack’ (2015) is presented in 32 vertical aluminium dibond panels and engages the viewer because the light changes the colours on the image depending on where you stand in relation to it.





There were places where the landscape seemed to offer refuge to the viewer, particularly the 27 minute long film  ‘hahaha biota’ (2018) which dealt with people and animals in the environment in which potentially harrowing parts were changed to black and white where the rest of the film was in colour, in places highly saturated colour.

From her website we read: “Her work explores the materiality of vision, often combining hand drawn or erased elements with photography to disrupt the conventional fixed-point perspective associated with the medium. She also works with moving image and mixed media installations.”

The film which attracted me most was the ‘Moments of capture‘ (2016) because it gave me many ideas for my work (see below).

One image which stays with me is the ‘Caetera fumus’ ( the rest is smoke) (2015) : an image of rapeseed flowers and twigs piercing the image.  It is inspired by Mantegna’s St Sebastian which Sear saw in Venice when she represented Wales at the 2015 biennale – the first woman to present a solo exhibition representing Wales at the biennale.  The twigs are supposedly piercing the image in the same orientation that Mantegna’s arrows are piercing St Sebastian’s body.  “Sear adopts this rather pessimistic idea of the transience of human life as a keynote for her show while mixing it with her obvious curiosity about the natural world. Her signature piece is the large scale video projection, company of trees (2015).”(BBC Arts – Helen Sear’s postcard from Venice) 

In Steven Connor’s introduction to the work ‘the rest is smoke’, he writes “Rather than merely giving us the world, or giving us to it, the photographic act is an overlayering, of times and places, signs and sensations.”.  I love that statement because it is so apt for manipulations of any kind: we add  and take away layers of meaning to all we do, see and say, in my experience.

When I asked what the significance of the rapeseed and the twigs was, Helen replied, if I heard correctly, that it depicted the exploitation of people by consumerism.

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 21.58.29.png

When I consider that St Sebastian was used as target practice by Diocletian’s soldiers because he refused to give up his Christian faith and did not die from all the perforations, I feel that I must have mis-heard the reply to my question.

At the exhibition I bought Sear’s book ‘Brisées’ which is a collection of processed images of circular or oval shapes with twigs.  The word brisées (French for broken) refers to the broken twigs indicating that game / deer have passed through that place in the forest.  To ‘French foresters, signify boundary markers – branches or stakes planted in the ground to define an area of timber now ready for logging.”(Sear)

The author of the introduction to the book, Jonathan P. Watts, writes:” Brisées is a rich and compelling metaphor, enfolding ideas about complexity, the gestalt whole, inside and outside, distance and proximity, visibility and invisibility, and attention economy.  It is under this sign that, in researching, thinking and writing this text, I enact my own brisées, trace pseudo-trails or risk crossing arbitrary boundaries in order to mark out wider and stranger trajectories in Sear’s work.  I also recognise the leisure, generosity and leniency in what one might call brisée-ing: following false trails in pursuit of the game might generate possibilities and questions.” (Sear)

Brisées is firmly in the vocabulary of venery, ‘an archaic word pertaining to the art, the act, or the practice of hunting, or the pursuit of sexual pleasure – the thrill of the chase.  The chase proceeds by close attention to nuanced detail in the environment.” (Sear)

Is it possible that the Caetera fumus is not about consumerism after all?  The theme of the seminar, open and occluded eyes, springs suddenly to mind.


The last speaker, Gareth Evans, writer, editor and film curator of London’s Whitechapel gallery, spoke of Cultures of Place and related walking through the countryside where, in looking down where you are walking, you experience a place / space rather than read it.  He referenced Wim Wenders ‘e-motion films’ ” Motion and Emotion: The Films of Wim Wenders (1990)” which I want to investigate further.  Evans also emphasised something which I have felt strongly and for a long time that landscapes are incomplete without sound and smells.  He mentioned film maker Ben Rivers whom I also want to investigate further.  Evans also spoke about how walking and films on walking  transcend space and time.

Reflections on the event:

I feel that I should have done a bit of research beforehand particularly about Helen Sear’s work which I found very accessible in places.

There were several film ideas which I want to incorporate in my work because it deals with how to depict the passage of time:

  • filming a windmill, a waterwheel, foliage moving in the wind;
  • while we were waiting for the Q&A session to start we filmed a slo-mo of pennies dropped in a pond and the ripples which followed;
  • photograph new growth in the forest.
  • a cross-section of a tree trunk
  • attach to these the recording of the 4 horses walking outside HMP Dartmoor which I did last week.

Sear,H. 2013. Brisées. GOST Books.


BBC Arts Helen Sear’s postcard from Venice






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