Fall, River, Snow: Water Drape, Ice Steam, Deer Portrait (2006), an ambitious new film work by UK artist Liz Rideal, was projected outdoors in the expansive grounds of Compton Verney, an estate designed by the eminent 18th-century British landscape architect Capability Brown. This work signals a new direction for the artist, whose diverse practice includes photography, drawing and print-based media. Reflecting on her practice in relation to film, she brings her work’s static, often sequential, repeated and narrative images into a new medium.
Rideal’s film, its two-part title describing a three-part work, is 10 minutes and 40 seconds in length, and was shot in three locations in Ontario: Niagara Falls, Big Cedar and Burleigh Falls. Produced in January 2006 using Super 8 film, the work’s three sections are linked by the setting of a winter landscape.
Rideal’s infatuation with water, cascades and drapery is clearly visible in the first section of the film. The secondary title for this part, Water Drape, emphasises her intentions as she focuses on the visceral properties of falling water. The illusory stasis of Niagara Falls’ high volume of falling water provokes associations with the ephemeral qualities of projected light, and this ultimately is the only certainty implied by the image Rideal creates.
Land art offers an important context for this film. Its theoretical base was developed in the late 60s and early 70s around the work of artists such as Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Long and Michael Heizer. James Turrell famously has created a body of work that focuses on the effects of light and space on perception, and although Rideal’s work functions in a different manner, her practice of using film to project light into and onto landscape offers an interesting update on this tradition.
Rideal’s film moves across a terrain of the Canadian winter. Water as liquid, vapour and solid is present in the three landscapes shown, in part proposing that each one is a repetition of the others, in part providing conjunction and in part proportioning difference.
The artist used trees on the estate as a screen for the film’s projection; the frenetic flowing water in the first section of the film created movement and shadows that cut across the trees, inducing a sense of swirling wind as much as cascading water. The trees lined one end of the lake, dipping away from the main house. Aligned from the base of the trees, on the waterline of the lake, the projection was almost the full height of the trees and was fully visible from across the width of the lake. This alignment enabled the image’s reflection to be visible at full length in the water below, an intelligent restructuring that cast the film’s bottom edge as its midpoint.
The film moved through two other phases, its middle portion a passage of colour determinable only as an aqua-blue stain or spill against the otherwise sharp black silhouettes created by the flowing water from Burleigh Falls, which provided the most defined series of shapes within the work. The final section, shot in the woodland that surrounds Big Cedar, introduced discernable points of narrative–trees and occasional deer provided a sense of story and a registration of scale.
The abstract detailing and physical fragility of Rideal’s work was doubled by the temporary site. The lack of density of the foliage of the trees, due to high winds, resulted in a loss of definition in the film’s image; conversely, the sharpness of the film intensified as the evening’s darkness gathered pace.
The notion of landscape projected onto landscape provokes interesting questions about simulation and displacement. Transposing fragmented and idealized Canadian environs onto the manicured and meticulous gardens created by the most thorough of British landscape architects suggests evocative historical links between the two countries and questions discrepancies of landscape across continents.
Rideal’s regular body of work raises issues of transparency and translucency–light passes through fabric or is caught between folds in material. Here it is the projected light that becomes the surface, acting as the point of contact, a temporal facade that renders trees and water as surface, shape and colour. Projecting this film outdoors and onto a model of English landscape aesthetics is audacious, but ultimately it is an audaciousness that befits the content of the work and allows for an engaging personal experience of the landscape, standing in the failing light of dusk in the cold of winter.