Second Practice: Sensory experiments in/with nature

Filming in White Park Bay, Northern Ireland. Boxing Day, 26 December 2023

These are my reflections of the filming experience sometime after the event. I had hoped to stop at the nearest café to sit and write about the experience immediately after filming, but as it was Boxing Day, all cafes were closed. I dropped Maeve to her home around 20 minutes after we got back to the car so she was able to write her reflections soon after the event. As I had driven for over 4 hours for the shoot and spent over two hours there, having arrived at the beach after a steep climb down, carrying my equipment and materials in very cold weather that shifted between sun and rain, I felt too tired and overwhelmed to be able to write when I arrived home in the evening. I only spent time downloading the footage from the camera and backed up. 

I had arranged to be away for a few days during this Christmas period and didn’t have the chance to write. On my return, I felt by then I was too removed from the experience to be able to write about it adequately. I decided to work on each first film and relive the experience through and after editing it before writing. 

Challenges of location:

Filming was challenging. Although I had brought both my Sony video camera and my Canon DSLR, after few test shots with both, I felt more at ease using the bigger Sony camera. The dimensions and shape of this camera against my body, felt more intimate than holding the DSLR’s smaller frame and after having used the Sony most recently, I felt a sense of familiarity that I didn’t feel holding my DSLR, which I hadn’t used for filming for many years. My equipment case was too heavy to carry down the steep steps to reach the beach and too cumbersome to roll along the wet sand and hills. It was easier to just take the camera, mic and rig by hand. Although I had brought a tripod, using it felt disconnected from the experience of filming and I did not use it after all. There were also challenges in filming itself, the beach and the greenery were wet and slippery and it was difficult to find a comfortable position for me to sit or move with my camera. The intermittent drizzle also risked damaging the camera and mic. But we were both very enthusiastic and unperturbed and stop-starts didn’t affect our engagement with the work.

Equipment used: 

Hand-held camera: Sony HDR-AX2000E

Mic: Rode NTG-2 Shotgun with a wind-shield

Koolertron(TM) DSLR Rig Shoulder Mount 

Intention and Methodology

I wanted to explore the notion of ‘crossing thresholds’ according to Deleuze and Parnet’s theory of ‘the third line’ and John O’Donohue’s ‘Transfigurations of the senses’ through the lens of Barad’s notions of ‘intra-action’ and “entanglement’ and Stuart’s ‘enkinaethetic inter-corporeality’. My methodology was to use embodied visual metaphors that explore the sense of movement across thresholds, between one state and another, inner/outer, consciousness/altered consciousness, body/mind, sensations/emotions, concrete/ineffable, ration/mystery, which may take place in peak-flow states.

Filming/editing the first film ‘Stream’: 

The movement and sound of water in a rock pool running to the sea, seemed like an interesting sensory experience to explore. I wanted to experience the sensation of submerging in water, allowing the water’s movement to be a significant part of the performance. The flow of water and sound seemed to be a palpable metaphor for the peak-flow state. I gave loose directions to Maeve during takes to take her time and move very slowly in and around the water, to feel the water, to lose herself in the water, allow herself to become part of the water. To follow her own instinct as she made slow dancerly movements with her hand. I remained silent mostly as she performed, in order not to interrupt and break her flow.  I then asked her to feel and move around the rocks, and feel, hold and move a reed. At times, I asked her to pause as I moved the camera to capture a different angle. Keeping the camera still as her hand flowed in and out of frame seemed like a metaphor for the shifts in consciousness to trancelike/ transcendence states in Peak-flow experience. Close-ups and extreme close-ups of the hands, bringing the eye closer to the performing body and skin, amplified proximity, removing the distance between me and what was in front of the camera. At times, as I looked at the slow movement of water and the performing hand through the camera frame, I felt hypnotised by the meditative nature and aesthetic quality of the experience. It was more a mind rather than body experience, as I felt the discomfort and strain of my body as I held and moved the camera and felt its weight. The camera didn’t feel like an impersonal instrument, an object, rather a very integral and personal aspect of me and what I was doing. 

Positioning myself and the camera was at times challenging. The surfaces to sit or kneel on were wet and not steady. The mic windshield attached to the side of camera, at times moving and visible in the frame, which caused me to stop filming and reposition. Nevertheless, we both seemed so absorbed in the process that the short breaks to readjust my position and the camera before resuming shooting, didn’t interfere with the work. Each time, we just continued undisturbed.

Watching the completed film, I feel a very strong sensory connection with the screen. I felt the same as I edited some of the footage. The slow movement of the hand evokes a sense of tingling and lifting in my feet, calves. I also notice my breath slows with the slow dancerly movements. The hand submerging in water feels as though it is transfiguring into the water and I feel as though I am not watching, but I am the hand that submerges in the water, feeling the movement of water on my skin and becoming the movement of the water. I seem to be both removed from my physical body as I move into what is happening on screen, and simultaneously feeling tingling and lifting sensations in my physical body, particularly my feet, hands, and chest and head. It feels as though I have an outward physical/sensory body experience as well as an internal trancelike/transcendent aspect of it in my mind. It is difficult to find the distinction. A lifting of my mind that corresponds with the lifting sensation in my body. I notice my head and upper body slowly moving with the movement of the hand on screen. It doesn’t feel like I’m sensing the physical presence of the performer, rather sensing her mediated presence and my own presence as I filmed, in the screen’s presence. In this sense, the screen, carries a sense of what is in front and behind the camera. But this may be because I am remembering and reliving the experience as a participant. 

Filming/editing the second film ‘A Solo Duet: Dancing with Reflections’: 

The water moving on the sand created very rhapsodic moving shapes and forms. The path made by the water, surrounded by sand with dark flowing patches, moving towards the sea seemed to give a philosophical meaning to the experience. A path that leads to a destination where you expand and become part of a bigger reality.  

Using long-shot, I filmed the path, the sea and the cliffs and houses in the distance and asked Maeve to move into the shot as she walked on the path and water, staying in one place as she moved her feet around. I changed to mid-shots, as the movement of the water around the lower half of her body drew me in. I felt the need to feel closer to and become part of the action and changed to close-ups. The prolonged holding of the camera felt heavy, but the more I became engrossed in filming, the less it mattered.    

I was aware that her feet were very cold. I asked her just to walk slowly and feel the water move around her feet. Later I asked her to try moving faster, even dance and see what happens. I kept telling Maeve to sense what the water and sand feel like, really feel it. I asked her to begin to move towards the see as I filmed her lower legs and feet. Her moving solitary figure in black, with her grey scarf and red woollen hat, against the patterns of water in sand and the muted colours of the sky, looked fragile and contemplative. 

As she moved, I noticed the movement of her shadow on the wet sand, dark with jagged edges, making striking moving forms that accompanied her. I asked her to move around until I found an area where her shadow looked most strange, as abstract moving forms made by movement of sand and water. I felt mesmerised by the moving shadows and such excitement by the discovery! They looked and felt beautiful. I focused the camera on her feet and shadows and wet sand formations. They struck me as a visual presentation of the inner landscape, an altered consciousness of the self that accompanies us. A place where peak-flow moments reside. The movement of the body and its shadow, connected, each part of the other, seemed like a metaphor for the relationship between body and mind. The work seemed to find its own opening, its own way of becoming what it needed to be. I was completely moved and caught in the creative moment. I positioned myself and the camera where I could focus entirely on Maeve’s lower legs and feet and their shadow. It felt like I was in the sand, moved with and was the shadows. The work seemed to capture a sense of the lived experience. I could almost feel the wet sand between the toes and on the feet as Maeve’s feet moved. 

Watching the footage afterwards, I felt a sensory connection with the movement and sound of water around Maeve’s feet. I sensed a gentle slight lifting in my toes and feet, a floating sense in unison with the movement of her feet in the flowing water. The sound of the water enhances the sense of presence.

While editing, I decided that as I had already presented a sense of water in my first film ‘Stream’, I would focus on the shadows and present them as another metaphor for the internal/external, body/mind states in peak-flow, and the enkinaesthetic entanglements that happen during the creative process. The threshold between consciousness and altered consciousness. 

Filming/editing the third film ‘Climb: 

This film was filmed in one continuous shot, changing between long, mid and close-ups. It was then edited into a somatic narrative. The sound of trickling water added a gentle and hypnotic accompanying sound that amplified the sense of presence, especially while editing and in the final film. 

The rocks had a sense of power and majesty. The fragile movement of the body against their solid forms seemed to be an interesting contrast that could present the contrast between the inner states in constant motion which may easily go unnoticed, and the outer concrete form of the body that is always visible. 

I asked Maeve to slowly move with and through the rocks, feeling and sensing their forms and her own body. After that, I remained silent as she moved, and my camera and became Maeve to follow her own instinct than to interfere and interrupt her flow with my spoken direction. The direction was in my use of the camera and my body as positioned and moved it. She followed her own instinct to climb them, pause in places, move in ways that were dancerly and felt poetic and lyrical. The crawling of her hands and arms against the rock’s surface, the soft flesh and tones against the hardness and cracks, began to feel more like a meditation as I followed her movement and drew closer by zooming in and using mid-shots and close-ups. Holding and caressing the delicate vine and its branches and leaves, added a sense of tenderness to the experience. They too became a moving part of the performance.  I felt almost entranced. Her sense of curiosity and wonder fuelled mine.  What is she seeing, feeling, as she looked into those crevices and sensed them? What does it feel like to be her hands, her body in this space, to move and feel the rock and the vine? What is she experiencing inwardly? I felt at ease to be lost in the experience. I began to imagine being her hand and body and feel the surfaces. It felt like, for brief moments, I was her and experiencing her experiences. At times I was almost holding my breath, not to make even the slightest sound that might break the spell of the moment or letting out a quite breath in a complete sense of wonder, which can be heard in the footage. I decided to edit out the breath sound as without a point of reference, it felt like a distracting intrusion on a very intimate moment. 

In some parts of the footage, the mic’s wind-shield is visible in the corner of the frame. I was so fused in the experience that I hadn’t noticed the mic had slid down a little with my continuing movement.