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Lung

David Cowlard: Director, Producer, Researcher

Affiliation: Whitecliffe College
Title of work: Lung
Year: 2016
Length: 3 minutes and 38 seconds

RESEARCH STATEMENT

One of the key research questions I explore with this film is how short form video, filmed on a smartphone, can contribute to a wider critical engagement with architecture and the built environment. I am interested both in the way that the handling of a smartphone camera can allow for a more direct, embodied filming experience, as well as the possibilities for how locational information and networked annotations can further inform a type of architectural reportage that directly reference the everyday, lived, experiences within the built environment. 

My research is informed by an interdisciplinary approach to architectural and filmic thinking. I am interested in the way that a revisionist reading of the films and theories of an earlier generation of experimental filmmakers reveals their interest in spatial observation. In particular, many of the methods and concerns of the Structuralist filmmakers, such as duration, the loop and repetition, pursued as a strategy to assert the materiality of film (Gidal 1976) can be reworked as a way to think about space through moving images. This is particularly important when examined alongside the idea of spatial appropriation. For Walter Benjamin, the time spent with buildings is key to an accumulative knowledge of architecture, and this spatial knowledge is informed by habit and casual observation (Vidler 2000).

Lung was filmed over six days and presents views of an atrium at Auckland Hospital. Returning to the same space at different times and with differing qualities of light the focus of the video is on the rhythms of use. Repeating shots of the atrium’s lifts moving between floors allows for a sense of getting to know the space, even if only partially. Repetition and looping within the edit extend the time spent with various shots and allow for an active viewing process while also avoiding any sense of narrative. Although the video has a linear form and has been shown at film screenings, it also sits naturally within online publication platforms, many of which have default looping playback options, and has been exhibited in a gallery context as well. The potential for repeated viewings allows for closer consideration and critical engagement of the spaces filmed.

The British filmmaker Patrick Keiller (2013) suggests that films can be made to criticise architectural space rather than simply depicting it. The ability to annotate short-form video and to aggregate this information (Manovich 2000) can provide a greater depth of information about housing, spatial use, architectural programs, and urban living, and contribute to a new form of architectural engagement and criticism.

 

PEER REVIEW 1

In Lung, by definition we are presented with an open space, the atrium, of a building – mimicking the “lungs” of our bodies we experience the pulse of rhythmic movement of “air” by way of the lifts that move in and out of frame. A complicated space made soothing and familiar by the repetition of framing, the lulling hums of infrastructure, and simple palette chosen not only by the architect but also by Cowlard in the cropping of each frame. Cowlard’s statement is both well researched and reflective of the piece itself. The reader/viewer perhaps does not need to know the second definition of “lung” as an architectural/built environment concept to fully realize the piece; however, having that knowledge does allow for both the literal and metaphorical read of the film.

Lung is ultimately made more interesting as a piece by imagining the looping of the video beyond its 3:38 minute entry (as suggested as a viewing option in the statement); it is then that we begin to recognize its patterns and repetition of particular frames more fully. And it is in the repeated viewing that one can also imagine the architectural space itself becoming more and more familiar; the routines of its day playing out on an eternal loop of time.

The research presented in the statement is easily demonstrated in the film – while perhaps slightly didactic in approach. While I see no evidence of innovation in either form or content, the pieces’ subtleties are compelling and pleasing to view (both the architectural space and the filming of it). The piece does not make extraordinary strides in the historical context in which it is presented, however, Lung does create respite and pause to take in the complexity of the architectural space and the complexity of our built environment. It contributes to the historical context by reflecting on the contemporary space.

Where Lung loses ground, in its otherwise accomplishments as a piece, is in the overlay of music. The music does not tie back to the space itself, it does not reflect on the built environment, nor does it contribute to a metaphorical read of the film. I could imagine intermittent use of the song to amplify and/or quiet the ambient and mechanical noises of the space itself; but by merely overlaying it, it calls too much attention to the music rather than the film itself. 

 

PEER REVIEW 2

The film is appropriate within the filmmaker’s context of seeking to explore how short form video, filmed on a smartphone, can contribute to a wider critical engagement with architecture and the built environment. In Lung, the filmmaker is able to demonstrate this objective by recording repeated but exciting spatial movements of the atrium in Auckland Hospital. This work is a good reminder for all in architecture and built environments to pay attention to ideas of spatial appropriation. Furthermore, the film is well constructed with paced rhythmic upward and downward movements of the automated lifts. The experimental shots of these replays in movements were well captured by the filmmaker.

The key strength of this film is the filmmakers’ ability to observe the repeated pattern of the atrium and being able to piece this together in wide, medium and close shots. The innovative use of a smartphone to capture addresses an interesting view of how the lens of a simple smartphone device can initiate discourse on the built environment. As such, this film represents an excellent and elegant flow of lifts which almost certainly influence the thinking of viewers. Admittedly, there may be an issue of boredom on screen because there is no break in the monopolised shots, but this weakness is addressed by the varied frame shots as well as the soothing natural sounds interlaced in the edit which establish a logical link between the film’s concept and the audience. The conceptual leap here is that the edit provided proof of the time spent to capture the movement of the lifts at various times of the day and this approach allowed intimate engagement with the repeated shots. It is clear that the importance of this film stems from the applicability of the short video form approach on a smartphone as compared to other traditional forms of media.

I believe the film identified a gap in knowledge and eventually made an attempt to address this gap. Precisely as reiterated in his abstract, the filmmaker through the lens of the smartphone is able to capture shots of buildings which in this case is the atrium of Auckland Hospital. He went on to provide a depth of information through short-form video annotation about that portion of the building but creatively so to open up a new conversation on architectural engagement and criticism. This work presents a model to the built environment that can be broadly and usefully applied.

In conclusion, the synopsis attached by the filmmaker raises some interesting points that seem worth discussing. The short video format is well applied to interpret these issues, therefore the current version should be approved.

RESEARCHER RESPONSE

I would like to thank both reviewers for their time and consideration in reviewing my film and statement. I appreciate that both reviewers have identified the role of using repeated observation within my exploration of, and engagement with the complexity of architectural space, and the potential for this to have meaning to an audience. 

While I make reference to filming at different times and with different light, this statement was made more as a general reflection on the effect that time spent within a space can have on the filmmaker, the recorded observations, and on an audience. Reviewer 1 comments that “there isn’t enough shifts in the qualities of light to make note of within the statement” and I acknowledge that the nuances of light are not integral to the submitted work. I am therefore happy to remove this reference from my statement.

Regarding the first reviewer’s comments on the non-diegetic music and the “conflict” with the ambient recordings from the space. I value the interest in the ambient sound and do recognise the importance that recorded sound plays in an understanding and knowledge of spaces. I had initially set the music as a counterpoint to the pace of the ambient recordings and the visual rhythm of the video. Although it may provoke a noticeable juxtaposition to the observed environment, I had used the electronic drone of the music to introduce a tension and a different psychological tone to the work. Having said this, I do appreciate the suggestion that in a different viewing context, such as a gallery, there may be the opportunity to pare back or remove the music from the work and allow the found rhythms and sounds to set the pace for an audience.

 

REVISED STATEMENT

One of the key research questions I explore with this film is how short form video, filmed on a smartphone, can contribute to a wider critical engagement with architecture and the built environment. I am interested both in the way that the handling of a smartphone camera can allow for a more direct, embodied filming experience, as well as the possibilities for how locational information and networked annotations can further inform a type of architectural reportage that directly reference the everyday, lived, experiences within the built environment. 

My research is informed by an interdisciplinary approach to architectural and filmic thinking. I am interested in the way that a revisionist reading of the films and theories of an earlier generation of experimental filmmakers reveals their interest in spatial observation. In particular, many of the methods and concerns of the Structuralist filmmakers, such as duration, the loop and repetition, pursued as a strategy to assert the materiality of film (Gidal 1976) can be reworked as a way to think about space through moving images. This is particularly important when examined alongside the idea of spatial appropriation. For Walter Benjamin, the time spent with buildings is key to an accumulative knowledge of architecture, and this spatial knowledge is informed by habit and casual observation (Vidler 2000).

Lung was filmed over six days and presents views of an atrium at Auckland Hospital. Returning to the same space at different times, the focus of the video is on the rhythms of use. Repeating shots of the atrium’s lifts moving between floors allows for a sense of getting to know the space, even if only partially. Repetition and looping within the edit extend the time spent with various shots and allow for an active viewing process while also avoiding any sense of narrative. Although the video has a linear form and has been shown at film screenings, it also sits naturally within online publication platforms, many of which have default looping playback options, and has been exhibited in a gallery context as well. The potential for repeated viewings allows for closer consideration and critical engagement of the spaces filmed.

The British filmmaker Patrick Keiller (2013) suggests that films can be made to criticise architectural space rather than simply depicting it. The ability to annotate short-form video and to aggregate this information (Manovich 2000) can provide a greater depth of information about housing, spatial use, architectural programs, and urban living, and contribute to a new form of architectural engagement and criticism.  


REFERENCES

Aston, Judith, Sandra Gaudenzi, and Mandy Rose, eds. 2017. i-docs: The Evolving Practices of Interactive Documentary. New York: Columbia University Press.

Benjamin, Walter. 1968. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 217-251. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Bruno, Giuliana. 2007. Public intimacy in the Visual Arts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Campany, David. 2015. “Stillness.” In Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Art, edited by Adam Bell and Charles H. Traub, 72-88. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Emigholz, Heinz, dir. 2012. Perret in Frankreich und Algerien. Germany: Filmgalarie 451.

Farman, Jason, ed. 2014. The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies. New York: Routledge.

Gidal, Peter, ed. Structural Film Anthology. London: British Film Institute.

Keiller, Patrick. 2013. The View From the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes. London; Brooklyn, NY: Verso.

Leach, Andrew, and Antony Moulis. 2010. “History, Criticism, Judgment, Project.” Architectural Theory Review 15 (3): 298-311.

Manovich, Lev. 2000. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Shapins, Jesse. 2012. “Mapping the Urban Database Documentary: Authorial Agency in Utopias of Kaleidoscopic Perception and Sensory Estrangement.” PhD diss. Harvard University.

Sorkin, Michael. 2014. “Critical Mass: Why Architectural Criticism Matters.” The Architectural Review. Last modified May 28, 2014. https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/critical-mass-why-architectural-criticism-matters.

Vidler, Anthony. 2000. Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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