Anat Pick, writer and co-curator of the Tate Modern film series Under the Sun: The Films of Rose Lowder, reflects on the connections between filmmaking and the natural world in Rose Lowder’s work
Rose Lowder, a veteran of experimental film, is best known for her rigorous frame-by-frame compositions, a series of which are called ‘bouquets’ – bouquets of images that join flowers and cinematic montage bursting with colour, texture, and something like joy. One way of thinking of Lowder’s films is as an arrangement of natural and technical elements that engage with the natural world around her, and yet are created in the edit.
I first encountered Lowder’s work when programming a weekend of films called Screening Nature in May 2013. We did not seek out films that purported to convey the illusion of unmediated nature, but rather moving image work that placed itself in a knowing relationship with the natural world that surrounds it. Lowder’s work does not simply look at nature as something given and ‘out there’, or as the projection of the artist’s impressions. Her films are grounded in natural space, and this space includes the camera, the filmmaker, and the production process.
For the screenings at Tate, we wanted to bring out another side to Lowder’s work, neither strictly technical nor aesthetic, but which explores Lowder’s political and ethical commitment to filming as an ecological activity. I don’t know whether Lowder would agree, but, from my short acquaintance with her, I came away thinking that she did not only make films frame-by-frame – patiently, judiciously, taking care not to waste film stock, shooting on organic farms with which she has developed a real relationship, purchasing vegetables that she eats not just films – but that her life as well is lived as if frame-by-frame, with the same sort of conscientious attention to detail, rhythm, and scale.
Lowder’s art, like her life, is grounded in particular places and communities. The organic farms she regularly visits, the domestic locations she shoots, her interest in radical gardening and in the landscapes of her adoptive home in the south of France are all part of a political engagement with ways of living and filming. Inseparable from this is also Lowder’s championing of rare gems of non-commercial cinema. We highlighted this aspect of her work in our second Tate programme, compiled by Lowder from the former Archives du film experimental d’Avignon that she established and ran for many years.
The single-mindedness of the method of image-par-image might wrongly imply that Lowder’s work is severe or exacting. In fact, the films are warm and welcoming. Playful, witty and light, they tread softly: they are perhaps the gentlest examples of strobing effect in experimental film practice. Particularly charming is the rapid collaging of different places and elements: sailboats in a field of poppies, an assortment of pick ‘n’ mix candy over wild flowers, people, cars, trees, painted fences, a street view from a balcony.
At a time when debates around experimental cinema struggle to articulate a satisfactory relationship between filmmaking and political commitment, Lowder’s own film-work offers, not a theory but an example of the fusing of life and art.
Lowder’s work, it seems to me, is essential to understanding experimental film’s place in the sun.
Rose Lowder will attend a screening of her work and Q&A hosted by Anat Pick, senior lecturer in Film at Queen Mary University of London at The Horse Hospital, London on Wednesday 5 February 19.00