Panel 12: Art Ecomedia



Panel 12: Art Ecomedia

“New Critical Realities: Indigenous Filmmaking in the Time of Climate Change”

Lisa Bloom (Scholar in Residence, Beatrice Bains Center, University of California, Berkeley)

“Onscreen Pleasure and Off-Screen Guilt”

Erin Espelie (Assistant Professor of Film Studies & Critical Media Practices and Associate Director of Center for Environmental Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder)

“Coding Climate Change: Digital Aesthetics and the Legacy of the Lucas Gusher”

Lisa FitzGerald (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique, Université Rennes 2)

Q & A

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18 replies
  1. fornsbro says:

    Guilt. We are complicit and we need to notice how we can stop that complicity, and it is not possible many times. For example, we fly, we drive, we call, we use our computers. We need to accept our participation in the system. When we start talking as we are not part of that, it is impossible to use any antidote to avoidance. But Erin’s filmmaking is inspiring to look for more alternatives to the industrial model of moving images. Jia Zhang-ke sees the future of cinema in the hands of amateur filmmakers because they will keep using sincerity and consciousness, something that is eliminated, erased in the industrial crew model. How can we use what is at hand in the cinema art production?

  2. Lisa Bloom, UC Berkeley says:

    I’m the first speaker on the panel and wanted to thank you both for such interesting papers. For Erin: Your paper that fleshed out how you think through how you make films in the Anthropocene made me interested in seeing your films and possibly using them in classes. Could you post a list with links of how to view them?
    For Lisa: Could you say more on why Girard named his simulation of his flag “Western Flag”? Though this title plays off of the actual discovery of oil at Spindle Top that ushered in the emergence of Texas Oil, he deliberately does not see it as a Texas Flag, a US flag, or as a flag celebrating the petroleum industry in general but as a universalist “Western Flag.” If this is meant to be a critique of Western colonialism does he write or give more substance to this claim. It is hard not to see his work as reinscribing the masculinist heroic gesture of firstness, bound up with Western colonial masculinity and the colonial ambitions of the oil companies, even though he intends it presumably as a critical gesture.

    • Lisa FitzGerald, Université Rennes 2 says:

      Hi Lisa. Thank you for your question. Gerrard has said that the image of the flag itself recalls the legacy of 20th century expansion – the smoke symbolizing carbon dioxide. In my mind the term ‘western’ can denote both the broader ‘Universalist West’ as you say but also the more regional history of the American West and the expansion and domination that first drew settlers into that region (that particular brand of ‘Texas’ or ‘US’ West that instigated this petroleum age). I agree that planting a flag is most certainly an act of expansionist aggression but this is not a real flag. It a digital object that works to acknowledge (and memorialize perhaps) an event that destroyed not just this landscape but continues to destroy beyond any geographical borders.

  3. Lisa FitzGerald, Université Rennes 2 says:

    What these talks do highlight is the need to counter the conventional paradigms of framing. The spontaneous generation of infinite narratives that we see in new gaming technologies opens up possibilities for innovative models for film-making (something I look at in my talk on the simulated version of the Lucas Gusher).

  4. Michaela Rife, University of Toronto says:

    Thanks to all of you for a thought provoking panel! Lisa Bloom and Erin, I’m curious if either of you have seen the interactive documentary “Bear 71” ( ) ? I think it intersects in interesting ways with both of your papers. For Lisa the problems of science and tech’s incursions into the nonhuman wold (thinking of your discussion of the polar bears) and for Erin the use archival footage (broadly construed) and an attempt to see through animals’ eyes. (Though one could argue that this doc leans heavily on anthropomorphic tropes.)

    Lisa FitzGerald, I really enjoyed your paper, particularly as I was also thinking about oil for this conference! I’m interested in the way that Gerrard stages and exhibits his work. Clearly he’s done quite a bit of work in American oil and extractive landscapes but seems to exhibit largely in major museums, I’d love to hear your thoughts on his staging. Can you say more about the effect of presenting Western Flag on television and at the Somerset House? Was this a new kind of presentation for him?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Lisa FitzGerald, Université Rennes 2 says:

      Hi Michaela. Thanks for your question. As far as I know, this is his only artwork that that has been broadcast on television – it was a commission from Channel 4 so they probably instigated it. It’s an unusual format for an audience to engage with an artwork and I wonder how the difference in scale inhibited or distorted the message of fossil fuel exploitation and the wider implications for global capitalism. The outdoor setting at Somerset House is the more traditional format that he uses (the gallery space is still king it seems even in the represention of new media art) and there is certainly an interesting juxtaposition between the private space of the living room and the public space of Somerset house!

    • Lisa Bloom, UC Berkeley says:

      Michaela Rife: Thanks for letting me know about “Bear 71.” I haven’t seen it yet but will on your recommendation. Have you written on it? If so, please send me the link.

  5. rlmurray50 says:

    “New Critical Realities: Indigenous Filmmaking in the Time of Climate Change”: Lisa Bloom (Scholar in Residence, Beatrice Bains Center, University of California, Berkeley): As you were reading, I was thinking about the work in Arctic cinema studies and their limited addressing of climate change, especially from indigenous perspectives. Thank you for your exploration of *Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change*. Joe and I have explored issues you mentioned in documentaries such as *Vanishing Point* (2012), *The Sacred Place Where Life Begins* (2013) and *Being Caribou* and appreciated your focus on indigenous perspectives and the idea of the arctic as home. If you’ve seen *Vanishing Point*, I would appreciate reading your take on the film. Thank you!

    “Onscreen Pleasure and Off-Screen Guilt”: Erin Espelie (Assistant Professor of Film Studies & Critical Media Practices and Associate Director of Center for Environmental Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder)

    “Coding Climate Change: Digital Aesthetics and the Legacy of the Lucas Gusher”: Lisa FitzGerald (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique, Université Rennes 2)

    • rlmurray50 says:

      I hit return too quickly:

      “Onscreen Pleasure and Off-Screen Guilt”: Erin Espelie (Assistant Professor of Film Studies & Critical Media Practices and Associate Director of Center for Environmental Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder): Thank you for your provocative presentation. Yes, the images from the camera hold power–such a dilemma! I wondered what you thought of John Ryan’s suggestions for ethical nature cinematography in the Plants and the Nonhuman panel.

      “Coding Climate Change: Digital Aesthetics and the Legacy of the Lucas Gusher”: Lisa FitzGerald (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique, Université Rennes 2): Thank you for your intriguing presentation. Have you seen the Lumiere Brothers’ *Oil Wells of Baku: Close View* from 1896? This thirty-six second “view,” shot by Kamill Serf with a stationary camera, shows huge flames and black smoke streaming from burning oil wells in Baku, Azerbaijan, seemingly sure signs of environmental disaster. But disaster seems more like spectacle in this closely shot scene, and both Serf and the film’s viewers serve as attentive spectators. Although the camera never moves during the film, the vibrant image it captures also captures its viewers. Do Lucas Gusher and Western Flag serve similar dual purposes, obscuring their possible environmental messages?

      • Lisa FitzGerald, Université Rennes 2 says:

        Absolutely, I agree. As with ‘Oil Wells of Baku’ and oil narratives more broadly there is a definite materiality (bordering on a sensuality) in the representation of oil eruptions/disasters. These images touch an almost primal nerve as slippery as the substance itself and certainly obscures any environment message. I might say that because there is no depiction of the actual oil in Western Flag (and the fact that it’s an artistic representation rather than documentary film) it’s a little less hypnotic but, as you can see in the simulation, the smoke that billows out is strangely compelling. Both the events themselves and the moving images that capture/represent them are visceral but can in other instances serve a more effective environmental message as in the case of the Deepwater Horizon disaster for example where the live streaming of the billowing oil served as a horrific reminder of the impact of oil production.

    • Lisa Bloom, UC Berkeley says:

      I haven’t seen “Vanishing Point” but will thanks to your response to my paper. Have you or Joe written about any of the films you listed for me. If so, please send me the reference (s). As to how the interest in Arctic ecomedia is beginning to extend to developing further how climate change factors into it, have you seen eds., Anna Stenport, Scott Mackenzie, and Lill-Ann Korber, Arctic Environmental Modernities: From the Age of Polar Exploration to the Era of the Anthropocene. (London, Palgrave, 2017)? I have an article in it titled: “Invisible Landscapes: Extreme Oil and the Arctic in Experimental Film and Activist Art Practices,” that might interest you.

      • rlmurray50 says:

        Thank you, Lisa. I’ll look forward to reading your chapter. Yes, we have written about these issues and films, but it’s for an anthology without a publication date at this point.

        • Lisa Bloom, UC Berkeley says:

          Please keep me posted when it comes out. Thanks!

          Please keep me posted when it comes out.

  6. Mtrono says:

    Erin Espelie, my goodness, what an excellent visual essay you’ve created here. I enjoy the other formats at this conference too (such as the more common typographic cum oral mode and variations thereof) but it’s fantastic to see a visual essay that is, at once, an instance of peer-reviewed scholarship, an educative object, and an aesthetic experience. Impressive. I’d like to ask you a possibly oblique question.

    Highly conscientious and informed image makers like yourself productively second guess and interrogate their own practices and those of other image producers while also studying human and non-human activities, agencies, bio-political constellations, etc., all with the aim of encouraging informed and productive engagements with texts, each other, world. But…but….at the same time….other human agencies proceed heedless in other directions in pursuit of commercial gain. I’m talking about our captains of industry, their corporate entities, their lobbyists, and their enablers (such as myself, with my guilt- and pleasure-laced consumptions). Following only the law of the charter of incorporation and the demands for shareholder returns, these people win, most of the time, by going straight to the money and the law and the lawmakers and working for personal benefit from there. While we critics/image-makers toil in the hopes that if WE JUST WORK HARD ENOUGH then surely we’ll move others onto and up the activist ladder to make change take place. It seems to me that maybe eco-critics/artists could go straight to laws as well, the most worrisome place for us to go as regards worrying the captains of industry and their investors. Would you ever consider training your image-making skills on laws, on zones governed by laws, and on specific legislative initiatives, in order to provide viewers with an answer right out of the gate as regards the “But what can i do about it all?” query? I’ve been asking myself versions of this question ever since I found out that Trump’s choice for treasury department head–Steve Mnuchin–was an investor in Avatar and funnelled his profits from that film into hedge funds that then do what such funds do, profit from, while feeding corporate enterprise in a global economy……..WE diligently promote Avatar’s themes (bothered by some of its ideology and excesses too of course) and dwell on its possible effects and affects while HE is so unafraid of eco-cinema’s supposed eco-transformative potential that he blithely used it to enhance his fortune. The laws favour him, his operations, and as ever, the companies. Seems like a place to ideo-aesthetically “go” to me. Thanks again.

  7. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Erin:
    Thanks for the great piece. It really forces one to confront the variety of filmic modes out there and some of your work immediately brings to mind that of Stan Brakhage who championed both the avant garde and continually had us confront the world in a total fashion. And how tough it is to get students to look at his work without any prior preconditioning. When you show your work inspired by Rachel Carson do you find it necessary to do this pre-priming of the pump? And, as scholars, are these uniquely “first world problems”?
    Following the potential disaster of 4 plus million people in Capetown looking at the complete loss of their water supplies or the recent reporting that by 2020, 600 million Indian citizens may be facing severe water scarcity, how do any films, especially those of the avant garde, present such dangers to these large populations? Will these large populations be concerned about chemical contamination when there is nothing there at all?

  8. Senta A. Sanders, University of Augsburg says:

    Thank you for your insightful presentation, Lisa. I especially like the way you point out that the film “pushes the viewer to imagine a whole different way of seeing”, which is utterly important in regard to climate change awareness, empathy, and advocacy.

    Since you are also working with art you may be interested in the artistic project Re-Locate Kivalina ( that has made the narratives and struggles of the approximately four hundred seventy residents of the small Inupiaq village—which sits on a rapidly eroding barrier reef island and now merely measures a quarter mile across at its widest point—visible to a global audience.

    Also, are you working with any indigenous works of art?

    • Lisa Bloom, UC Berkeley says:

      Thank you for your astute comments and your reference to the artistic project Re-Locate Kivalina that I will look up. The situation in Kivalina appears in my larger book project through the art work of Any Balkin and her artwork “A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting” (2012-2018). The other indigenous Canadian artist in my book is Annie Pootogook, but there are a number of other artists/filmmakers such as Brenda Longfellow who collaborate with indigenous people in some of the other projects that I discuss in my book that deal directly with petroculture. Please send me a link to any relevant work of yours that you think I might find of interest.

  9. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Lisa Fitzgerald:
    Thanks for your work. Robin and I found a lot of love for oil when we researched The Oil Fields of Baku in 2005. People who traveled to the area in 1896 were in awe of the oil soaked air and the smell of money. Today the petrochemical world is only getting bigger and bigger with the most enormous plastic plant projects now being planned and built in the Houston, Texas area. Estimates will be in the low 100 billion dollar range, because of the proximity to new feed stocks from fracking. I don’t think it stops till we are all buried to our noses in waste plastic.

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