27/09/21 (Conversations with a Forest)

Last weekend (okay so it’s taken longer than I planned to write this)… the weekend before last was our inaugural MIMC overnight residential event. We’ve been meeting up semi-regularly since sometime in 2015, when a series of workshops organised and run by Alchemy film & Arts didn’t feel like it was really long enough. We kept the loose format of coffee and tea in any suitably sized space with a screen or nice white wall we could point a borrowed projector at.
Since then, people have come and gone and come back again, and a steady momentum built up around events where we either showed films on a big screen, or – my favourite – we took over a venue for a while and filled it with work.

I think – although I am happy to be contradicted – the title Moving Image Makers Collective was kind of fallen into ; as we’d better call it something, right? although the amount of collective work in itself has been infrequent. At some stage, it was shortened to MoIMaCo… and it’s also been shortened and re-lengthened to Mimic (not a fan of this one – what are we supposedly copying?). I do wonder if we aught to think up a better name, but we’ve got the web domain now…

The thing we found we’re really good at is taking a space, or a collection of spaces, and moving into them. In 2015, and again in 2017, we took up residence at the Haining, in Selkirk. We, on both of these occasions, were pretty much granted free rein to the Haining house, and a small cottage in the grounds. Each of us claimed a space, and used it as our own home for a few days. At the first one, my main memories are of sitting on a cold marble floor, waiting for my video to export for long stretches, and spending more hours tweaking my projector, to fit my film perfectly (almost) into the curved alcove on the right-hand side of the house’s huge foyer.

Forest 2 install Narda
Forest 2. Photo: Narda Dalgleish

Chris Maginn orchestrated our first joint work, Filmstrip, and we ambitiously – and nerve-wrackingly – installed it on a screen dangled face-down within the house’s staircase, in a rectangular gap that usually housed the light shining through a large oval window in the roof.
I’ve not seen the film since it was neck-achingly viewable as a ceiling, but I’m sure there were swans involved. I remember a calm accomplished energy to it, despite the small threat of it succumbing to gravity. or possibly because of it.

Filmstrip MIMC Beyond the Shutter
Filmstrip. Photo: Narda Dalgleish

Conversations… took a similar form, but spread over two woodlands and walled garden. Instead of driving back and forth each day, those of us that could camp did, making the installation and performance spaces not just that but more wholly ours for the duration.

While having a steep climb through two fields between where most of us camped and the safari tent base / kitchen / campfire / store / dining room (seriously high-end gmalping) sounds inconvenient, and exhausting (and okay maybe it was) I think it gave us a space to make the required journey not just in a why-did-i-leave-my-toothbrush-at-the-top sense but a space to breathe the gloriously fresh air of the Scottish Borders countryside and to use our bodies, our feet, to make purposeful travel in the landscape.

Photo of a hammock slung between two trees on Ruberslaw

Tall Meepa went for a run in the woods. I’m not really sure what the woods might have thought about it, but it happened anyway.

Actually, as soon as I saw Tall Meepa on my hand-painted perspex screen, my heart soared. She was complete! The image in my head (and in my notebook) of I am Tall Meepa was of a floating rectangle, a glowing screen peeking through the trees at first look, from a distance.

On the approach, a glimpse of a non-organic shape would appear, flicker between plants, and land, and come into full view from a distance, once the viewer is at the correct angle.
I had hoped to back project it, but found the cheap-option sheet of translucent perspex was too thick to let the light stay in focus. In the woods, thanks to the downhill slope I placed it on, and some careful tweaking, the projector didn’t get in the way of the projection. My screen did partly do its job, in letting a blurry version of the work viewable from the rear, making it – in theory – viewable from almost all angles. James and Richard helped me get the screen floating – the low-tech solution of string holding it up – disappeared into the dark – and Richards stayed to help sort a solution less precarious than the one I’d started with (duck tape ftw)

The floating screen – can I say again how exciting it was to see it in real life – loomed like something out of a sci-fi movie in such brightness it was impossible too miss, having a kind of blinding effect on the surrounding woodland. To approach safely, most visitors had to use a torch to see where they were going, but when it was dark, I felt the air and smells and dampness and sounds of the woods make the forest Tall Meepa is perpetually running through real. The line between the digital world on screen and the space I was physically in was penetrated by the atmosphere itself.

in an almost pitch-black woodland, there's a floating screen with a projector behind, showing an image of a character running through a digital woodland

I think it took me until Saturday morning to relax (we got there on the Thursday), I had taken my new hammock for its first outing, and every camper knows that the first night under canvas is never the best night’s sleep you’ll get out there.
When I woke, it wasn’t raining – not that we’d had much rain until that point – and I ungracefully climbed out of the hammock and undid one end of my tarpaulin so I could climb back in and watch the clouds move very slowly over Minto hill and the village of Denholm in the valley between. While the campsite rests on the side of Ruberslaw, the probably extinct volcano, roman fort, wedding venue(really!), the woods the upper pitches are in are running along a ridge, leading towards the lumpy, windy peak itself. This means the woods are bright and airy at all times, except when it’s nighttime and cloudy, when it’s just airy. I watched the clouds, the mist the fence and the field, the trees (Scots Pine, I think), and the bugs until the drizzle came on, and then I nearly fell out while trying to find my socks.

The day felt like being on a Residency. Somehow when time moves in ways not quite expected, a day that must have lasted… sixteen hours? felt like it was a week when we drank coffee and talked about thoughts and ideas with nothing more pressing than what shall we have for dinner. I did manage to film a performance that’s been taking a while to manifest, but more on that soon.

Richard has been making work around Ogham, an alphabet of trees over the last few months, and presented Tender Divinations in the forest. On the first evening, we crossed paths in the woods. He was projecting narrow images onto the teees, the quick flicker of the digital pictures of these carved sticks, hands, statues moved by his hand between trunks. It was the first quiet moment of the weekend for me and a space where, through a human-made light onto a tree that’s got to have been there just as long east the oldest of us here have.
This strangely mechanised performance confused at least two visitors who were impressed at the accuracy with which he’d managed to get the projector to hit each tree, although I think their question was about how he managed to move the trees to the right places for the install.

After a long, lazy lunch, Richard gathered us around a beautiful beech tree near the safari tent. One by one, as instructed, we cast the ogham sticks and chose one we felt drawn to. I was the last to cast them so there was a choice of five or six. I picked Crabapple, but I’m sure I was drawn to it thinking of the beech, which must be my favourite tree, for various reasons and memories of places and people dear to me.
The brief was to make around a minute’s worth of film, informed by, inspired by the Ogham meaning of the tree closen James and Allal were going to make a soundtrack, and Richard will assemble the film. Here are my notes on my Ogham:

Shelter of Lunatics
Dregs of Clothing
Substance of an insignificant person
aid seeker
inspiration – dreams – quest for whole
inner divinity
vision of goodness and kindness

I’d picked one of the few trees we couldn’t find in the immediate vicinity of the campsite and woods, but with an amount of bafflement on what the “substance of an insignificant person” is, I thought to focus on kindness, and the kindness (maybe it’s kindness, maybe something else), of nature, at this time of year to provide food.
The joy of August and September is that it’s so full of fruit, and while I’n not very well read on my fruits and berries, I’d found these over the weekend on my various trips around the woods and campsite:

Hawthorn berries
various mushrooms
another variety of rosehips
Rowan Berries
Marrows (in the greenhouse)
Tomatoes (in the greenhouse)
Figs (in the greenhouse)

Here’s my minute. Be sure to keep an eye out for the full thing, when we get it finished – maybe I’ll write another post about it…

Read more about Conversations with a Forest here
and Richard Ashrowan’s work here
and our fantastic venue here
there’s also some info on Ruberslaw here