In her 1996 acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Wisława Szymborska said the following, which distills what the film program and writing project that make up the Screening Nature Network could hope to express:
“The world, whatever we might think about it terrified by its vastness and by our helplessness in the face of it, embittered by its indifference to individual suffering—of people, animals, and perhaps also plants, for how can we be sure that plants are free of suffering; whatever we might think about its spaces pierced by the radiation of stars, stars around which we now have begun to discover planets, already dead? still dead?—we don’t know; whatever we might think about this immense theater, to which we may have a ticket, but it is valid for a ridiculously brief time, limited by two decisive dates; whatever else we might think about this world—it is amazing.”
Ed Chell, A Leaf in the Wind (2012, mobile phone DV, 1’)
Film programs usually shy away from directly questioning ethics. The Flora/Fauna program, to be screened at the Whitechapel Gallery on the 18th and 19th of May 2013, is put together with explicit nods to the ethics of production, reception, and form, keeping in mind the living contexts in which filmmaking happens. This is why we are running this as a vegan event while drawing attention to those material facts that are rarely acknowledged: the animal-derived ingredients of the film stock and plastics that are part of the still and moving image apparatus.
A love of the world, and a recognition of the materiality and vulnerability that constitute earthly life, includes thinking about such cinematic fundamentals: film’s living subjects, natural resources (including human and nonhuman labor), and production materials. These are an essential part of reflecting, politically and ethically, on worldly suffering, which for Szymborska belong to the “immense theatre” through whose sentient and non-sentient props mortality itself reverberates. Unusual theatre-goers that we are, we cannot watch without being involved, without thinking about what our involvement entails and what it should look like. An immense but also demanding theatre.
Tender, cruel, exuberant, the films in the program (five strands over the weekend) are precisely not generic spectacles of nature. We feel they honor Szymborska’s image of the universe, and humans within it, as impossibly big and small. The sense of amazement for her does not disavow terror or anger or anguish, and it isn’t particularly elevated or academic so that only professional philosophers (or astronomers) can claim it. Amazement belongs to all who “may have a ticket” to this greatest–and only–show on earth.
We will be showing a range of shorts, a number of one-minute films, and others no longer than three or four minutes. Short films are like poems or essays, or, indeed, acceptance speeches, not because they are lyrical or romantic or ingratiating, not because they are overtly “experimental” either. The films in this program are concise expressions and explorations of a relationship to the world at once simple and complex. Concision suggests both ambition and modesty, a doubling of scale, like the title of one of Szymborska’s anthologies View with a Grain of Sand. Whether it be Rose Lowder’s frame-by-frame sunflower studies, images of fountains and rain, or visions of the minutia of human and nonhuman life, all are reminders that what we call human history (its life and art) morphs into natural history if only we look closely enough.