Mark Lewis, Brown's Point (2013). Film still courtesy of the artist
When most people watch a film, they typically assume that something—whether a narrative or movement—will unfold. But Canadian artist Mark Lewis challenges those expectations in two compelling new film works, currently on display at Vancouver’s Charles H. Scott Gallery (CHSG).
In recent years, the U.K.-based Lewis has been engaged in paring down film elements to the bare minimum. As CHSG curator Cate Rimmer recently told NGC Magazine, what makes Lewis’ work so interesting is how he dissects film, “pulling apart its construction and then building it up again.”
Known for creating works that play with film tropes and camera techniques, such as crane shots, zoom, and 360-degree camera rotation, Lewis’ two films at the CHSG consist of silent, static shots, composed and filmed from a fixed point. In Brown’s Point—an approximately six-minute work commissioned for the exhibition—you see a rural Newfoundland community, a Canadian flag blowing in the breeze, and a truck coming down the road. Nothing that could be described as particularly significant happens; but therein lies the film’s appeal.
Installation shot from Mark Lewis exhibition at the Charles H. Scott Gallery. Brown’s Point (2013) on the left and City Road 24 March 2012 (2012) on the right. Photo: Blaine Campbell
In addition to confounding our notions of film-watching, the piece also speaks to “the idea of surveillance,” says Rimmer, and the pervasiveness of webcams streaming mundane images of intersections and other global locales. However, as much as it may seem like an everyday sort of scene, Brown’s Point is a carefully composed work. “He has gone in and made some additions, even very slightly,” explains Rimmer, “like introducing birds that had been in a previous shot.”
Indeed, questions of what is composed and what is captured by chance in Lewis’ films are also raised in the second piece on display at the CHSG: City Road March 24 2012. The approximately four-minute film work depicts an intersection in London, England, where both the ordinary—flower deliverymen asking for directions—and the extraordinary—a group of passersby all dressed like Super Mario—seem to co-exist. “All of these things happen and you think—because you are looking for meaning and narrative—that they are intentionally set up,” says Rimmer. “But they are not.”
Mark Lewis, City Road 24 March 2012 (2012), film. Installation shot from Mark Lewis exhibition at the Charles H. Scott Gallery. Photo: Blaine Campbell
While Lewis’ work may initially seem more demanding than videos you can watch more passively, it ultimately engages and rewards, enabling viewers to anticipate fictive scenarios based on their own understanding of cinema. As Rimmer notes, “With this, you sit down and think, ‘What am I supposed to be looking at here?’” And that is a good thing.
Robyn Jeffrey is a writer and editor based in Wakefield, Quebec.
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