In the midst of the Australian outback, a strange yellow machine scratches at the earth. There is no operator; no engineer in a plastic helmet. The object—more a sculpture than a machine—is the product of British artist James Capper, who joins filmmaker Alexander George in this hybrid art film; a project from Edward Campbell, founder of Forth Arts, which organized the residency. As Campbell explains, the project “aims to bring artists working in different disciplines and from different places together and enable to collaborate with each other, alongside a local community.”
Capper’s works are, properly, mechanical sculptures that walk and crawl across the earth. Alexander George, with whom he collaborated on the project, is well known for creating surreal and emotional filmic worlds. “These two artists had never met one another before,” explains Campbell. “I had good creative feelings from the outset of their collaboration, because James’ work immediately resonated with Alexander.”
The ultimate brief of the residency was to create a film that explored the relationship between people, machines and landscape. “We had an idea of the type of film we wanted to make but, as with all great expeditions, you never know what will happen until you get out there. We had to work in a very agile, collaborative and flexible way.” Shooting in unfamiliar and raw light, on 35mm film, in the heat and dust of the desert, was an acute challenge. “There were some very tense moments—it was incredibly exciting.”
Beyond the mechanical, it was important for Campbell to cast among the local community—”to represent the human element.” And so, the crew “cast members of the local community and they each added their own character to the film. The film is their’s. It belongs to Broken Hill.”
Capper—whose work has been exhibited around the world, from Hannah Barry Gallery, London, to the Frieze Sculpture Park—explains that “the work I create spans drawing, software engineering, hydraulics, and performance to radically push the boundaries that exist between art, sculpture, and engineering. Having been interested in the site of Broken Hill for years, due to its legacy as an inaugural mining colony, an invite from Edward saw me finally able to venture there. Blue Frame is a record of our expedition, a film that concerns the sociology and landscapes of communities affected by the history of mineral extraction in the remote towns of the Australian outback.”
George, in a similar vein, has long been interested in what he describes as the “lore of Australian cinema and communities that have seen mining booms come and go.” Not only was carrying Capper’s two art machines to the site a great feat, but the shoot itself also carried many risks: “We brought a battered Arriflex 35mm motion picture camera with us, and only eighteen minutes of film stock.”
Blue Frame will be screening on 1 November at Peckhamplex Cinema, London, as part of the Serpentine Gallery’s ‘Serpentine Cinema: earth, structure, and sadness’ programme. The screening series is part of the gallery’s wider General Ecology project, on the occasion of Pierre Huyghe’s ongoing exhibition at the central London art space.