Pieter Geenen - Atlantis

11:00, 2008, Video Art
In 2009 the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Chinese Yangtze River will be complete. Due to this construction 632 sq km of land on a length of 660 km upstream floods up to a maximum level of 175 m. Numerous social and environmental issues as a consequence of its construction made this dam one of the world’s most controversial projects in recent history.

‘atlantis’ shows the banks of the Three Gorges Reservoir being scanned by the searchlights of a Yangtze cruise boat. The lightbeam on this nocturnal landscape seems to explore a sunken universe, a land of which people seem to have left, with demolished buildings, desolate forests and ghost ships.
‘atlantis’ is a visual and aural journey on the Three Gorges Reservoir, following the Yangtze River from the world’s largest dam in Sandouping up to the city of Chongqing.

DirectorPieter Geenen

CountryBelgiumEdition2009 ScreeningsSaison Vidéo, Lille (FR), 2012
VIDEOEX Festival, Zürich (CH), curators Stoffel Debuysere & Maria Palacios Cruz, 2011
35th Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong (HK), 2011
IN OUT Festival, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdansk (PL), 2010
New York Film Festival, Lincoln Center, New York (US), curators Mark McElhatten & Gavin Smith, 2010
Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (DE), 2010
One Shot International Short Film Festival, Yerevan (AM), 2010
Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (ES), 2010
Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, Tabacalera (future Centro Nacional de las Artes Visuales), Madrid (ES), 2010
Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, Centre Pompidou, Paris (FR), 2009
Streaming Festival, 4th International Festival for Audio Visual Art, The Hague (NL), 2009
Frisian International Media Art Competition, Northern Film Festival, Leeuwarden (NL), 2009
VAD International Video and Digital Arts Festival, Girona (ES), 2009
Crosstalk Video Art Festival, Budapest (HU), 2009
Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival, Chicago (US), 2009
Synoptic Visionaudial Art Meeting, Pécs (HU), 2009
ScalaMata Gallery, Détournement Venise 2009, 53rd Venice Biennial, Venice (IT), 2009
Media City International Festival of Film & Video Art, Windsor (CA), 2009
European Media Art Festival, Osnabrück (DE), 2009
Courtisane Festival, Ghent (BE), 2009
Azad Art Gallery, Tehran (IR), 2009
All Art Now 1st International Video Art Festival, Damascus (SY), 2009

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Who is Pieter Geenen?
I am a Belgian artist born in 1979 and I am living in Brussels. After my Master Photography I studied at Transmedia Postgraduate Program in Brussels. My work has been presented, amongst others, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (NL), Argos (Brussels, BE), MuHKA_media (Antwerp, BE), Azad Art Gallery (Tehran), Art Rotterdam (NL), All Art Now International Video Art Festival (Damascus, SY), Images Festival (Toronto, CA), EMAF (Osnabrück, DE), Media City Festival (Windsor, CA) and at the Venice Biennial.

Your film is about?
’atlantis’ is about the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. This dam is the largest one in the world, but a very controversial one. For the construction of it millions of people were forced to move and have been relocated. An area of 632 km2 on a length of 660 km flooded, up to a maximum level of 175 m. It covered several cities, many villages, factories, ancient historical sites, ... And resulted in many social and environmental issues.

In this context ’atlantis’ shows a nocturnal sight of the Yangtze banks after the Three Gorges Dam, being scanned by the searchlights of a cruise boat. The concentrated lightbeam on this nocturnal landscape seems to explore a sunken universe, a land of which people seem to have left, with demolished buildings, desolate forests and ghost ships. In this video I sketch a visual and aural journey on the Three Gorges Reservoir, following the Yangtze River from the dam in Sandouping up to the city of Chongqing.

How did you start with film? And do you have an educational background in art or film?
During my master study photography I started experimenting with video and moving image in general since I was interested in this border between still and moving images. Later I did a postgraduate Transmedia in Brussels in which I explored some audiovisual possibilities in relation to my interests for the landscape and its relation to the experience of time and space.

Could you explain how you work, what themes or concepts and what is important to you?
I tend to question the landscape and the way it is coded or might bear a meanig. I’m interested in the way man relates to the landscape and how one can experience the landscape. In resistance to a demystification of things and as an anti-image of traditional media I explore the subtle, hidden and ’slow’ characteristics of things. In my work the audience has to complete the blurred ‘gestalt’, decode the spatial ambiguities, assume presences and see trough all omissions and shortenings. Between the hasty atmospherical and the everlasting, almost frozen cinematic moment rules a strong individual sense of space and time. I explore the vague boundaries of reality and of the perceptible, together with the tension field between the visual and the sonic and between the moving and the static. Listening and watching becomes intense, intimate, alienating, contemplating and almost tangible in the context of an undisturbed stillness.

Where do you get your ideas or influences from?
I get ideas from all kinds of social-political subjects in traditional media and the way these media deal with it. My curiosity for the geo-political reality behind these reports and announcements gets triggered that way. But I also get inspired by the atmospherical circumstances of coincidental moments which I bump into during long strolls or journeys.

I believe that my work is (direct or indirect) influenced by music and sound art, perhaps more than by visual art or film. I love sound artists and musicians like Francisco Lopez and Steve Reich, and artists and photographers like David Claerbout, James Benning, Geert Goiris, ... A work of strong influence is the photograph ’Valley of the shadow of death’ by Roger Fenton (1855).

How does the title relate to the work, and how do you find a fitting title?
I like strong but short titles capturing the sense of the work, its intent, and giving direction to its interpretation. I make intuitive associations with the content and the meaning(s) of the work and try to find a word or expression or a derivation of these giving enough information to the viewer needed to comprehend the work. For me a title preferably has more than one layer.
In case of ’atlantis’ I mainly want to refer to the aspect of a sunken civilisation like the one of mythological Atlantis. In analogy with the doubt of its true existence I create a dark and mysterious image questioning the true origin of what we see in this image.

How does content relate to the form of your work?
I believe form and content have to amplify each other. In general I approach my subject in a minimalistic, abstract and often repetitive way in order to obtain a certain contemplative feel which emphasizes slowness. That way I try to create that complex and ’unheimlich’ feeling of a seemingly innocent and purely aesthetic but burdened image.

How important is sound in film, and if you use sounds, do you create your own or use existing?
For my videos and sound pieces I always work with self-recorded field recordings. The combination of sound and image has to communicate a sense of space, and the sound has to add information to the image and vica versa. They have to confirm or deny each other. Since I work with landscape I’m interested in both its sound and image.

How do you finance your projects (by yourself, sponsors or subsidy)?
My projects are financed by myself and with subsidies. At the moment I receive financial support from the Flemish Authorities and the Flemish Community in Brussels. Sometimes cultural partners also give their support by paying production costs in return for the premiere of the work.

Nowadays everyone with the right equipment can create videoart, good, bad or ugly?
It’s true that everyone has much easier acces to all kinds of equipment, but the equipment on itself doesn’t make the work. It’s the hand of the author that does the trick, regardless what kind of equipment he uses. Modern and advanced technologies do not garantee great work. But the overload of images produced due to this accessibility makes it hard to filter out what’s still interesting and what’s not. At the same time this evolution opens up interesting discussionsand questions about media and image culture.

Video broadcasting platforms on the internet, why or why not?
The easy acces to video art and film offered by these platforms can be a positive thing for both author and audience. For the audience, it’s a democratic way to see things that they otherwise never might see in their neighbourhood. The author is able to reach a large audience all around the world via these platforms. But in case of video work which in a certain way relates to or depends on the traditional screening or presentation space, the audience will miss this extra dimension via online screening. The specific conditions of presentation like space and format appropriate to some works would increase the audience’s experience.

How important is the reaction to your film by the audience?
The most interesting part of the audience’s reaction for me is their interpretations and points of view. This for me adds meaning which I often am not aware of. Also when people show their wonder is a most satisfying feeling.

What is your next project about?
I just finished a slide installation about the border region Congo-Rwanda using found images taken by Belgian colonials in the early 1940’s. Around the same time I completed my new video dealing about the division of Cyprus into a Northern (Turkish) and Southern (Greek) part.
Currently I’m preparing all kinds of projects in which I will work with landscapes in North-Korea, Iran and the Flemish landscapes of World War I.

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