When Nature Makes Cinema: The Power and Beauty of Phenomena in Wilderness series by Karel Doing

by Charlotte Brady-Savignac Volume 24, Issue 8-9-10 / October 2020 7 minutes (1556 words)

This text is presented as part of the ÉMERGENCE series, organized and presented by la lumière collective, in collaboration with the online journal Hors champ and Offscreen.

Translated from the original French by Olga Montes

The wind blows. Thunder rumbles. Water flows. The earth trembles.
Trembles, the earth. Flows, the water. Rumbles, the thunder. Blows, the wind.

Wilderness Series. Wilderness Series or series featuring unspoiled nature, the crossing of the desert, the open and lush ecosystem.

I explore the unusual, the unknown. I explore the unexplored, the uninhabited. I cross grainy, pigmented and cracked lands. Am I exploring the natural world that surrounds me? I seem to perceive its forms, textures and rhythms. Indeed, it is Nature, somewhere, rendered abstract by the rain and sublime by the sun.

The wind blows. Thunder rumbles. Water flows. The earth trembles. Trembles, the earth. Flows, the water. Rumbles, the thunder. Blows, the wind.

I know her. I recognize her. No, not quite: I explore with her, through her. I brush up against her. She transports me. I cling to her. She pierces me, between both ears and in the depths of my eyes.

I am the blood, the sap, the cell, the vein, the stem… Or a land burned as the crow flies? No, I’m an erupting volcano. #1 blood. Like the scarlet red – on red – in an untitled Rothko. Quite pictorial and musical at the same time – paintings punctuated by panting breath and fluid movements (mine?). I blow into a tuba. Nature itself colours the moving paintings. But this is not painting or music. It is cinema. Cinema that broadens its horizon. Cinema that seeks to expand.

I am the brain, the neuron, the mineral foam, the nervous system, the swirl of the waves. I take on the appearance of a medical imaging. Perhaps I embody a marine plant? #2 brain. It looks like a Jean Painlevé. The connections are fast; scrolling. Always the same, but different. It’s action painting or the epiphany of yellow, white and pink nitrate. I hear the electronic hum of a hard disk. No, the extraterrestrial: Mars Attack? Information is sent at lightning speed. Is that thunder I hear rumbling? It quivers; it sizzles. Rain hits the windshield. Popcorn bursts. No, it backfires like gunshots. Then, high-pitched sounds, steady and distant, like shrieks from missiles. I see the skeleton of a rib cage. I hear the hydraulic brakes of a train on the edge of a platform. The canvas is a snowstorm – in colour. Is all this my brain? Or is it the brain of the world? The effect of brains on the world, perhaps?

I am the eye, the organ, the gaze, the animal. # 3 eye. In the tall grass, in the undergrowth, I am observed. Or am I observing? I catch glances. Cat eyes: yes, I am being spied upon. It is mysterious, serious, dark. Out of focus. The thunder rumbles, again. At the tuning fork coupled with the gong, everyone is silent. And the scraping of a blade on skin, of a knife being sharpened. A deafening whirr turns the blood cold. Is it a macro shot of an insect or drops of water on a window? I hear and see the microscopic. The sketched features of the arch of an eyebrow, a face in profile, a nose. I disappear into the darkness.

I am the skin, the fur, the bark, the hair, the grain of sand. #4 skin. The living, audio-visioned painting is once again quite different, in blue and white. It could not be clearer. It is the sea, raging and tumultuous. No, it is planet Earth in aerial view. It’s flashing – blue, gray, blue, gray. It’s lightning, unpredictable, again and forever, combined with skin of all colours. It looks like cyanotype: blue, gray; negative, positive. And, somewhere, Water Lilies of the Musée de l’Orangerie or an aquatic series, signed Monet. The fossil of a plant or a mineral is outlined. The torrent or the sharp rustle of the grass. Then, the swirl of the waves; the water that washes up on the bank; the rubbing of sand under my sandals. The peace. Tranquility. So strong and so soft at the same time. And there, it looks like clouds, as seen from above. The breeze and the rustle of the tree leaves join in, again… Continent or heap of sand? Microscopic or macroscopic? It’s all of these things at once. It’s everything that I can imagine.

I am the world, planet Earth, a head, the crowd, the sum of the elements, National Park Services. #5 world. In this exploration of the human, natural and animal body, I draw upon the world’s colour palette. As produced by it. Produced by nature. It’s so LOUD. I turn down the volume of my headphones. It’s so noisy, grating. In this hubbub, I detect screams and whistles, overlapping voices. Is it a crowd – tiny little heads seen from above – or a cluster of cells? No, I perceive the sum of the elements that make up Nature. I hear fire crackling, water flowing, wind blowing, the earth trembling.

That’s the beauty of cinema. I can become what I want. When I want. Wherever I want. Whether it’s Elizabeth Bennet, an elephant or a tree branch. Deep down, there’s not much difference between her and me. Between this nature, I mean, and my body. Between the grooves in her leaves and my veins. Between her cracked floors and my skin…

Ecologist, eclectic and unconventional, researcher, artist and filmmaker Karel Doing empowers me to become what I want to be. He makes it possible for me to fly, crawl and dive. He lets me escape. Allows me to forget, to remember, to know – differently. He makes me strive to stop. Gives me license to dream. The strangeness of his work makes me feel good in these uncertain times. He studies (phyto)graphic processes and draws from them a technique which he uses to create photographic, cinematographic and installation projects. In Wilderness Series (2016), Doing uses this almost structural/materialistic technique to highlight the pictorial and rhythmic qualities of analog cinema. And the whole is per-formed by Nature – sand, mud, salt – which plays itself. Ecology and cinema meet where the phytochemical properties of plants are crossed with photochemical emulsions. The result – of this work on film, which he refers to as “flow charts” from the photogram, digitized in 6K, then scaled, reversed, cropped and superimposed onto the montage – is mind-blowing, magical, magnificent and terrifying all at once. Like the enormity of nature, it will always be bigger than me.

As with Muybridge or contemporary Marey, Doing helps me understand the world by bonding me to it. He prompts me to understand myself by attaching me to the world. Redefining reality and matter. My body vibrates to the sound of the waves. My ears prickle to the rustle of the tree leaves. My eyes travel to the rhythm of the shapes and colours. Reminding me of the beauty, fragility and unpredictability of Nature that surrounds us. And of which we must care for, more than ever.

“In wilderness we have a chance to meet wilderness and wild, free nature. We also have a chance to encounter our own deeper natural Self.” 1 That’s exactly it: like an audio-visioned Walden or a natural polyphony. And that’s what makes this film so beautiful, apart from the audio-visual plasticity of its living, rhythmic, breathtaking tableaux. The team is Karel (Doing) on camera, Andrea (Szigetvári) on sound, the National Park for pigments and acting as the model, 35 mm black & white celluloid as canvas, and some (phyto)chemical (processes).

Have a good flight!

Screening Link (Active as of this writing)

Second time sensitive screening link at la lumière collective

Artist website: http://kareldoing.net/exp/Wilderness_Series.html

By night, la lumière collective is a microcinema that projects films, videos and expanded cinema produced by local and international artists. By day, la lumière collective is an artists’ studio and residency space with multiple resources for working and experimenting with various moving image media. The collective is led by local artists and curators who believe in creating cinematic works and spaces on a human scale. We facilitate events to bring people together. We create links to help promote and revitalize cinema.

La lumière collective is rooted in the local, the physical, the here and now.

In this time of virtual connections and physical distancing, we have transformed our projection space into a virtual space, while maintaining local connections.

EMERGENCE is the adapted online version of the practical activities planned by la lumière collective. Online love in the time of COVID.

Instead of simply downloading the films and videos available online, la lumière collective has selected one work by each artist and asked that a local writer be involved with each work.

EMERGENCE is a new combination, a local connectedness, a commitment to counter separation.

We look forward to seeing you on the other side.

EMERGENCE is presented with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

la lumière collective


  1. Drengson, Alan R. 1986. “INTRODUCTION TO THE WILDERNESS SERIES: Some Ecophilosophical Reflections”. The Trumpeter, vol. 3, no. 1 (Winter), p. 1.

Volume 24, Issue 8-9-10 / October 2020 Festival Reports   avant-garde film   experimental film   la lumière collective