Visual culture has long been instrumental in framing and constructing our relationship with nature. From sixteenth century landscape paintings to sprawling planetary databases like Google Earth, these media, and the economies in which they operate, actively shape our understanding of the natural world. It is these representational processes and their ramifications which find themselves at the centre of This is not the Amazon, an experimental video essay by artists and designers Jean-Baptiste Castel and Astrid Feringa.
An uncanny trek through the virtual jungle, the film takes a critical look at our growing alienation from the rest of the natural world, as well as the technologies, visual representations and economies that are shaping, and are shaped by, this ever-widening gap. “When talking about, for example, the Amazonian rainforest within an environmental context, we are often presented with abundant and lush images that convey a certain idea of sublimity and untouched-ness,” the duo tells It’s Nice That. “Nature is presented as the opposite of humans; as something that needs to be salvaged from human interference, which feeds into the idea that human and nature are existing in two different worlds.” Ultimately through this striking visual essay, Astrid and Jean-Baptise urge the viewer to reflect on the constructed character of this binary distinction and ask: “How much of this gap is filled with projections of what it is thought nature or wilderness ought to be, over what it actually is?”
Much like the pair’s previous work, This is not the Amazon was borne out of a research-intensive process. The initial stages of the project were about collecting and analysing as much reference imagery as possible. It was a process which saw them dive deep into NGO media archives, nature documentaries, travel blogs and anything that “created a detached image of nature by using certain camera movements and visual rhetorics.” What emerged was a fascination with the contrast of these more subtle constructions of reality with more conspicuous ones – notably 3D renders. “We were very much interested in the overlap that occurred between the two: imitating 3D in reality versus imitating reality in 3D,” the duo recounts. “From this, we decided to create our own 3D environment of a rainforest that could represent the ambiguous space that this overlap resulted in, and also allowed us to mimic different modes of representation.”
Watching This is not the Amazon is a disorientating and undeniably eerie experience. As a continuous single-shot plays out, we plunge deeper into the filmic space, drawn through a series of screens which act like wormholes into different perspectives, scales and economies. But in this process of being drawn in, it also pulls the viewer further out; each screen reveals another element of the landscape’s meticulous construction until we see that “what was once a seemingly endless jungle is just a clump of trees and a strategically placed camera that might itself just be nested in a screen.”
The collaboration is the duo’s first and marks their final project for KABK’s Non-Linear Narrative master’s. It wasn’t necessarily an obvious pairing. On the surface, their individual practices are very different, but they had been intrigued by each other’s work for a while and, wanting to take advantage of the collaborative environment their course offered, decided to take the risk. “We both have a very different skill-set, and were curious to see how it would work out if we joined forces,” Astrid reflects. “We both have a very different design approach,” adds Jean-Baptiste, “but in this project, we managed to find a way to make them complementary.” The remarkable results of this first collaboration undoubtedly set the groundwork for more fantastic work to come from these two exciting creators.
About the Author
Lorna Pittaway joined us in the summer of 2019 as an editorial assistant. She graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a degree in graphic design and wrote stories for us on graphic design, film, art and everything in between.