On the system of atmospheric form: two films by Andrew de Freitas

Still from The Net (2012-ongoing) Andrew de Freitas

Immediately you are drawn in by the mood of Andrew de Freitas’ films. It’s in the air so to speak; constructed through a musical score that compounds an orchestration of images sculpturally composed frame after frame. Taking from the vicissitudes of the everyday—incrementally shedding light on the complex relations of nature and culture—de Freitas’ films align with that old platitude that to get closer to reality, treat language as construction. Further, the mood his films project is by means of affiliating form with feeling. Two such films, The Net, one part of a broader project entitled Big Round Open Game (still in production), and Fuckmeadows, share such tactile relations and develop a filmmaking language of atmosphere.

Atmosphere can be thought of as the layering of an evaporated state of matter surrounding a body of sufficient mass. It develops through the correlation of gravity and temperature.

In The Net, the temperature is dusky. There is a softness that emanates from the 16mm film stock and the quietness of the documentarian composing frames from observing and amplifying what is present in the scene. It is quickly gathered from the attentive pace that there is no plot-thickening strategy at play. Rather, it is with a focus on the details of the situation at hand, in the tension between forecasting and inviting serendipity that the film’s politic comes forth. The film is set within the course of one working day. It tracks the commuter train in and out of Mataró, a small seaside town about forty minutes from downtown Barcelona. The camera focuses on the labour of hands at work across a range of alternating scenes: squatted market garden, fishing port, stark office, public music-maker. Lightly handled, the scenes are shot as though sculptural vignettes, and cumulate as a filmic essay on the labour—via legitimate and illegitimate means—that feeds the progress and life of the city. The subject of study provides gravitas to the camera’s attentiveness and close proximity; equally, the edited film footage leads the framework for the essay.

The temperature of Fuckmeadows, a more recent production, has a sharper coolness, an incisive abstraction. Underlined by the dualities of wilderness and urban centre, abandoned white cube interior and planted forest, male and female, all of which, in their oscillation and repetition, level out to become one and the same. The film is seemingly a discussion on art and the making of artifice but more than this runs a chord with the marrow of articulation and speech. Intensified by a feeling of anticipation: a narrative device usually premised on delivering an outcome foreshadowed by symbolic codes. In this case, the codes are emptied out by the use of repetition and a re-cycling of motifs, re-inscribed by the soundtrack in which the breath—inhale, exhale—is a highly audible instrument. 


Still from Fuckmeadows (2013) Andrew de Freitas

Nature’s flow, water, is a leitmotif used repetitively towards these aims. The reprise of frames holding water in motion, waterways, waterfalls, water features, naturally formed and landscaped, punctuates the moving figures; the female protagonist paces the limits of an interior, a gallery space, a supermarket, while an alternating companion, hooded, presumably male shamanistically scours the land. Both dualities are in a state of apprehension that is never fulfilled, only circulating like treading water, like the cycle of precipitation. The colouration of the film is transitional in tone: spring and autumn. The film ends under a veneer of blue. (It’s as though the environment of the room has changed though no one is willing to say so.)

The limits of narrative are explored in both films. Working with the linearity of film’s time structure, there is seemingly an endeavour by de Freitas to extend the spatial relations of moving image both in the composition of the frame and out into the viewing space; alchemizing atmosphere in real-time. In the later work of Fuckmeadows, intercutting between locations infers that what is seen is different sides of the same place, with the connections between scenes, between constructions of nature/culture becoming more aligned with the affect of a dance and by extension a projected kinaesthesia. In The Net, the work travels across a commuter’s day as a sequence of witnessed tableaux to meditate on. In both films, narrating a space of mood rather than inversely filling narrative with feeling comes from being attentive to and extrapolating on that which pre-exists the camera’s presence. As though drawing, the films follow the passage of protagonists, who, whether in states of being scripted or unscripted, remain implicated within the bind of both natural and urban systems.

It is evident that de Freitas is acutely aware of the methods of film construction in developing these two affective critiques on systems and systematics, of which one such controlling apparatus is film itself; its codes, conventions and material limits. Acknowledging the tension between the documentary gaze and the fictional, these astutely emotive documents carry the air of the ethnographic but with an entrusted gaze that gives permission to get close to the action and record a personal relationship to this space. 


Still from The Net, part of Big Round Open Game (2012-ongoing) Andrew de Freitas

The subjective eye of the sculptor is also at work. The Net opens with a carefully composed sequence of views on the film’s main protagonist—the city. To then settle upon the hands of the trumpeter who presents to it an ode from his post. A bird in a cage put out on display—oblivious to its fate as an item to be sold illegally by men out of work—marks out the duration of labour in natural time with its song. A figure crouching somewhat suspiciously (he is in a state of rest) on a grassy bank is linked to the stillness of a sculpture found in the courtyard of a built-up business environment. The relationship to the sea and to water feeding into the gardens and into the offices is traced. 


In Fuckmeadows, the punctuating images of water are causal of structure. And so repeats the musical score, spoken words in various arrangements, pacing bodies across different spaces… circulating throughout the film’s atmospheric system. The effect produced is an incessantly feverish movement that all adds to the greater organism that is the experience of site, that is the film, that without cause for resolution relays an experience of urban life: life source and site of reproduction.

It comes then to ask whether a link can be made between acts of reproduction and the building of mood. And, if it is possible to deliver on the anticipation that comes with movement yet to circumvent the system of expectation; instead of getting somewhere, to get back to what is in front of you, to “nature” so to speak. Through repeating the same action, word of poetry, location, the films of de Freitas establish a thickness of mood that in part layers to a point of a highly constructed palpability and in part reverts the referent back to what is before the camera—the hand that wavers it out of the way. With these contrary forces at play, it could also be said that the films are reflexive copies in motion, always slightly different on each viewing, always aware of the limits of narrative and so intent on developing it spatially. This could be called establishing atmosphere and this atmosphere is only leading back to the present as a pre-linguistic time, to the present time of viewing. This is where the emotional touch also resides—with a somewhat unrequited, never settling effect in Fuckmeadows. The awaiting energy of this film is somewhat at odds with the composure of The Net. Yet both films register the constructed nature of documentary filmmaking. Both poetically score moving-image as a spatial form that invites entry into the flow of the work while behaving as reproductions that use the distance of construction to critique the workings of systematics—the environment, the labour of living, the nature of culture. The anthropological stare sits close in the knowledge that there is mobilising power in composing images of affect. A mood is present. An inevitable narrativizing is extended. A resounding is left.

- Laura Preston

Watch The Net and Fuckmeadows on CIRCUIT. Laura Preston is currently on residency at the Cité internationale des arts, Paris and works in Berlin. She is the inaugural Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, Curator-at-Large. Her practice as an art critic questions understandings of time and the production of space.

On the system of atmospheric form: Two films by Andrew de Freitas was commissioned by CIRCUIT as part it's 2013/14 Summer Reading Series.