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  • From the White Sea to the North Sea: journeys in film, writing and ecological thought

Maclennan, Ruth, 2017, Thesis, From the White Sea to the North Sea: journeys in film, writing and ecological thought PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

In the face of climate change, what can art do? The question is both practical and ethical: a question of art's efficacy, its ways of working, and its uses to audiences.

These intertwined questions are articulated in writing and film-making, both of which draw on an empirical method, alongside research into ethics, ecology, film history, the
politics of climate change, and critiques of capitalism.

I seek to represent the consequences of climate change as they are experienced by the inhabitants of the north of Scotland and Arctic Russia. Through writing and film
I document and interpret changing relationships with the sea and the land, thus bringing to light the interplay of climate change with history and memory, and with the social, economic, environmental and political forces that are shaping places and lives.

One of the research methods of this PhD is a form of fieldwork, consisting of recorded interviews and informal encounters, filming and note taking, which form the
source material for a multi-vocal approach to writing and filmmaking.

The written thesis consists of narrations of journeys, both actual and theoretical. I tell stories of journeys to the White Sea in northeastern Russia, and to the north Highlands and islands of Scotland, where the political, economic and environmental upheavals are emblematic of a geopolitical shift north. I examine how ideas of North and of the sea, of nature and landscape, contained in films, oral histories, myths and writings, contribute to contemporary perceptions of place. These ideas are analyzed further through Alexander Dovzhenko’s film Aerograd, and Michael Powell’s The Edge of
the World.

I shot the two films, Call of North and From Time to Time at Sea, alongside supplementary film works, in Northern Russia and the far north of Scotland, in Caithness, Orkney and during a sailing expedition to the Northern Isles with Cape
Farewell. Concomitantly with the first person written narrative, they investigate the camera as a participant-observer, and the implied presence of a future audience. The
familiar trope of anthropology whereby the observer influences what is observed is explored here within the context of film.

Both the written and film works document disappearance: of individuals and their memories, of species, of ecosystems, of ways of life, of imagined worlds, and of
entire societies as well as the vertiginous fear of the future annihilation of human civilization. At the same time a plurality of perspectives and voices are combined to
produce polyphonic compositions that resist being reduced to pessimism. The documentation of disappearance is examined and articulated as a distinct response to an
ethical and ecological imperative. Meanwhile, the works propose to speak to a future audience –– to speak not to the world as it is but as it could become.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W690 Cinematics and Photography not elsewhere classified
Creative Arts and Design > W800 Imaginative Writing > W830 Prose Writing
School or Centre: School of Fine Art
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Basin Council of the North Karelian Coast, Lighthouse Foundation, Erland Williamson Art Foundation, Cape Farewell, Creative Scotland
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2017 12:08
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2017 12:08
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2721

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