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The Village Voice 

April 25th,. 1989, NYC

by Manohla Dargis
In Chris Welsby's work the camera is always an obvious presence, either directly visible or lurking off-screen. These days obvious allusions to production are too often shorthand for empty irony, signaling nothing but a twitch of postmodern conceit. But like Jacobs, Welsby—whose films were shown last month at Millennium—illustrates how self-reflexivity can still create a moral, aesthetic. And/or political imperative.

In Windmill III, a mirrored windmill set before the camera divides the image into three distinct areas: the space in front of the windmill, the space occupied by the windmill itself, and the space behind the camera that is reflected in the blades. When the windmill turns slowly, the blades smoothly displace—or "wipe"—the front landscape with the reflected images. As the wind picks up, the windmill rotates faster and the reflected images blur, creating painterly smears across the foreground. By sectioning linear perspective, Windmill III not only challenges the standard presentation of space, it also highlights what is normally unseen—the space behind the camera.

The unseen is no longer playfully negotiated but instead threatens cataclysm in Welsby's latest film, Sky Light. Welsby, who is English, calls the film "post Chernobyl"—it was shot 48 hours after the disaster was announced. Echoing Adorno's dictum on the impossibility of poetry after the Holocaust, Welsby stated at his Millennium screening that "it is not possible to look at landscapes in the same way after Chernobyl." For Welsby, the accident means that his film project—which he (mistakenly) labels a "cool and distant area of research"—has become "emotional and keyed."

Sky Light begins where his earlier films leave off, with beautifully composed images of nature. A sense of urgency and immediacy, however, conveyed by the introduction of sound and camera movement, soon indicates a profound shift in Welsby's formalist project. As in Ernie Gehr's Signal—Germany on the Air, the radio noise and voices speaking in several languages make apparent the hidden danger masked by the benign imagery. Sky Light ends, not with another English landscape, but with pure white and the crackle of a Geiger counter. The visible is longer a guarantee of absolute knowledge.

(The Village Voice on line.)