MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW – Interview with LOIS PATIÑO: “The man is only a part of a whole… a kind of transitional fade. We are no longer in a waking state, but in a state of reverie in which the ends of the identity vanish.”

mountain in shadow - lois patino

Luciana Dumitru: MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW moves to more abstract images as they unfold, from the more romantic take in the most of your videos. What did you find interesting in this approach?

LOIS PATIÑO: This was exactly one of the main ideas that I wanted to work with in this film. I tried to create a balance between the abstract and the figurative image: trying to flatten the image and creating a big contrast in the almost black and white image. As I reflect about the relationship between man and landscape and the ideas of immensity-insignificance, the Romantic painters and their concepts are always present in a way, but here the referents were closer to the abstract expressionism, that allowed me to go beyond the real space, creating an estrangement with the snowy mountains.

Luciana Dumitru: How do you explain your preference for landscape in film? In all your films you reflect on the connection between human being(s) and nature.

LOIS PATIÑO: Since almost three years ago I’ve been reflecting about how landscape is represented in cinema. In every film this approach is made from a different perspective, but always going around the relationship between the viewer and the image. MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW (2012) and my first feature film “Costa da Morte” (2013) also reflect these ideas. I understand landscape as an image in the distance, and a portion of space framed within the total continuity of Nature. I film from the distance, and I don’t move the camera, thus I try to concentrate the gaze and be more perceptible to the subtle movements of the Nature’s elements.

Luciana Dumitru: Ilinca Stroe says Galicians have reservoirs of lyricism and awe unique in the whole Spain, possibly because of El Mar (as they call the Ocean). “Galicians love gazing at El Mar. Some do so for hours, abstracted and absorbed in it”.  Also, a way of saying out at sea in Spanish, “mar adentro” – that translates as within/inside the sea, “out, within” (as she puts it). Sounds like “going outside oneself”, in anticipation, in Baudelaire’s terms, but also getting immersed. (I particularly like “Duration, Landscape Rocks”, which was also your first work I’ve seen). Do you feel any “Galician particularities” (these or others) in your artistic vision?

LOIS PATIÑO: Yes, maybe Galician people have this “oceanic feeling”, that Freud talks about, more developed. A sensation that our I is dissolved in the unlimited universe, a sense of plenitude. Romain Rolland called it “oceanic feeling” because we are one with all, as a wave or a drop of water are one with the ocean. The man is only a part of a whole… a kind of transitional fade. We are no longer in a waking state, but in a state of reverie in which the ends of the identity vanish.

I think that the inhabitants of coast places that face the ocean (not the sea, the ocean) have this sensation more acute. The Ocean almost means the infinity, most of all when you are a child. If you grow up close to this huge mass of water that is just limited with the horizon, it’s impossible that some feelings, related with the contemplation, not to grow up also inside you. And contemplation always means also meditation. When contemplation is deep, you always go out of yourself, you dissolve yourself in this connection, it’s a sublime experience. This idea is what I tried to represent in the film series “Duration-Landscape”. The image that we see is not the real space, but it represents a mental image when this connection with what you see is made.

Luciana Dumitru: You say that MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW makes possible a tactile experience in viewing. How do you understand it? Do you refer to the abstract surfaces, patterns and textures? Do you think about “haptic visuality” – as offering a physical sense of landscape through memories of the senses?

LOIS PATIÑO: I’m very interested in the synaesthesia process. Landscape, as I understand it, is an image in the distance. So it’s something just reachable to the view. We can’t hear it – we just hear our surroundings – we can’t touch it, we don’t smell or taste it. But in cinema you can work to try to create sensorial confusions. 

In “Costa da Morte” I worked with a double perceptual distance between sound and image. The entire film is made with wide landscape frames, where the people are very far away, but in the soundtrack we hear their sounds very clearly, as if we were close to them. We hear their breath, the steps, all the sounds of their bodies and around them. It’s an intimate sound that crashes with the immensity of the image. It proposes a new contemplative experience. 

In MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW the idea was to mix the sense of touch with the view. I wanted to make a very flat image, almost trying to transform the screen in a canvas where we would paint. So the image has no depth, it’s flat, it’s just in front of us, it’s close to us, easier to touch it with our hands. But, most of all, this idea comes with the textures. As the contrast is very high in the film, all the textures of the surface are highlighted so you can feel them. But it is always a contradiction to our senses, a suggestion of synaesthesia.

Luciana Dumitru: Is your practice informed by theory usually? Is your approach rather visionary and intuitive? 

LOIS PATIÑO: I don’t apply theories directly in order to make films, it is more open. Of course, I try to read about the themes that I’m working on, and from here I get ideas to explore in the audiovisual image. But usually this is the beginning of the project, after this comes the shooting, and here, where you face the reality, you have to be able to feel surprised and astonished with what you see, and react to that, with intuition. 

Luciana Dumitru: The film passes from the physical to the “metaphysical” (as a critic names it) through duration, the movement of skiers, increasingly obscure and spectral images. How would you describe this metaphysical realm? In the sense of dream-like, a different level of consciousness?

LOIS PATIÑO: The film starts with the breath of the skiers, and we follow them walking through the mountain. We can feel the effort and the immensity of the space. You start to ask yourself: where from were these images filmed? It is not a human point of view the one we adopt, it’s almost aerial, it seems gravitating in the air. This idea and the estrangement caused by the high contrast in the image of the mountain, starts to unfold the real space into something else. The sky is black, the people move almost in a mechanical way: they seem spectrums… All these suggest the “metaphysical” space of the film. There is also a confusion of the dimensions. From the immensity that we recognize in the beginning we start to think that people are just ants in the ground, or even later, that they are just cells in the body. It’s an open film, working from a dreamlike and spectral atmosphere.

Luciana Dumitru: MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW is filmed in silence. Close to the middle of it you add sound. How do you think silence and sound contribute to the images here?

LOIS PATIÑO: The film is made almost in silence in the first part, but it begins with the sounds of the breath of the skiers that are walking up the mountain. Here is where I tried for the first time to mix the physical experience of the people with the immensity of landscape. But it’s true that the film is almost filmed in silence in its biggest part, we just hear a soft wind. I worked it in these directions because I understand that you can maintain a more intimate relationship with the image when you are in silence, and in this concentration you can go deeper into it, have a more intense contact with the image. I learned it from Peter Hutton’s films, in the first place, and later I confirmed it with Nathaniel Dorsey’s ones. I used the music as a break in this experience. I wanted, in the structure of the film, to get the viewer away from the image, to relax from this concentration.

Luciana Dumitru: Do you think one can talk about the “sublime” in relation to these moving images? Are you (generally) more interested in capturing the atmosphere of a place or rather in creating something different from what you experienced in reality?

LOIS PATIÑO: Yes, I work a lot around this idea. Some people think it’s not possible to talk about the “sublime” nowadays. They think it’s something from the past, that the “aura”, the “sublime” disappeared with the postmodernism. But I’m against these. I think the energy is still there, we can still feel this inner experience, nothing changed around our transcendental (or even “spiritual”) way of feeling. I work in a contemplative way, trying to be perceptible to the atmospheres of the places, and to bring the viewer to an intimate relationship with the image that can elevate him beyond the real space.

Luciana Dumitru: Some of your films include in title “duration”. Is it a concept you are interested in? What would you say about it in relation to your films?

LOIS PATIÑO: When I discovered the work of Henri Bergson many of his concepts became really important for my way of thinking. Time or death are concepts that we would never understand completely, they will always remain a mystery. “Duration” is the concept “durèe” in French, and has a lot of meanings depending of the context you use it. It can be a synonym of “aura” when you talk about an object. But what is more important for me is the distinction he made between external and internal time. External time is the time that flows over the space in contact with the material, it is a quantifiable time. The internal time is the time of the consciousness and you can just measure it from the intensity of the experience. When the experience is powerful (as it is in the sublimation) the time expands, you leave the external time (and world)  to live a powerful inner experience. This inner time is the “durèe”, the “duration”. I’m interested in this distinction. Gaston Bachelard also made a similar difference but he named them Horizontal Time: the time of nature that flows with the wind, runs with the water…and the Vertical Time that is the time inspired by the poetic images.

Luciana Dumitru: What do you mean by saying “landscape is a character”?

LOIS PATIÑO: In my films, where, because of the distance, you can’t see the faces of the people, the landscape became the real face of the film. From its atmosphere you can detect if it is happy or sad, frightened or melancholic. Landscape became the main, and almost the unique, character in my films, and we follow its development through the length of the film. I also work with some animistic ideas. When I’m filming I use to follow the idea that the distant and high point of view where I’m shooting can be the point of view of the mountain. This is very clear in MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW. It’s a suggested idea that remains behind the images. It’s the mountain who is watching the skiers moving through its snowy body.  And also, as I worked the sound in “Costa da Morte” the breath and the voice that we hear can be understood as the breath and voice of landscape.

Luciana Dumitru: Do you believe in medium specificity? Why do you prefer video in your artistic practice?

LOIS PATIÑO: I think you can bring poetry to the image in video as you do it (maybe easier than) in film. If I worked with video until now it was just because it was easier and cheaper. And I tried to get the best image possible form video. Pedro Costa or Albert Serra work amazingly with video, they get a lot of mystery with it. But it’s not so common to see it. In my next project I’ll work with 16mm film. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do since a long time and I think it is necessary for this project.

Luciana Dumitru: What experimental films /artists (who work or not with landscape) do you like and are for you a source of inspiration. And why?

LOIS PATIÑO: I use to say that Peter Hutton, James Benning or Sharon Lockhart have been a big influence in my work. I learnt from them not only to make films, also to contemplate landscape. Some films as “Double Tide” of Sharon Lockhart shows you clearly how a single image can change its meanings just because the length of your view over it. How deep your view over a landscape can be.

Luciana Dumitru: You worked with José Luis Guerín. What is the most important thing you learned from him? (Or from others you worked with.)

LOIS PATIÑO: I did some workshops as a student with him, but I didn’t work. Also with Victor Erice or Pedro Costa, filmmakers that I admire a lot. With whom I worked as an assistant of the DOP was with the director Mercedes Alvarez in her film “Future Markets”. One of the important things that I learned is that there is not only one way to make films. You can do it in the way you want it, with the necessary team. You don’t have to follow the production structure as you see it in the industrial cinema. You can make your film in the way you want.

Luciana Dumitru: What interests you the most at the moment?

LOIS PATIÑO: After a few years when the idea of landscape was the main theme of my reflections and approaches in films, now I feel the needed to explore the experience of time in the image. I’ve done already one film in this direction “La Imagen Arde” (2013) which was premiered at the Rome Film Festival, in November. Here I work with a single image: a fire at night that some fire fighters try to extinguish,  without success, during the 30 minutes the film lasts. The image is in an extreme slow motion (9% of the real time). And the main work in this film is with the sound. The image of the fire, with its hypnotic strength, remains constant during the film, but the sound changes almost every 5 minutes: realistic fire sound, silence, music, electronic sound, breaths of the people… so the meaning of the image and our relationship, as spectators, with the image keep changing all the time. In my future works I’ll keep working around this time experience because it is something that I don’t understand, it is a mystery that I want to explore.

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