2009 | GLOBAL PROSPERITY: Scott Duncan


Scott Duncan is  primarily interested in visual impacts of economic activity on the landscape and on society.  His subject matter focuses on infrastructures such as ports, distribution centres and highway systems.  His art research revolves around the importance of time in narrative constructions and on finding images in text and narrative in images . He works in video, photography and text.  He attempts to present possible connections and disparities across media so that the engaged viewer will be led toward considering the subject matter from an ethical or political perspective.

The project is a series of long tracking sequences, filmed in HD video, of major sea ports including Montreal, Vancouver, Rotterdam and Los Angeles.  The project incorporates videos, photography and text.

The video tracking shots have been edited to create three 80 to 120 minute films of the ports of Montreal, Vancouver and Rotterdam presenting the viewer with a look at the containers, sheds, bulk cargo, refineries, cranes, trucks, ships, and workers who are present within the port grounds as they make their way in and out of the frame of the camera. The project is presented as an immersive narrative experience, with each video presented on a the wall of a closed gallery space.

While each port specializes in the shipment of different goods, they share many common characteristics that are interesting to me and further my research into massive infrastructures that are at the heart of contemporary economies. I feel that these infrastructures – in the case of ports, measured in hundreds or thousands of hectares – are so massive that they represent new landscapes.

Viewing The Tracking Shot in Ports leads the viewer to ask questions about what he or she is seeing : does that person in the image like his job? Why do the trucks drive so quickly through the parking lot? What is inside this building? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Where do I fit in this image? Also, the video gives the viewer time to find answers to these questions. It is my belief that this combination of large amounts of visual information and large amounts of time brings about different narrative forms.

Jean-Luc Godard once claimed that the tracking shot calls attention to the ethics of the image. By using this cinematic form, I am asking: Can a tracking shot convey the scale of these massive man-made landscapes? Does this combination of time, space, image and subjective narrative provide approximation of the real?

As the project advances, I have found that this challenge of approximating the real is pushing me to incorporate other media (interviews, photography and text) into the project. Placed together each medium complements the other and helps me to see – and to represent – the complex spatial, human and economic relationships in a modern sea port. The installation includes interview footage, photographs, and texts related to my experiences filming in the port grounds.

The Port project marks a continuation in my artistic research around the distribution of goods in the contemporary North American economy on a larger and more ambitious scale than previous projects. The tracking shot perspective enables me to explore the scale of buildings and infrastructure required to support our consumer-based economy in spatial and temporal terms.  By focusing on ports,  I hoped to learn about a new kind of factory where nothing is produced but where the size of the facility suggests an important, and new impact on our landscape : the physical ramifications of exchange, movement and consumption as represented by factories that are so large, they can be considered landscapes.

A tracking shot, Godard suggests, is more critical than other cinematic images, because it magnifies not only what we see, but the problems with what we see. Tracking shots can pose certain problems for the viewer.  Because the camera is stable, we are less likely to think of the image in subjective terms (that is, we are not reminded of the camera operator, the way we are in a hand-held shot). This enables us to consider what we are seeing from three perspectives : the image perspective (what objects are we seeing); the spatial perspective (because the image moves consistently through space we can roughly imagine the distance covered); and a temporal perspective (the image changes over time, and lasts for a period of time).

A second philosophical concern pushes me to film locations where, in traditional terms, nothing is produced. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari argued in Anti-Oedipus (1972), that we must consider what type of machine we required to produce a desired effect.  They elaborate by arguing that consumption is production. I believe this is a notion that requires further testing. Large port facilities, given their economic impact, seem to me to produce something, and yet I would argue that this new type of facility is hardly recognized in our culture as a source of production : we still hold to the notion of factories as charming brick loft buildings in Canada’s industrial cities that now house young adults and knowledge industry companies.

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