Category: Archive

Going to extremes: Langan’s post-apocalyptic world

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Less visible were the artists who work in the field of fine arts, but even as the economic boom falters, a new crop of painters, sculptors and experimental filmmakers is starting to make its mark. Prominent among them is artist and filmmaker Clare Langan, who will be honored with an exhibition of her work at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art on March 10.
Langan will present her award-winning trilogy, “Forty Below,” “Too Dark For Night,” and “Glass Hour,” at the MoMA Film’s Manhattan screening venue, the Gramercy Theatre, at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Her vividly colored and enigmatic films feature bleak landscapes and images of man-made structures eroded by the relentless forces of nature, without dialogue and populated only by a solitary figure in the middle distance. Conceived in a non-narrative form, her work is frequently described as post-apocalyptic, though it can also be read as an excursion into prehistory, presenting the evolving terrain of lava fields and desert encroachment on treeless plains with little evidence of man’s impact on the world. Her work and the quest for extreme landscapes has taken her as far away as the Arctic Circle and Africa.
“My father, Pat Langan, was a press photographer in the Irish Times for 35 years, so I grew up around photography,” she said. “With his job we spent time down the country in amazing places like the Blasket Islands, off the Kerry coast. And he was always traveling; he’d been to the Lebanon a couple of times and been to Sudan and Ethiopia, so there was always in my head this thing about travel and that probably had quite a bearing on my work.”
Langan’s first film, “Forty Below,” was shot in Ireland in the bleak terrain of the Burren in County Clare, and the second installment of the trilogy took her to Iceland.
“I filmed some of ‘Forty Below’ in the Burren because I’m drawn to barren landscapes more than the wooded areas of Ireland,” she said. “It was a natural progression to go from there to Iceland for the second film as the Icelandic landscape is quite similar to the Burren.”
The concept for the third installment, a desert shaped by the wind and slowly consuming a ruined city, took the artist to the Namib desert in Africa.
“Researching the advancing desert idea, I discovered there was a town in Namibia which is an abandoned diamond mining settlement, half buried by the sand,” he said. “By going there I could use buildings that actually existed, rather than creating artificial sets. It suits the nature of what I do to shoot what’s there rather than creating artificial landscapes. All the altering is in the camera, but I’m shooting real places. I could have gone to a different desert but it turned out to be perfect, because this town existed already and the desert itself is so dramatic.”
The quality that sets Langan’s work apart from that of her peers is her approach to the film process: She customizes the lens and conducts all distortions and adjustment in the 16mm camera, counter to the high-tech tendency of digital video users to concentrate more on image manipulation in the computer afterward rather than create the effects on site.
“I make my own lens filters using stained glass in various colors, which I experiment with at the location before doing the final shoot,” she said. “The negative is processed and printed to become the final version of the film without any further alteration.”
The end results are uncommonly beautiful, and have earned the artist a place in the Glen Dimplex Awards Show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, and the 2002 Bienal de Sao Paolo in Brazil. Her work has previously been shown at Ocularis in Brooklyn, and the MoMA screening gives New Yorkers their first opportunity to see the trilogy in its entirety.
Clare Langan’s trilogy will be screened March 10 at 8:15 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Arts screening venue, the Gramercy Theatre, at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue. The artist will be on hand to discuss her films and answer questions from the audience.

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