As part of our In Steps of Sundew programme, exploring the push and pull between nature and human presence and the effect that extracting resources from the landscape has upon those living within it, the artists were invited to remix four Corby heritage films to create new narratives through the extraction of archival film material.
Amy Cutler’s You Call It Sundew explores the human and nonhuman elements of landscape excavations, remixing film archives through projection onto steel and limestone blocks, creating new sound and footage to tell a multispecies story.
Amy describes the film as “a mutation of the original … where the sound worlds of the archive combine with lost causes of metal fatigue and underwater sea change, plant time and fossil time [which] adapts the archives of men and metals … somewhere between the forge and the forgery.”
Having listened to the original voices of the Corby films “for hours”, Amy notes “I cannot stop wondering about how the natural world still lives outside of what we say of it.”
The title, You Call It Sundew, is a quotation from Swinburne’s 1886 poem, The Sundew, which he refers to as little marsh-plant, least flower and least weed. As the film unfolds we learn the species sundew drosera was also once called the ogre of the plant kingdom and the vegetable butcher. Writer and agricultural reformist H. Rider Haggard described one of his own sundew specimens as showing the connection between the animal and the vegetable worlds.
Sundew was also the name of the largest walking dragline excavator in the world, used in mining operations in Rutland and Northamptonshire between 1957 and 1980, made by animals to tear into the earth.
As a metaphor and naturalising justification of man’s cruelty to the planet, what does it mean to be an animal that consumes the world around you? “When a wretched little plant imitates our exalted example the effect is uncanny.”
While the excavator Sundew was named after the female Grand National winner the same year the excavator was first built, Amy’s film feeds on the eeriness to this “transfer of a botanic natural naming after a marginal wild flower, given that the English sundew of the marshes is now red listed as endangered.”
This strange association plays out in trippy, haunting scenes playing backwards and forwards, sampling and tracing the original archive footage, with scenes and sounds projected onto physical material and resampled until they momentarily resemble painterly Constable-like images of the landscape.
Referencing Eileen Crist, the narration suggests “the vocabulary that we are changing the world and the relation of man as a history making person to nature unfolds, silencing non-human others, who apparently do not speak, possess meanings, experience perspectives, or have a vested interest in their own destinies.”
Destabilising the technomasculanist language of the original films and the constant reassurance that the land is restored at the end, Amy invites us to join Jane Bennett in considering the life of metal from the point of view of metal. The life of all living things from their own perspectives and the effect that extracting resources from the landscape has upon those living within it.
In addition to her film, Amy has released an album of original soundtrack music and series of limited edition prints here.