Sanctuary

    24/05  | 20:30
    25/05  | 20:30
    26/05  | 19:00
    26/05  | 22:00

€ 16 / € 13 (-25/65+)
1h

Meet the artist after the screening on 25/05
An extra screening has been scheduled on 26/05, 19:00

Having always been fascinated by Tarzan, stories of exploration and remote landscapes, Carlos Casas has created an immersive cinematographic work that starts from the discovery of otherwise impenetrable natural environments. In Sanctuary, he plunges us into the darkness of the jungle en route for the elephants’ graveyard, the final resting place for those who sense the end of their life approaching. A place of refuge for a disappearing species, and a path perhaps towards reincarnation… Somewhere between expanded cinema, a documentary and a sound installation, Sanctuary composes an environment out of images and (infra-)sounds recorded in the field by Carlos Casas and Chris Watson, a pioneer in field recording. The work invites us to go beyond our own cognitive and sensorial limits and lose ourselves to an extremely moving experience. Sanctuary is an exhortation to leave behind our viewpoints as humans always out to win and to imagine our own sanctuaries. Visionary.

See also
Workshop for schools on 24/05
From 21 to 31 May CINEMATEK presents a retrospective of Carlos Casas’ work and presents a carte blanche about Sanctuary on 27/05. More info on www.cinematek.be

A project by
Carlos Casas

Sound
Chris Watson

Sound engineer & sound spatialisation
Tony Myatt

Cinematography
Benjamin Echazarreta

Editing
Felipe Guerrero

Location sound & sound mix
Marc Parazon

With
Sinharaja, S.A Senevirathne, Warna Sandeeya, Wayne Bamford, Tony Lourds, Yashodha Suriyapperuma

Bioacoustician & elephant consultant
Joyce Poole

VFX
Francesco Meneghini

Music (Requiem)
Sebastian Escofet

Music (Epilogue)
Ariel Guzik

Special thanks
Andrea Lissoni (Tate Modern), Krzysztof Dabrowski & Katy Payne (Elephant Listening Project), Peter Wrege, Liz Rowland, Tony Herrington & Dereck Walmsley (The Wire), Mirko Rizzi (Marsèlleria), Jean Pierre Rehm (FID), Fabienne Morris & Rebecca De Pas (FIDlab), Olivier Marboeuf (Spectre Productions), Maximiliano Cruz, Sandra Gómez & Michel Lipkes (RMFF), Vimukthi Jayasundara & Iranthi Abeyasinghe (Film Island), Tine Fisher, Mette Bjerregaard & Paulina Witte (CPHdox), Elena Hill, Filipa Ramos & Xavier Garcia Bardon (BOZAR), Joyce Poole & Petter Granli (Elephant voices), Nico Vascellari, Lorenzo Bravi, Daniele Gasparinetti & Silvia Fanti (Netmage & Xing Bologna), Ted Levin & Michael Casey (Dartmouth College), Cheryl Sim (DHC/ART, PHI Canada), Batman Zavareze (Multiplicidade), Carly Whitefield (Tate Modern) Johnny Weissmuller, Michael Snow

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Les Brigittines

Producers
Olivier Marboeuf (Spectre Productions), La Fabrique Phantom (France), Elena Hill, Soda Film + Art (United Kingdom), Krzysztof Dabrowski, Kimnes/Bersch (Poland), Saodat Ismailova (Map Productions, France & Uzbekistan)

Executive producers
Cedric Walter (Spectre Productions), Iranthi Abeyasinghe (Film Island, Sri Lanka)

Supported by
CNAP (France), DICREAM (France), Wellcome Trust (United Kingdom, Small Arts Awards Fund), OUTSET SW

Sanctuary received the FIDLAB Award (France) and the Special Jury award of the Riviera Maya Film Festival (Mexico)

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Carlos Casas’s Sanctuary is a cinematic environment that offers a mesmerizing sonic and visual immersion in the sounds, textures, and hues of the jungle. Featuring live Ambisonics 3D sound spatialisation and infrasound recordings to induce a deep sense of physical closeness with an elephant, Sanctuary presents a unique sensorial experience that collapses the boundaries between art, nature documentary, and adventure film. Revisiting the legendary site of the elephants’ graveyard, the project proposes a new way to address concerns on environmental fragility and ecological devastation by inducing corporeal modes of interspecies communication. In this interview, Carlos Casas speaks to Filipa Ramos about how his long-lasting fascination with nature adventure films and his desire to foster new interspecies relationships opened way to the making of this fascinating project.  

Let’s start by what we can’t see. Darkness is a major protagonist of Sanctuary. There are several moments in which viewers are left to guess what they can barely see, as the projected images have little or no light. This cinema of obscurity offers a unique sense of being in the dark jungle for real. But it also triggers the feeling of being lost, both in the unknown environment of the tropical forest and in the space of the screening, as viewers find themselves facing something they can’t discern. Is darkness a continuous interest of yours? Why is it so much featured in for Sanctuary?
Darkness is very connected to the ideas that sprung from my research on the image of the cemetery and its spatial and spiritual dimensions. I was fascinated by the idea of having a screen untouched by light, shimmering images that spectators project with their minds – the mind becomes the projector and the audience makes their own film. At a certain point, the images disappear and the film becomes pitch dark. While Stereo sound gives way to Ambisonics (which is a full-sphere surround sound technique that emits sound both on a horizontal plane and also covers sound sources above and below listeners), light becomes shadow. Thus the reaching of the elephant cemetery happens exclusively through sound, sound being the most efficient way to achieve a certain dimension that images can’t convey, also because the cemetery (the elephants’ graveyard) is out of reach for us, humans. We need to arrive blindfolded. I wanted the spectators to travel by the abilities of their own imagination so darkness became a fundamental part of the construct and apparatus of the work.

You’ve just mentioned the cemetery a couple of times. Cemetery is the original title of this film that you’ve been developing for some years. What were the original topics and aims of this project, and how did they evolve and change?
Cemetery is the name of the theatre release film and Sanctuary of the spatial installation featuring the Ambisonics and the whole infrasound speaker setting. The project grew from my fascination with the myth of the elephants’ graveyard, inspired by adventure films such as Tarzan, which left an important imprint on me when I first saw it at a very young age. Halfway across the research I understood that the film was also about the cinema and its inception as well as its demise – the film focuses on a human quest and journey to become another species, to transcend ourselves as a species. Spectators embody that transition – they move from being viewers to becoming active protagonists. The whole project aims at expanding our affect abilities: I tried to make an artwork that pushed the limits of cross-species communication by creating an affect vessel to establish a stronger connection to elephants, which are one of the most fascinating animal species there are, also one which is so close to us. The communication system of elephants also plays an important part in the project, as I tried to capture and respond to it and to extend our human sensorial realm. I hope the project allows us to establish a new bound with another species and with ourselves as sentient beings. Cross-species topics and genesis themes appear in the sound of the central part of the film. When we arrive to the cemetery as active viewers (omnilisteners) there’s a certain mythic dimension that appears, incorporating millenary traditions and myths, from Hinduism and Buddhist. The form, the apparatus of the film becomes its message, embodies it.  

But extinction and nature are also main topics of the film, alongside the reflection on our inability, as humans, to fully comprehend and actually position ourselves within the world. We started living in the most radical times as we entered the Anthropocene: in the next coming years most of the species and environments we now know will be extinct. Our relation to the environment has arrived to a peak. As population grows and gets stagnated and the advances of civilization and technology reshape nature, the idea and myth of the cemetery becomes even more fascinating and pertinent to illuminate a new vision of nature and our position within it. While working on the film I’ve asked myself plenty of questions which will be left unanswered but that populate it like ghosts: is nature as we knew it dead? Are we the prominent species? Are we meant to guide in a new geological phase or are we just another species bound to extinction? Are we one with nature? Or are we a mere biological plague? Have we finally deciphered nature and our purpose within it? Are we meant to migrate to other planets?  

Why did you choose the elephant to face these questions? What is your specific interest in these animals?
My fascination for the elephant is pair to its richness as a being, from their amazing emotional realm and complex social life, to their rich sonic language and wisdom. I believe elephants guard secret keys for us in their memory as a species. At the same time, this film is also my way of reshaping a traditional animal documentary, making it along the lines of a spiritual, nearly mystical search; hence the collaboration with Chris Watson and Ariel Guzik, both prominent nature and animal interlocutors.

How is the film structured?
The film travels along four tracks. The first track corresponds to the historical plot or search. It’s a ghost chase to the inception and dissemination in western culture of the story of Sindbad and his journey to the elephant cemetery, which was incorporated in Richard Burton’s canonical version of the 1001 nights (1885). On his seventh voyage to the island of Serendib, Sindbad tells how he was made prisoner while returning home; he was tight to a tree in the jungle and ordered to kill as much elephants as possible, using an arrow and a bow. The elephant king showed him the way to the cemetery to keep him from killing more animals and Sindbad then asks for his freedom in exchange for unveiling the secret location to the cemetery. That story is a source of inspiration for authors who later recreated it, as Edgar Rice, William Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, and other adventurers who explored it in their tales and hunting stories, like George Peress Sanderson or James Emerson Tennent.

The second track is the plotline, an elephant chase, a road movie on an elephant, where the poachers trigger the film’s suspense, looking for the elephant, this last specimen who will lead them to the cemetery, and eventually to their deaths. The third track offers a formal and structural guideline – the book of the dead, its process, signs, and cycles; a sensorial narration, it contributed to shape the film both formally and structurally, defining the sound and the conclusion part with the Rebirth. The fourth track is a tempo, based on the circadian sleep cycle and its process; the film is tuned to certain ratios and frequencies. Its goal is to put the spectator into a hypnagogic state.

Sanctuary dialogues with a tradition of representation of the wilderness which has strong filmic precedents, both from the fields of narrative and documentary cinema. Apart from Tarzan, were there other films that had an influence on you?
Formally and aesthetically, the film wants to break certain laws of the cinematic experience – it wants to become a rite of passage for the spectator, a journey of cinematic influences, from early adventure films to experimental classics. The film is also a sort of cemetery for all these films, they are all condensed in the tempo part – as skeletons, they will provide us with an ivory treasure, maybe a discovery of a new audiovisual experience, in between a fiction film, a science fiction documentary and a hypnotic session. The film is actually a crossover of fictional and real facts, using historical data as a starting point. Digging to find the origins of the myth and its legendary locations, it offers a sort of conceptual collision of Tarzan, Guy Debord’s Hurlements en faveur de Sade, and Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale

There’s an intense physical proximity with the animal, both aurally and visually. The film allows us to hear and see more an elephant than we generally do; this establishes an extraordinary new set of relationships between humans, technology and animals. What led you to want to examine the elephant’s skin in such a detailed manner?
I wanted to assure a highly sensorial interaction between viewers and elephant as to make an expanded sort of documentary. I’ve always been fascinated by animal documentaries because they provide us with a incredible connection to animals, but in a way I felt that they always convey the same distance and I wanted to break it – I  wanted spectators to have an epidermic connection to the elephant, an intense sensorial connection, which also made it necessary to bring the sound in all its splendour later on in the film.

How was the work developed both in relation to the aural dimension of the film and to the large sound piece that constitutes Sanctuary?
Sound is even more important than the visual part as it allows the public to discover sound in new ways and to communicate with the elephant, to be affected, and to travel to their inner “elephant graveyard”, to their nature’s hidden sanctuary. This notion of audience sanctuary was very important, as to allow viewers to enter nature’s most secretly auditory places, to have a sound narrative and journey. In order for us to do so, we needed to expand auditory capacities and physical sound frontiers, which is why, together with Chris Watson and Tony Myatt, we developed the infrasound speaker and we created an infrasound narrative as close as we could to reality, trying to use new sonic affect techniques to trigger new responses from audience. In order to develop new experiences you have to expand the ability to perceive them.

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Carlos Casas, (b. 1974, Barcelona, Spain) Lives and works between Paris and Barcelona. His last three films have been awarded in festivals around the world from Torino, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City and his film works and installations have been presented in collective and personal exhibitions internationally. He has concluded a trilogy of films, END dedicated to the most extreme environments on the planet, Patagonia, Aral Sea, and Siberia. Avalanche an a lifelong project and site-specific film project based on one of Pamir highest inhabited village has been presented in different museums, festivals and gallery spaces around Europe and the USA. His films have been shown in festivals like Venice Film festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, FID Marseille, BAFICI Buenos Aires, Jeonju Festival, South Korea, Documenta Madrid, FICCO Mexico and others. His works have been presented in museum and spaces like Tate Modern, London, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Hangar Bicocca, Milano, Bozar Bruxelles, Oi Futuro Rio de Janeiro, MIS Sao Paolo, Center Pompidou, Fondation Cartier, Paris, Centre Cultura Contemporanea, Barcelona, Malba Buenos Aires, GAM, Torino. Cemetery his latest project on production is a take on the myth of the elephant cemetery. He was creative director of Colors Music and Films from 2005-2008 where he developed audiovisual projects and music research in various regions around the world. He is co-founder of Map Productions and the visual sound label Von Archives. He is visiting professor at Dartmouth College USA, and ECAM Madrid, Spain. 

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