In 1890, French inventor and physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) explores the eccentricities of fish locomotion using a primitive movie camera. Inspired by the coastal climate, as well as visits to the fishing pier and the public aquarium, Marey portrays sea creatures' motion through space and time using a modified photographic apparatus. At his aquarium laboratory at his villa, he produces strips of photographic frames that mark the early history of cinema and this film captures Marey's fascination with nature and discovery of moving image making practice.
Locomotion in Water is an experimental documentary about seeing movement, doing science and filming fish in Naples, Italy. Moving between past and present, text and image, travelogue and reverie — Locomotion in Water interweaves the reflections of the nineteenth-century chronophotographer with the animating impulses of a modern-day filmmaker.
Locomotion in Water and Aqua Kinema developed out of my longstanding interest in the linked roles of film, video and non-human animal life in contemporary and historical scientific practice. In this project, I used multi-channel installation and digital filmmaking in a project which both reflected on, and drew together, representational media practices from the last hundred and fifty years.
Aqua Kinema was produced as part of the exhibition "Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy" at the Zentrum für Kunst und Media Technologie in 2005. In four different channels, I took four different approaches to the problem of understanding a particular moment of history through multimedia production. Screen One ("Wave") oscillated between past and present — a metronomic fluctuation between the immediacy of the digital representation of movement and the dreamy evanescence of history and the flickering, archival photograph. Screen Two ("Epistle") vivified through the resuscitation and integration of archival photographs a handwritten letter from 1890. Screen Three ("Researcher") juxtaposed contemporary laboratory practice with its historical antecedents, drawing on the rhythms of a modern scientist's use of high speed video and prismatic mirrors to study rainbow trout's fin movement and underwater eddy formation. Screen Four ("Fish Market") confronted the visitor with the experience of movement, fish and culture at the fish market in Naples. The installation aimed to reconstruct, through stratified image and object-based evocations, the laboratory practice and visual contexts of French scientist-chronophotographer Etienne-Jules Marey's experiments on fish locomotion in late-nineteenth-century Naples. This collaboration drew together institutions (the Lauder Lab, The Marey Museum, the Cinématheque Française, the Stazione Zoologica Napoli, the Zentrum für Kunst und Media Technologie) and individuals both historical and contemporary — scientists, engineers, museum professionals and artists.