Mark Lewis: Five Landscapes

Words Joanne Shurvell

During a recent trip to Toronto I was fortunate to see Invention (Soda Pictures, 2015), artist Mark Lewis‘s first feature-length film which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It then showed at the London Film Festival last month and will be released in UK cinemas next year.

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, designed by Frank Gehry

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, designed by Frank Gehry

I became a big fan of Lewis’s work after interviewing him when he represented Canada at the Venice Art Biennale in 2009. For the Biennale, Lewis presented Cold Morning, four short films about everyday life in a modern city (Toronto). His silent, often single-take films force the viewer to concentrate on the image without the distraction of sound. In the main, Invention adheres to that rule, presenting an 80-minute tour through cityscapes of three great cities – Paris, São Paulo, and Toronto. The film opens inside the Louvre Museum in Paris, where the camera lingers on an ancient sculpture of a sleeping hermaphrodite. In contrast are equally mesmerising views of 60s and 70s modernist architecture including in Toronto, Mies van der Rohe’s TD Tower (1965), his final building before his death and Oscar Niemeyer’s Edificio Copan (1966) in Sao Paulo, the largest apartment building in the world.

Invention, TD Building, Toronto by Mies van der Rohe

Invention, TD Building, Toronto by Mies van der Rohe

Invention, TD Building, Toronto by Mies van der Rohe

Invention, TD Building, Toronto by Mies van der Rohe

Invention was screened at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) who awarded Mark Lewis the prestigious Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2007 so it seemed fitting that he should return to premiere his new film at the AGO. In addition to housing an outstanding collection of Canadian art, the Art Gallery of Ontario features the world’s largest public collection of works by British sculptor Henry Moore. The gallery was designed by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry and was his first building in Canada. Gehry is also rightly acclaimed for his other museum designs, notably the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (1997) and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (2014)

Invention, Minhocao, Sao Paulo

Invention, Minhocao, Sao Paulo

For anyone visiting Toronto before 3 January, the Toronto footage in Invention is currently showing at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery.

Invention will be screened again in its entirety when it’s released next year by Soda Pictures. In the meantime, the Sao Paulo and Toronto sections of the film are on view at Canada House Gallery at Trafalgar Square in London until 12 December, along with three other short films. One of each of the films in Five Landscapes will air each day in the gallery, with all five being shown on Saturdays. Mark Lewis explains that these films are about ‘a camera learning how to make a movie’. The camera swoops up and down, pans, zooms and twists around city streets, buildings and roads, occasionally stopping to show what Lewis describes as ‘small melodramas’ – people ‘s movements and actions. One of the most fascinating segments is the footage of the Minhocao, an elevated Brutalist highway in Sao Paulo. The highway, built in 1970, is closed to cars every night from 9:30 pm and all day Sundays due to public complaints about the noise. Lewis shot his film when the highway was closed, thus creating a peaceful and often playful atmosphere, where people are strolling, cycling and interacting across all the lanes of the motorway. The abandoned Hendon Football Club in northwest London also provides a view on everyday life. Mark found that the club was being squatted by a group of Roma people. Today the site is a housing complex.

Five Landscapes, Forte, Aosta Valley

Five Landscapes, Forte, Aosta Valley

More dramatic is Forte! which shows a classic Alpine mountainscape with a snow-covered range before panning down to a fort built to defend Italy from Napoleon who destroyed it and then rebuilt it. Today it’s a museum and popular tourist attraction. The fifth film moves back to an urban environment with Beirut storefronts, streets and apartment buildings, ending with a woman doing laps in a rooftop pool. 

Five Landscapes, Hendon Football Club, London

Five Landscapes, Hendon Football Club, London

With each of his films composed of a single, long, silent shot, Mark Lewis’s works show not only how the camera extends the human gaze but becomes almost human.

Mark Lewis: Five Landscapes, Canada House gallery, London SW1

8 October 2015 – 12 December 2015


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