Planet Earth - Fresh Water

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Planet Earth: Fresh Water

by Jacob Schuman, Paul Wallace, Abe Halpert, & Jason Lee 

Planet Earth: Fresh Water began as an experiment investigating the nature of the relationship between representation and reality.  The artists transfered part of an episode from the nature documentary series "Planet Earth" (entitled "Fresh Water") onto 16 mm film, and then let the film soak in a local river for several days.  The artists then transferred the film back into digital format.  Through this process, the artists sought to explore the tension between the idealized hyper-reality presented in the "Planet Earth" series and the chaotic, banal grime of an actual "fresh water" river.  Would "the real" be able to make itself visible on film, or had representation fully freed itself from the hold of its own subject?  While the original filmmakers sought to capture and encode their perspectives of nature, could an appropriative artistic intervention imagine new ways of visualizing, coding, even experiencing, the "real" world?  Which representation of "fresh water" would more closely approximate "truth," and what could be learned by combining the two methods of capturing nature on film?

The "Planet Earth" series is an excellent example of Jean Baudrillard's notion of "hyper-reality."  Hoping to inspire more widespread public interest and concern about the environment, several nature documentary filmmakers collaborated on the 10-part series, combining advanced high definition cameras, new filming technology, an evocative soundtrack, and celebrity narration to produce a stunning portrayal of several different natural environments (ranging from "Deep Ocean" to "Mountains") untouched by humanity - brutal, beautiful, and eternal.  Although the animals, plants, and environments captured on film are very real, the presentation - slickly edited transitions, HD film, emotional music, profound narration - and the overarching premise - that these natural scenes are completely distinct from and opposed to human civilization - construct an idealized representation of nature that is "realer" than "real": hyper-real.  

In repose, the artists literally re-submerged the film from an episode of "Planet Earth" into its original subject: fresh water.  In the face of real fresh water, the film becomes distorted, disfigured, and muddied.  The stunning vistas over beautiful waterfalls and the kaleidoscoping colors of tropical fish offer one take on reality, while the grime and scratches from the river provide another view of "fresh water."  Whichever mode of representation is more accurate - or even if neither comes close to fully capturing its subject - they are both indexes of reality (photons of light and splotches of mud).  Combined, layered, and mixed into the same digital code, this intertwining of representation and referent reveals the inherent tension and complex dynamics of a hyper-real world.

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