- Spawning in Concrete: Bridging Urban and Wild with Uninterrupted: A Cinematic Spectacle
Nettie Wild’s aspirations with Uninterrupted spring from an unlikely critical juxtaposition: “By using a piece of urban architecture to bring to light the extent to which salmon are something that we should embrace, there’s a possibility of seeing this story as it’s never been seen before” (qtd. in Seibert). Every evening from 28 June to 24 September 2017, twenty-five minutes of digitally mapped and projected images transformed the underside of Vancouver’s Cambie Street Bridge, at Cooper’s Park, “into a wild river filled with migrating salmon” (Canada Wild). Billed as a hybrid blending “cinematic storytelling and high-tech art installation,” the work spun a complex web of relations between humans, non-humans, and places and endeavoured to spark an emotional
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connection that would lead to activist-style commitment to the issue of salmon depletion. Conceived and directed by Wild and produced by Betsy Carson and Rae Hull, the event drew 30,000 spectators over its run (Uninterrupted.ca), addressing issues of extractivism, both critically and in the more popular sense, for its extraordinary audience. Even more significantly, Uninterrupted manifests a civic imaginary in which urban infrastructure, a major catalyst of environmental degradation, can participate, through aesthetic intervention, in the recovery of biotic life.
Video artist Catherine Elwes might say that Wild’s massive cinematic illusion “elevates video and film to a kind of electronic mural painting in the grand manner” (qtd. in Connolly 20). Wild, however, clearly intends to mobilize critical discourses around site-specificity and urban dramaturgy. Uninterrupted does not exist on a traditional film screen in any meaningful way—it was conceived and produced as public art, designed for the kind of “‘interim’, ‘indeterminate’ or interstitial spaces which offer unexpected possibilities for cultural innovation” (Pratt and San Juan 167). Discussing her experience observing the Adams River run, one of the largest wild sockeye runs remaining on the planet, Wild recalls, “It was like I was looking at art” (qtd. in “This”). The mise-en-scène that resulted from this moment of inspiration borrows more from visual art than from the documentary works that populate Wild’s early oeuvre.1 Describing the process of filming on the Adams, Pitt, and Sproat Rivers (Uninterrupted.ca), Wild says, “We had this saying on the river, that if we were framing something and it was pretty, like a ‘Beautiful BC’ postcard, we’d cut, and if it looked like an abstract oil [painting], we’d roll” (qtd. in Seibert). Here, she seems to agree with numerous ecocritical scholars who propose that the attitudes we assume toward nature are ideologically fraught and get in the way of engaging critically with ecological issues. Instead, her intimate look at the life cycle of one of the West Coast’s most revered creatures is manifested as a montage of underwater fish photography in combination with a largely nondiegetic ambient soundtrack by Owen Belton, and betrays the influence of video and installation art.
Much like the “submerged perspectives” Macarena Gómez-Barris profiles in The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and De-colonial Perspectives, Uninterrupted’s cinematography displaces “the ocular centricity of human development” in favour of a “fish-eye episteme,” widening our vision and “drowning out the global economy and its rationalized logic” (Gómez-Barris 15, 105, 105). To achieve this submerged perspective, the crew designed camera rigs that stabilized their underwater equipment to enable a fixed frame with the river and fish roaring by. This still perspective, in a rush of powerful procreational momentum, is the predominant subjective pose of the cinematography. In Uninterrupted, the camera sees the watery medium as a place of mythic enlargement and constantly morphing change, a “space of light and fish and current” (Wild, qtd. in Seibert).
The work to emplace Uninterrupted at the north end of Cambie Bridge, unlike a pop-up or temporary cinema, was massive: “Projecting high-resolution images filmed in the wild, on multiple surfaces of a kilometre-long bridge several metres in the air? Not a...