The Destruction of Royal Gardens
“The future is but the obsolete in reverse”, Heraclitus once said. I quote him later on, in a voice-over for this film we’ve yet to make.
When we arrive in Breiddalsvik George Walker is filed into boxes in the basement of the primary school. We scan labels and lists and choose portions of him to get into. His footage arrives from Reykjavik unwatched in a small black brick: we set down with it, knowing we’re looking for golden moments and knowing that if we try to talk about what these are we’ll start to fight. It’s two o’clock and the sun is setting. A folder of diagrams is open on the table, something to do with non-Newtonian fluids. I mention that I’m still trying to figure out what the viscous shape is. C replies that it might be easier to figure out what it is not.
We watch for a long time until redundancy slides from endless landforms shot from above onto the surface of the film itself. Beneath a vibrating patina of scratches and dust, blasts of pyroclastic tephra settle on our macbook screen. “He’s close” I say, “It’s hot ash hitting the lens”. “Or” (Curtis) “a record of the number of times it’s been looked at?” Neither of us is wrong, and the geologist’s eye and our eyes seem stuck to this segment of footage in particular.
“One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion” wrote Robert Smithson, in an essay for Artforum in the year Walker travelled to document the eruption of Mt Etna.
“…mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries …The most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion…”
Amidst Walker’s rubble there’s a larger box in the archive labelled simply, “the book”. Christa tells us it’s a manuscript that he wrote and never published: the first page is labelled “Chp.1, Viscosity”
For fifteen years in the 1970s and ‘80s GPL Walker worked as Chair of the Volcanology Department at the University of Hawaii, where he intimately studied and photographed the pahoehoe and a’a lava flows incessantly overtaking the local roads and coral reefs of Maui. Our second short film resulting from the work at Breiddalssetur Geology Center in East Iceland features a 16mm time lapse taken by Walker of one such flow destroying an inhabited area known as “Royal Gardens” over the course of an entire day. The almost invisible movements of the molten rock and lava are rendered lifelike and viscous in his time-condensed footage.
We intercut an animation created from thousands of diagrams and drawings produced by George for an unfinished manuscript, a project he was unable to complete before his death in 2005. Known only as “The Book”, these writings feature ten chapters rigorously describing different types of flow which emanate from volcanic action, from tephra clouds, falling deposits, and underwater landslides, to a’a rubble and pahoehoe lava rivers. Our work pulls from Walker’s text to appropriate the flow-dynamics of lava itself as a “sorting mechanism” and filmic treatment of the archival material.
Produced by Breidalssetur Geology Center (Christa and Martin Feucht)
Original Music by Hermione Spriggs & Curtis Tamm
Animation by HS
Sound Design & Editing by CT
This short film is featured as part of The Viscous Shape, an ongoing research and film project by HS & CT which seeks to warm up the textual and visual archives of George PL Walker.
Made with generous support from the Arts Council England International Development Fund & Skaftfell Center for Visual Art. Special thanks to the Walker Family and GPL Walker Archives.