Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's "Leviathan": A Visual Poem to the Sea

Official trailer for Leviathan

This Friday, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (2012 Film/Video) celebrate the theatrical premiere of their Creative Capital-supported project, Leviathan, beginning with a run at IFC Center in New York and followed by a national release. Shot off the coast of New England, in the very waters where Melville’s Pequod gave chase to Moby Dick, Leviathan captures the collaborative clash of man, nature and machine in the harsh theater of long-haul commercial fishing. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel shot the footage over the course of a year on a dozen cameras—tossed and tethered, passed from filmmaker to ship crew, swooping from below sea level to astonishing bird’s-eye views in the sky. Entirely dialogue-free, but mesmerizing and gripping throughout, Leviathan presents a visual meditation on the sea and a cosmic portrait of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors.
In the New York Times, Dennis Lim raved that Leviathan “looks and sounds like no other documentary in memory.” The film was an official selection of the New York, Locarno and Toronto Film Festivals, among others, and winner of the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle’s Douglas Edwards Award. After seeing it at the New York Film Festival, I can attest to what a truly stunning, immersive sensory experience Leviathan is.
Still from LeviathanStill from Leviathan
This summer at the Creative Capital Artist Retreat, we were thrilled to hear that Lucien and Véréna were revisiting the thousands of hours of footage shot for Leviathan and thinking about turning some of it into book projects and media installations, both photographic and cinematic. They are now thinking about Leviathan not as a stand-alone film but as a visual poem at the center of a multi-part, multi-media exploration of our relationship to the sea.
Through connections forged at the Retreat, this vision recently came to fruition when Castaing-Taylor and Paravel presented Canst Thou Draw Out Leviathan with a Hook? in the Berlinale Forum. The showing included the film Leviathan and three related video projections.
One of these installations, Spirits Still, is a projected series of ghostly images that emerged during the editing of Leviathan. Lucien and Véréna write, “Stopping and starting willy-nilly at different points in our footage, moving backwards and forwards a frame at a time, we were arrested by the apparitions with which we were confronted—apparitions invisible when moving at the speed of ‘real’ time. After finishing the film, these found-images refused to let up their hold on us. We trawled through all 130,500 frames of Leviathan, isolating 686 pictures which haunted us afresh.”  A dozen of these images are included in the Spirits Still projection, and the artists are working on a book that will include more of the ghostly imagery.

Still from Leviathan
A second video projection, He Maketh a Path to Shine After Him; One Would Think the Deep to be Hoary, reworks the sequences of Leviathan that were shot at the intersection of sea and sky. The artists write, “Projected at 1/50 of the speed at which they were recorded, it simultaneously slows movement and animates the still, revealing a liminal universe at the threshold of human vision. In this flux, one beholds a netherworld of aqueous forms that appear in one frame and disappear or transmogrify into something else in the next.”
The third installation presented at Berlinale Forum is The Last Judgment, a video loop the artists describe as “an apocalyptic vision of the vertiginous intermingling of the sea and the sky.”
This type of expansion of an artist’s original proposed project to multiple platforms is something that we are seeing more and more. A funded project that begins as a film becomes an installation for visual spaces, a live performance and so on. When our Artist Services staff meets with our artists, we encourage them to think about how their project could have a life beyond the initial scope, as a way to reach audiences outside the discipline where they are most known and comfortable. With the upcoming theatrical premiere of Leviathan, the Spirits Still book and other projects on the horizon, we can’t wait to see what’s next for Lucien and Véréna.

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