if you ask any poetry filmmaker or video poet about Australian Ian Gibbins they will immediately know his work, and often know him. He has become a leading light in the field in the last five years and his work is often crafted with great skill, time and patience, and often set against the ecological clock that feels as if it is running out. He briefly describes himself as ‘a poet, video artist and electronic musician working across diverse forms’. And drops in that he used to be a neuroscientist and Professor of Anatomy at Flinders University, living in South Australia on unceded Kaurna land.
In 2021 I was the judge at FOTOGENIA festival for the Delluc Avant-Garde Winner’s Prize, and selected his film of Greek poet Tasos Sagris‘ arresting poem ‘The Life we Life is not Life itself‘. Produced by the Institute [for Experimental Arts] the soulless litany of desolate concrete landscapes, (signifying developer’s profits at the expense of humanity and the environment), are doubled and trebled in his scenarios that become densely composited, fictional still-life paintings of our world. Each tightly framed ‘view’ is constructed by his hand, and reduced to a narrow box of ‘life’ to be bought, without Life that shows us who we really can be. Ian writes on his Vimeo channel:
‘Tasos Sagris’s poem, with its haunting soundtrack by Whodoes, offers us an extended exploration of lives lived in parallel, at cross-purposes, in and out of love, around the world, from the innocence of children to the wisdom of elders. There are the good times when summer seems to last forever, and the bad, when persecution and misadventure could land us in prison, with nothing but rain to hear our voice. But what is the reality? What is mere illusion? Can there be more to life than simply living?
The raw footage for the video was shot mainly in and around the city of Adelaide, its suburbs, the nearby Fleurieu Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, supplemented with images from around Greece. But nothing in the video is quite as it seems. Most scenes have been composited and animated from multiple sources. So we look down a city laneway and see friends walking along a beach. Storm clouds, ominously aglow, gather behind skylines. And after the rain, floodwater surges across plazas, covers the floors of ruined buildings.
Who inhabits these strange places? Whom will we meet there? Look carefully in the malls and side-streets: we can see our fellow walkers, and then, again, again… And in windows of city buildings, in old frames hung on walls of broken brick and cracked concrete, we see the faces of the young and old, the boys and girls, the men and women of our imagination, our desires, our reconstructed memories. As alluring as they seem, none of them is real. Rather, they are the product of artificial intelligence, trained on thousands of our fellow humans, and generated by cold, unfeeling algorithms.
Is this Life? Who amongst us is truly Living? Let’s see. And perhaps we will meet again … on another rainy afternoon… “like now, like now.”
And I wrote at the time:
‘This piece is an eloquent and poetically charged audiovisual poem. A huge technical achievement. Here the complexities of the technical work such as manipulation details are integrated into Sagris’s existential poem and don’t overshadow the narrative itself, on the contrary, they complement the dystopian narrative so that you listen to the voice and watch the unfolding scenarios in front of your view. A masterful example of the handling of material, and how to make a project as a collaborative artist. Often we feel taken right into the screen, to scenes that offered a view,a false view of a sea at the end of a street for example, and this is pure art. The piece also raises the question of what have developers done to our lives, what has money done to our lives, and what is society today? All of this is wholly examined through an artist’s eyes. A reflection of what life is and the importance that it keeps in the little things.‘
I have recently had the great pleasure to judge REELpoetry 2023 open competition with him and Festival Director Fran Sanders. I was also part of a triad with Ian and Mary McDonald from Canada discussing our films in relation to Climate Change and Subjectivity. It was a great experience listening to Mary’s ‘immersive’, highly skilled and painterly approach to making ecopoetry films, and Ian’s complex and highly painstaking working methods and knowledge of what is happening in Australia in terms of the environment. I also really valued having his and Mary’s opinions of my work – you seldom have the opportunity to really discover the views of others you admire and respect, so a rare experience. The two films that Ian selected were floodtide and Colony Collapse. Here they are, with his own introductions. Thank you, Ian.
How does a city cope, what does it look like, after years of drought, rising sea levels, relentless storms?
The composition process making the video was very complex. Nearly every scene has been composited from multiple sources requiring more than 500 individual sequences from original footage filmed around Australia: Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Inner Suburban Melbourne, the Western Highway, and Far North Queensland. Each scene required matching of lighting intensity, colour and direction, as well as wind direction (in clouds, water, trees, etc), atmospheric haze, perspective, scale and more. In most scenes containing water, footage of the sea has been added to the landscape or cityscape. Similarly, nearly every sky and cloud bank has been composited from mixed sources. Almost none of the building skylines is from a single location.
As a result, almost none of these scenes actually exists. Although these scenes might be imaginary, as the world careers into a now unavoidable climate emergency, the reality is not far off…
floodtide has been screened to acclaim around the world in festivals and exhibitions of short films, poetry videos, experimental video art and animation, and environmental art.
“I am still watching ghosts, eyes rimed with salt, homesick… this was never our natural state, our true inheritance… we should not be here…”
While walking around the Circular Key area of Sydney Harbour, I was struck by the disconnect between the crowds of people going about their current-day activities and the deep timelines of the area. Despite the urban infrastructure largely obliterating so much of what, and who, was once there, the power of natural environment remains inescapable, the precariousness of our hold on place seems obvious.
The video footage was shot around Sydney, Melbourne, the Anglesea region of the Victorian coast, Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges, and the coastline of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Many of the scenes were composited and animated from multiple sources. In the face of one of the driest and hottest years on record, the transition from flood to fire seemed to be a fitting visual metaphor to complement the text. Despite the warnings, I doubt many of us expected the reality to be as devastating as it has turned out to be.
I am still watching
farewells sunk amid
moss, black mould,
pale concrete fatigue.
We should not be
here on this cliftop,
feet aquake, unsteady
with rising damp,
eyes rimed with salt
fung from shoulders
of mariners’ wives.
stricken by virus,
we push for oxygen
though iron web
the ferce splayed
gid of gunpowder.
Below jack hammer,
listen to us scratch,
our scour and scrape,
in our patient, almost
there, underearth of
This was never
our natural state:
we can only wait
for oceans’ ebb
to birth again our
In The Ferrovores we are taken into a scientific future where humans no longer exist, prompted as Ian says below by a multi-year drought. Australia has become his canvas of emergency – and with science and art he is a vatic voice that must be heard.
“this time, this place… beyond open circulation, closed reciprocity… closed hydration spheres, wrought, cast, smithed… this is what we are, what we eat …”
‘Iron is the most common metal on earth. Indeed, it forms much of the molten core of the planet which in turn generates the earth’s magnetic poles. The red soils of the world are due to iron. At a biochemical level, iron is essential for human life, amongst other things, making our blood red. In the societal domain, iron is essential for manufacturing, electricity generation, and much more. Certain bacteria can derive energy for life directly from dissolved iron compounds (“rust”) rather than from oxygen as we do. In some dystopian future, our descendants, the Ferrovores, dependent on ferrous bacterial endosymbionts, will be able to do the same. The story of the Ferrovores is told in a combination of code and the remnant language of chemistry, biochemistry, geology, metallurgy and mining.
The video was recorded mostly in the Southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia, in the midst of a multi-year drought. The computer code that appears in the video is an artificial language that nevertheless is internally consistent and is linked to the text that appears on the screen.
The Ferrovores has been screened to acclaim around the world in festivals and exhibitions of short films, poetry videos, and environmental art. An extended form of the text will be published in Antennae later in 2022. It won the Best Australian Short Experimental film at the Newcastle International Short Film festival in 2021.’
To really learn more about Ian you need to access his website as the content is so wide-ranging!
TAKEN FROM IAN’S EXTRAORDINARY ECLECTIC BIO
Poetry / Video / Music / Science
Language helps makes us human. Yet it often fails to adequately describe things we know or feel. Much of Ian’s poetry explores this failure of language. He has only been writing poetry seriously since about 2007, but was well tutored back in student days by Chris Wallace-Crabbe, amongst others. Ian has been surprised to find his poems getting published and doing well in various national competitions. Highlights so far include being selected for Best Australian Poems 2008 and short-listed for the The Australian Book Review Poetry Prize 2007, Newcastle Poetry Prize 2010 and Ron Pretty Poetry Prize 2014. urban biology (2012) is his first full length collection. In 2014, he published The Microscope Project: How Things Work; Floribunda in 2015; and A Skeleton of Desire in 2018. Ian performs his poetry regularly around Adelaide and beyond, often accompanied by his electronic music and videos.
video art and electronic music…
Ian’s videos have been shown to acclaim in festivals, exhibitions and installations around the world. Several have won major awards. His electronic music / poetry mixes have ended up on ABC Radio National (All in the Mind; Poetica), Going Down Swinging, and Cordite and form a key component of The Microscope Project. He’s also picked up public art commissions for his videos and audio works, including for the Adelaide Convention Centre, the Adelaide City Council and the Adelaide Festival Centre. He has performed with his videos or music at various pubs, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival Fringe (2013), the Adelaide Fringe Festival (2014-2019), and the Queensland Poetry Festival (2014, 2018). In 2015, he won the Studio Instrumental section of the SCALA Festival Of Original Music competition, for his piece Caza. More recently, Ian has been collaborating with other artists on video and audio projects, including several gallery shows.