Manufactured Landscapes, 2005

During the Q&A for Manufactured Landscapes, filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal indicated that the idea for the film came from photographer Edward Burtynsky’s comment that for every building that rises from the ground, there is a corresponding hole somewhere else where the raw materials have been mined for the construction. This idea of an overarching, interconnected, shifting equilibrium that fuels our material consumption echoes throughout Baichwal’s organic rumination on the repercussions of globalization. Opening to the extended take, tracking shot of a large appliance factory in China as row upon row of visually undifferentiable materials are fabricated (in a languid traveling shot that bears the imprint of Peter Mettler camerawork, most notably in Gambling, Gods and LSD), assembled, and integrated into larger components before emerging in its immediately recognizable form – the clothes iron – the image of the factory as a metaphor for a closed cycle, seemingly self-fueled microcosmos is reinforced in the subsequent shot of scrap workers sifting through mounds of recycled materials to collect reusable metals for smelting, unearthing a battered triangular metal plate that bears the characteristic steam hole vent pattern of an iron. This theme of closely interrelated cycles of production and consumption is also reflected in a subsequent episode at a ship-breaking yard in Southeast Asia (ironically, a destination that is also featured in Michael Glawogger’s ode to the worker at the turn of the century, Workingman’s Death) where old commercial freighters that were once used to transport goods throughout the world are themselves recycled, and consequently, re-enter the cycle that feeds the global economy in a different capacity. But perhaps the most emblematic of this self-exploitive cycle of construction through destruction is illustrated in the implementation of Three Gorges Dam project where local residents, soon to be displaced upon completion of the dam, have been hired to demolish the houses that will be submerged by the diverted water – in essence, chipping away towards their own homelessness. This theme of dislocation is subsequently repeated in the story of a defiant elderly resident who refused to be relocated as real estate investors target her community for high-rise development. Inevitably, what emerges from Burtynsky’s sublime, yet implicitly ignoble transformed landscapes is an uneasy self-reflection that exposes our own implication in perpetuating these insatiable cycles of consumption and (non)disposal, a reminder that the price of industrialization is not a finite measure, but a fulcrum point in a zero sum ecological balance.

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