This section contains a selection of my 16mm film work from the 1970s and 1980s. My approach was strongly influenced by the structuralist work of other artist film makers working at that time. The films were funded by Arts Council England, and featured in their Film Makers on Tour catalogue. They were screened in galleries, colleges and film workshops as part of artists’ presentations. (The independent film workshop movement was a major cultural catalyst at that time, with film makers pooling resources in co-operatives around the country, organising screenings and gaining financial support through regional arts boards and television companies such as Channel 4.)
My early work explores Bolex camera specific image making processes (such as multiple exposure, animation, time exposure and systemised camera movements) to choreograph visionary, metaphoric journeys through rural and coastal landscapes.
“In his two films In Motion and East Coast, Sercombe reveals that attempt at fusing formal, aesthetic and structural operations into a movement on/through landscape. The films use a number of visual possibilities in direct relation to the subject matter: hand held shots for the stream sequence and rapid forward zoom in the forest sequence for In Motion, and in East Coast the use of single frame in the railing/plank sequence. These moments all work towards an equivalence of treatment with ‘content’ which the use of sound reinforces: loop sound of water in the stream sequence, hammering sound in the single frame/railing sequence. ” Michael Maziere, “Content in Context”, Undercut No 7/8, 1983
In the 1990s I began working closely with other artists, such as the composer Sianed Jones. Singing the Horizon (1997) is built from a continuous pan across a flat expanse of reed beds, grazing marshes and windmills in the Norfolk Broads. As it progresses, natural phenomena and encountered forms are transformed into an animated mandala of evolving motifs which Sianed then used as a visual score for her musical response.
Once again, I drew upon a repertoire of camera actions and post production techniques to both mirror and comment upon formal aspects of the observed landscape. The pans (and their layering) became a metaphor for travelling, which was then reinforced by other vectors of movement through the space and frame, such as that of trains, boats, birds and wind blown reed beds.
The exploration of the rhythmic and lyrical possibilities inherent in serial or structural, visual montage is a recurring passion. Much of my work to date has been born of a desire to arrive at a personal definition of ‘visual music’. I seek to organise pro filmic content in ways which draw cues from electroacoustic and other forms of experimental music. This interest has led me to work closely with composers across a number of fields.
Sianed Jones and performance poet Cris Cheek worked with me to develop a live performance and multi screen work entitled Tongues Undone (1999), commissioned by the World Wide Video Festival in Amsterdam. The central theme of the work is the voice, and an exploration of how pure vocal statements can be choreographed into performed and animated movement and gesture. Throughout the piece, graphic symbols and graffiti are translated into vocal sounds, concrete poetry and body movements. Spoken words mutate into animated text on the screen creating a cyclic dialogue between the different linguistic forms.
This exploration of hybrid forms and the meeting points between spoken, written and visual poetic languages is further developed in Maud (2000). Maud quotes a few short fragments from the Alfred Tennyson poem of the same name, which charts a lovelorn protagonist’s descent from joyful anticipation into abject misery at the loss of his heart’s desire. This transition becomes a journey through intense emotion, manifest in stylised visual and aural readings of woodland settings in Norfolk and New Zealand. In the live presentation of the piece in Amsterdam, Sianed Jones embodied Maud and stood within a somber animated landscape as she sang her response to her lovelorn suitor.
A concern for the spirit of place is revisited again in Delirium, made during an artist’s residency in Brisbane in Spring 2006. It’s a heat-crazed, disoriented vision of the city. Tropical vegetation and the natural world collide with its towering cityscape and life is observed via the humid pulse of a slow infrared shutter and flickering, grainy camera style. The film is a collaboration with Tasmanian sound artist Matt Warren, who composed the vocal and electronic underscore.
These short films explore relationships between landscape photography, poetry and the moving image. Three landscape based works, shot along the west coast of Auckland, were shown for a four month season on the outdoor screen run by Auckland Live in Aotea Square, Auckland.
Many of the works involve collaborations with experimental writers, composers and performers. Find me a Word, made with Gus Simonovic, has been featured on the Moving Poems web site. Night is Paper, with novelist Dr Thom Conroy, was made with the support of an artist residency at Massey University in Palmerston North.
Since 2016 I have co-curated an annual one day festival of moving poetry films with Robin Kewell (Flicks Cinema). This has provided the opportunity to premiere my new works in this genre, alongside related short films by Auckland poets, film makers and students. Each year we also select international work to complete the mix. The 2020 programme will involve musicians responding live to a number of projected single screen works.