Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Duncan Whitley

About

Duncan Whitley is a contemporary artist and filmmaker, whose creative practice spans artists’ moving-image, documentary field recording and spatial sound installation. He is currently working as Filmmaker in Residence with Film and Television Studies until September 2023.

Duncan was trained in the visual arts, graduating from Kingston University with a 1st Class Hons Degree in Fine Art Intermedia in 1999. He has presented site-specific projects, audiovisual works and live multichannel sound works in the UK and internationally. His audiovisual works have been exhibited at Aesthetica Film Festival, Coventry Biennial, Cafe OTO, Flatpack Film Festival, Whitechapel Gallery, The Whitworth, Centro de Arte Experimental de UNSAM (Buenos Aires), Monte (Buenos Aires), Museo de Bellas Artes Salta (Argentina), EMASESA (Seville), Serralves Museum (Porto), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, b-side Festival, and CTRL_ALT_DEL sound art festival (Istanbul).

(Scroll down to below blog content for examples of recent work)

Filmmaker in Residence

I am working as Filmmaker in Residence at Film and Television Studies for research and development of a hypothetical film project, “Vanishing Point”, to explore themes of movement, migration and loss through an experimental ‘British road movie’. The project will develop through interdisciplinary research and experimental film production over the residency period. The first phase of research consists in two broad strands: migration studies, through exchange and collaboration with members of the Borders Race Ethnicity and Migrations (BREM) network; and cinema studies, with the aim of deconstructing the road movie as part of a process leading to a nonlinear, digital storyboard. Phase two research will focus on writing, experimental storyboard processes and technical development, which in principle will lead to production work across the final phase of the residency.

Residency Blog

[October 2022]


The first phase of development through the residency at Film and Television Studies involves two broad strands of research:

  1. Film studies research, looking at key tendencies of the ‘road movie’ or ‘journey’ genre of cinema (including narrative tendencies, cinematography, the role and meanings of landscape), to arrive at an expanded definition of the genre.
  2. Migrations and borders research, looking at the ideologies, media narratives and realities of the precarious movement of people (in particular post-2015, in the context of the so-called ‘European migration crisis’ and the UK European membership referendum), and how they come to define British, and in particular English, national identity through processes of statecraft.

These research strands represent two of the key areas which will inform the development of Vanishing Point, and reflect the driving interest behind the project to explore the potential of the ‘road movie’ (in its expanded definition) to ‘speak to’ a particular mood of contemporary Britain. To a degree (though Vanishing Point will look and feel different), I’m thinking of this film as a companion piece to my penultimate film, Kimberlin, whose title is a dialectal word for a person living on the Isle of Portland who does not descend from a lineage of at least two generations of Portlanders, or by extension, a foreigner or stranger. Where Kimberlin explored the idea of belonging through the particular landscape of the Isle of Portland (and to a degree exhibits a degree of site-specificity, developed through workshops with a group of non-actors on the island), Vanishing Point will explore a national landscape.

In the second phase of the residency I plan to begin writing the film (although there will be some overlap and fluidity between research phases). This 'writing' will develop through a number of parallel processes, one of which will involve the development of a non-linear digital storyboard, extending directly from the phase one film studies research, by feeding analyses of shot composition and camera movements into a storyboarding process in which film analysis and writing meet. This will take place alongside a screenwriting process which I propose to develop through a series of workshops with (non-professional) actors.


[November 2022]

The first research strand of Vanishing Point has been focused on gaining a broad understanding of some of the key issues around migration and border politics explored by members of the interdisciplinary Borders Race Ethnicity and Migrations (BREM) network. This work will continue into (at least) December, through reading, meetings with a group of researchers from BREM and experimental image work. One of the key observations which feels pertinent to the development of Vanishing Point, is that experiences of cross-border migration are typified not only by movement but by dead-ends, stasis and containment. Time may not be that of the linear trajectory suggested by the image of the vanishing point of the iconic long, straight road (emblematic of the ‘road movie’ - in particular its North American genus) but rather are often characterised by stranger experiences of time or timelessness, for example in the limbo status of people seeking asylum in the UK without access to right or resources of citizenship.

What is also clear is the consensus that there is no one experience of cross-border migration, and no one 'typical migrant'. This should be a common-sense statement, but the voices coming from UK politicians, mainstream media and even from well-intentioned human-rights NGO's are intent on creating overly simplistic, singular images of the trans-national migrant. In his Illegal Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders (2010), Sharam Khosravi describes the ways in which the stories of refugees are often not believed by officials if they do not conform to a particular universalised image of 'refugeeness'.

Image depicting a young woman with her daughter walking along a road, viewed from behind. The image is a stylised vector image in B&W, other than the young woman's backpack which is in colour, in the colours of the Venezuelan flag.
Image depicting a young woman with her daughter walking along a road, viewed from behind. The image is a stylised vector image in B&W, other than the young woman's backpack which is in colour, in the colours of the Venezuelan flag.
Image depicting a young woman with her daughter walking along a road, viewed from behind. The image is a stylised vector image in B&W, other than the young woman's backpack which is in colour, in the colours of the Venezuelan flag.
Image depicting a young woman with her daughter walking along a road, viewed from behind. The image is a stylised vector image in B&W, other than the young woman's backpack which is in colour, in the colours of the Venezuelan flag.
Image depicting a young woman with her daughter walking along a road, viewed from behind. The image is a stylised vector image in B&W, other than the young woman's backpack which is in colour, in the colours of the Venezuelan flag.
Image depicting a young woman with her daughter walking along a road, viewed from behind. The image is a stylised vector image in B&W, other than the young woman's backpack which is in colour, in the colours of the Venezuelan flag.

Above: an image sequence from experimental work exploring techniques and aesthetic avenues for working with and transforming found footage. This particular sequence came out of conversations Mauricio Palmer-GutiérrezLink opens in a new window about the meanings of the "morralito tricolor": a rucksack bearing the colours of the Venezuelan flag, originally distributed free to schoolchildren and now commonly used by Venezuelans to carry personal belongings during cross-border migratory journeys.

[December 2022]
Experimental practice: Why bother storyboarding?


One of the ways that I propose to make experimental practice central to my residency project is, counter-intuitively, by studying more conventional methods of writing film through the practices of screen-writing and storyboarding. Within the framework of my film-making practice this feels radical: I have never ‘written’ a film, I cannot draw, and I have never produced a screenplay, script or a storyboard to assist production.

I tend to have a vision of what I want to do and how I plan to do it which centres on a series of ‘spaces’ that I’ll need to tell a story - these spaces might be specific images, complete scenes, or simply types of image, movements or moods - but with no exact plan as to how these will fit together to create the story. The process of ordering images into sequences to create a narrative shape takes place in the edit, and I begin to edit during the production phase (and also continue to shoot images where necessary during post-production). Soundtrack production runs in parallel to this fluid production-post-production visual workflow, influencing the narrative form of the film as much as supporting it. Working with composer Guido Zen (AKA Abul Mogard), our collaborative and creative workflow involves a to-and-fro of visual and aural ideas, taking place materially through an exchange of production rushes and musical sketches which inform and influence one another. For this reason, it’s been important to date that initial soundtrack production with Abul has developed during production phases of a project, with the soundtrack and visual edit beginning to converge through post-production. It takes longer than the conventional workflow in which a ‘locked-off’ picture edit gets sent to the sound department, but the process is important to me as it allows sound to influence to shape and duration of the film, thus challenging the image-to-sound hierarchical relationship which dominates the audiovisual medium in both film and television.

The proposition of placing experimental storyboarding and writing processes at the heart of Vanishing Point serves several functions. On one level, ‘writing’ a film proposes a pragmatic approach to developing a work that will evolve through multiple storylines: separate narratives played out by different characters, stories which don’t explicitly interact but which obliquely collide as co-existent spaces through an overarching narrative form, in what might loosely be described as a ‘hyperlink’ structure. What I am more interested in however, is how a storyboarding process might be used to bring film analysis (based on archival research) and writing into creative research-writing-filmmaking process.


[January 2023]
Wanda, Wendy, Amanda and others on the edge

The idea of the vanishing point is on the one hand emblematic of the road and its associated landscapes, telegraph poles and electricity pylons cutting across the swathes of countryside. Its converging parallel lines on the horizon suggest a destination, a movement towards, a journey (even if we can never really arrive at that illusory point of convergence). Whilst I intend to come back to themes of movement and vision, and their metaphoric connections with the journey - it is impossible to ignore that the camera movements in today’s cinema still use tracks, a mechanism whose origins trace back to George Albert Smith’s A Kiss in the Tunnel (1898), in which a camera was affixed to the front of a train - I am concerned here with a different reading of the phrase ‘vanishing point’, as suggestive of invisibility, a being outside of society. Beyond its beat romanticism, being on the road can be read as a being between places: a space of vulnerability or precarity. In the UK, the 1824 Vagrancy Act which makes it a criminal offence to sleep rough is still in force today, and is regularly used both formally and informally by UK police. The practice of ‘squatting’ was made illegal in the UK in 2011, through section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 criminalises trespass, and is anticipated to impact on the lives of Gypsies, Travellers and others who live a nomadic lifestyle, whether by choice or by necessity. These state practices make it disturbingly easy for lives to fall into spaces of precarity, to disappear from view (of mainstream society).

There are a number of significant independent ‘road’ films whose stories revolve around individuals whose lives fall between the gaps of Western society, notably: Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970), Vagabond (Agnés Varda, 1985), My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991), Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008) and American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016). These films are amongst a group of works which I’m interested in as reference points for the writing of Vanishing Point, through an experimental process which will use film analysis as a tool for screenwriting and storyboarding.

Image depicting a woman browsing in a shopping mall. There are mannequins in a shop window.
Image depicting a woman browsing in a shopping mall. There are mannequins in a shop window.
Image depicting a woman browsing in a shopping mall. There are mannequins in a shop window.
Image depicting a woman browsing in a shopping mall, inside a shop. The mall lights create reflections in the shop window.
Image depicting a woman browsing in a shopping mall. She is stood in front of a display of jewelry.
Image depicting a woman sat down in a shopping mall. She is eating takeaway food.

Upper three images: Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970). Lower three images: Chain (Jem Cohen, 2004).

In this early stage of phase two research/ pre-production, I’m working on a comparative analysis of three ‘road films’ - Barbara Loden’s seminal Wanda, Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, and Jem Cohen’s Chain (2004). All three films were shot on 16mm (albeit with different aspect ratios), and all three follow a lone female character in the United States - two in the case of Cohen’s Chain, whose stories have no real overlap - but beyond this the choice of films might initially seem arbitrary, guided more by intuition than any strict criteria. These three films form the basis for this process, but the methodology allows the fluidity for me to bring in further references, for example Vagabond, American Honey and Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016). In this way, the process will allow me to analyse particular types of representation, through an observation of commonalities and typologies (and their differences).

The process is a visual one, taking place within the editing environment, identifying loose scene typologies (e.g. figure in landscape, sleeping figure, campfire, cafeteria scene, etc) and subsequently breaking down their functions and meaning through further analysis. The aim is twofold: to work towards a written and an audiovisual essay using comparative film analysis as a methodological prompt; and the development of elements for a non-linear digital storyboard, out of which Vanishing Point will begin to take shape. The methodology is flexible and intuitive, in the same way as my usual editing process would be: responsive to the collision and resonances of abutted images, to rhythm and coincidence, shapes and forms. The approach is also an inherently hypertextual practice, bringing together a series of unconnected stories into a visual flow, which can feed into screenwriting development for Vanishing Point. Specifically, the focus on Wanda, Wendy and Chain form part of creative research into one of Vanishing Point’s parallel storylines, which will orient around a young, female protagonist.

This image depicts an amusement arcade, within a shopping mall.
This image depicts a young woman sleeping in an amusement arcade.
This image depicts a young woman sleeping in an amusement arcade.
This image depicts a young woman sleeping inside a car, at night. A young man walking past peers in through the car window.
This image depicts a young woman sleeping inside a car, at night. A young man walking past peers in through the car window.
This image depicts a young woman sleeping inside a car, at night. A young man walking past peers in through the car window.

Upper three images: Chain (Jem Cohen, 2004). Lower three images: Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008).


Recent projects

Kimberlin (2019). A short film ostensibly about the discovery of an underground cinema on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, produced on Portland in the months following the United Kingdom’s European Union membership referendum. The title refers to a dialectal word for a person living on the Isle of Portland who does not descend from a lineage of at least two generations of Portlanders, a person from Weymouth, or by extension a foreigner or outsider. Kimberlin features a soundtrack composed by Abul Mogard, which was released as a soundtrack LP on Ecstatic Recordings.

Format: Single-screen video with multichannel sound.
Duration: 24 mins 05 secs (2022 cut)

Watch the teaser: https://vimeo.com/385587419Link opens in a new window


Phoenix City 2021
. A short film combining documentary and speculative fiction to observe Coventry through the process of the megacultural event UK City of Culture. The film was commissioned by Coventry Biennial to exhibit as a context-responsive work in HYPER-POSSIBLE (October 2021 - February 2022) during UK City of Culture 2021, and beyond this context-specific setting can be read as a critical exploration of UK City of Culture’s placemaking agenda.

Phoenix City 2021 features a special collaboration with composer Abul Mogard, with contributions from Jaguar Land Rover Band (now Brass Band of Central England), including a specially commissioned Fanfare for Coventry (UK City of Culture) performed at the opening ceremony for Coventry Biennial 2021.

Format: Single-screen video with multichannel sound.
Duration: 24 mins 02secs


Phoenix City 2021 (Reprise)
. A ‘remix’ of Phoenix City 2021 in collaboration with Abul Mogard, commissioned by University of Warwick and Coventry University for ‘Coventry Creates’.

Format: Single-screen video with stereo sound.
Duration: 16 mins 04 secs

Watch Phoenix City 2021 (Reprise): https://vimeo.com/647805233Link opens in a new window


Entre Naranjos y Cal / Between the Orange Tree and the Lime
(2017). An experimental short film shot dedicated to flamenco singer and tabernero Pepe Peregil. The film is part ethnomusicological study and part audiovisual poem meditating on the themes of presence and absence through flamenco song in Seville's Semana Santa (Easter Week) celebrations.

Format: Single-screen video with multichannel sound.
Duration: 17 mins 03 secs

Read more about the project on the British Library’s Sound and Vision blog:
https://blogs.bl.uk/sound-and-vision/2022/04/between-the-orange-tree-and-the-lime.htmlLink opens in a new window


Things Fall Apart (2017). A part-documentary film depicting a disenfranchised community and their local battle for the intangible values of place, identity and belonging, in which a major international hedge fund appears to hold the cards. Set in the heart of the West Midlands, the film follows a group of football supporters in Coventry, as their club is uprooted from the city during a dispute over a stadium and casino complex involving a local charity, the city council and the hedge fund owners of the football club.

Format: Single-screen video with multichannel sound.
Duration: 16 mins 25 secs

Watch the teaser: https://vimeo.com/222749301Link opens in a new window


The Creature in Between
(2016). A collaborative artistic experimentation organised by The Appreciation Society, beginning with a pilot phase in 2016 hosted at the Centro Cultural Tewok, in Santa Victoria Este (Argentina). The pilot featured visiting artists Guadalupe Miles, Mateo Carabajal, Elba Bairon, Claudia Fontes and myself, sharing our creative processes during a ten-day ‘colaboratorio’ with local artists from the Wichí community in Santa Victoria II.

Read more about the project: https://claudiafontes.com/project/the-creature-in-between/Link opens in a new window 
Listen to a collaborative sound recording with ‘Mawó’ Juan Mendoza: https://on.soundcloud.com/RjgYbLink opens in a new window