Argentine-British artist filmmaker Jessica Sarah Rinland proposes a cinema of tactility. Closely observing the work of archivists, archaeologists, anthropologists, naturalists, and others, her films investigate museological and environmental conservation as a creative process. Natural history and science are reoccurring themes, as is the use of analogue formats, specifically 16mm film. The materiality of celluloid film, and the frequent close-up shots of hands, emphasise the haptic, proposing a comparison between the work of the filmmaker and that of the researcherswith whom Rinland often collaborates.  
Jessica Sarah Rinland is the recipient of numerous prizes including Special Mention at Locarno Film Festival for Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another (2019) and has been the subject of retrospectives at Anthology Film Archives, Doc’s Kingdom, Curtocircuito, LSFF and Flaherty Film Seminar.  
In Focus: JessicaSarah Rinlandcomprises a selection of works made between 2006 and 2021 as well as a programme of Argentine experimental filmmaker Narcisa Hirsch’s films, curated by Rinland.  
Narcisa Hirsch (b. 1928) has been an extremely influential presence in the Buenos Aires underground scene since the 1960s. Her work – which defies traditional avant-garde “modes” – brings together the structural with the mythological and diaristic. Despite playfully referring to herself as “una famosa cineasta desconocida” (a famous unknown filmmaker), her work has earned widespread international recognition in the last decade, thanks to the efforts of the Filmoteca Narcisa Hirsch and the dedication of researchers such as Federico Windhausen and Erin Graff Zivin.


“The Earth Shall Be Made A Common Treasury”

By James Lattimer

Our mothers know us better than anyone else and perhaps not just us, but our cinema too. In Querida Chick (2021), Jessica Sarah Rinland sends her mother a film by experimental cinema legend Chick Strand and we hear her reactions to it. Her mother immediately grasps the similarities between the two filmmakers, saying that when the film began, it reminded her of her daughter’s work. As she continues to give her impressions, it’s not always entirely clear which of them relate to Strand’s film and which to those her child makes; she sees a lot in what she watches either way.

Leaving direct comparisons aside (it’s enough to say, as Rinland herself does, that Strand is as a key influence), it’s striking how much of what the mother says about the film also seems to get to the heart of Rinland’s cinema: the camerawork that prioritises hands over bodies, especially when showing work, the way it seems to speak of everything at once as if it were entirely natural to do so, its specific sense of intimacy, its beautiful shots of nature’s greens. Rinland’s films are indeed a tactile experience above all, not least in their sustained engagement with the natural world; they are not interested in conventional explanations and never reference one thing without referencing many others at the same time; in their focus and patience, there is indeed an intimacy – focused, organic, serene.

I first came into contact with Rinland’s work when I saw Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another (2019) at the Locarno Film Festival. Back then, I wrote that the filmmaker, artist and cinematographer’s debut feature pushes towards “a representation of process itself”, with the same idea of process informing many of her other films too. In that particular film, Rinland shows the painstaking fabrication, deliberate breaking and subsequent repair of a replica elephant tusk, carefully embedding this one process among multiple related ones to conjure up such a heightened, oddly soothing state of pure process that this almost becomes the subject of the film.  
Although this sense of pure process is perhaps unique to Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another, nearly all of Rinland’s films are predicated on watching different processes unfold. Bosque (2006), for example, makes the changes in a piece of British woodland visible after it is cleared over a period of two years, just as Sol de Campinas (2021) surveys how earth is scraped and sifted and remains are extracted at an archaeological dig in Brazil as an ancient civilisation comes to the surface. Expression of the Sightless (2016) has a blind man trace the lines, surfaces and folds of a Victorian statue with his hands to progressively grasp the ensemble of figures it depicts, and the narrator of Darse cuenta (2008) enters a 10-day iterative loop to avoid falling into the hole on the pavement outside, while the members of the Elmbridge Natural History Society scrutinise, catalogue and care for the flora and fauna of their local wetlands in Southern England in Black Pond (2018).  
Rinland observes the individual actions she finds in these disparate settings with total focus and a characteristic sense of the tactile – wrinkled fingers wandering over marble, digits decorated with pink nail polish chiselling slithers of plaster from a tusk, a patch of fur being carefully snipped off the back of a bat – before loosely stringing them together to make the underlying processes they form part of tangible. Trajectories and tendencies emerge along the way, albeit without pressing towards completeness or conventional coherence: in Rinland’s hands, each process often lacks an obvious beginning or end, can intermingle with, be interrupted by or form parallels with any other and be broken down into ever smaller fragments. Like the people she observes, she collects and catalogues, albeit according to a free-floating, open-ended logic all of her own.  
The wider contexts that inform these processes are also evoked in similarly loose-limbed, boundary-less fashion. Discourses past and present appear or are alluded to, theory seeps into practice and countless ideas come together and percolate, yet explicit argumentation or explanation are conspicuous by their absence; even when voiceovers or intertitles appear, they are not given primacy, but rather form another layer among many. That hands are frequent protagonists of her films is a natural consequence of the focus on process; while modern technologies do impinge, the lion’s share of all these processes are still carried out by hand, augmented by tape measures, scissors, suction machines and sponges. 
Of all the contexts in which these processes unfold, the natural world is the one which repeatedly comes to the fore, its myriad non-human entities and their movements, colours, textures and forms repeatedly wresting emphasis away from the various hands and their endeavours. The silhouette of the plant in the window, the glistening mosses and amphibians that lurk in the forest or the dogs and ticks lying in wait on the ground – nature is all-pervading and is treated as such, not a separate realm or force but an inevitable part of the (any) process.  
In Y Berá – Bright Waters (2016), humans have disappeared altogether, merely present in the written and spoken descriptions that catalogue the many shimmering organisms to be found in a vast Argentinian wetland, even as the off-kilter formulations and their cadences convey a strangeness that suggests that such natural abundance will always defy full description. And this idea encapsulates Rinland’s general approach to filming nature or even filming in general: piecing together, offering up and sharing as much richness and complexity as possible, a sentiment also echoed by the ravishing quote that brings Black Pond to a close: “The earth shall be made a common treasury”.

James Lattimer is a festival programmer, film curator and critic based in Berlin and Athens.