Filmmaker Talkback: Nathaniel Dorsky on “The Arboretum Cycle”

Since the 1960s, experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky has been making a distinctive and stunning body of work. His silent 16mm films are lyrical explorations of the world around him, focused on the textures, colors, and rhythms of everyday objects and movements. His sharp eye for details reveals the small moments of beauty and wonder to be found everywhere, if one would simply take the time to look. The Arboretum Cycle is comprised of seven of Dorsky’s films, all completed in 2017, and charts “the world of light and plants” over the course of a year.  The filmmaker screened his epic work at the Block Museum of Art on September 28th, 2018 – and sat down with media arts curator Michael Metzger for a fascinating discussion.

About Nathanial Dorsky

Dorsky was a visiting instructor at Princeton University in 2008 and he has been the recipient of many awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship 1997 and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, two from the Rockefeller Foundation, and one from the LEF Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the California Arts Council. He has presented films at the Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern, the Filmoteca Española, Madrid, the Prague Film Archive, the Vienna Film Museum, the Cinemateca Portuguesa in Lisbon, the Pacific Film Archive, the Harvard Film Archive, Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, and frequently exhibits new work at the New York Film Festival’s Views from the Avant-Garde and the Wavelengths program of the Toronto International Film Festival. In the spring of 2012 Dorsky screened films as part of the three month long Whitney Biennial. And in October 2015, the New York Film Festival honored his work with a thirty-four film complete retrospective at Lincoln Center. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times listed this retrospective in second place in her list of the top ten films of 2015.


From The Booklyn Rail

The experience of watching the Arboretum Cycle in its entirety is in some very large sense stunning. It is also reinforcing, with two hours being ample time to take root and bear fruit in the quality of attention. Elohim becomes clarified as a kind of purification ritual, its exquisite stillness persisting into Abaton until an extraordinary gust of wind—and with it the thunderous applause of trees—sets us on our way. This flourish is of a piece with the crescendos that leave so many of Dorsky’s films on high, but the other films of the Arboretum Cycle merely take a short bow before making way for the next turn of the season. By Monody and Epilogue, it begins to feel that the forest is filming itself. (The fact that we see the arboretum alternatively as garden and forest speaks to the cycle’s free reign in the imagination.) Nothing so tangible as a diary, the Arboretum Cycle nevertheless conveys the human-sized happiness of Emerson’s “Circles:” “The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle.” Questions pertaining to both logistics and metaphysics lead back to the same place: the art practice as second nature.

–  Max Goldberg, The Sacred Wood: Nathaniel Dorsky’s Arboretum Cycle (May 1, 2018)

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