Cobble Hill filmmaker envisions the end of the world, and the beginning


What: Embodiment 2
When: April 8 through May 8
Tickets: Free

It’s difficult to imagine what the future will look like, especially when a pandemic is clouding our collective vision. But Cobble Hill filmmaker and visual artist Brad Necyk is doing his best to provide some food for thought.

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Necyk is part of the creative team behind Embodiment 2, a virtual exhibition from Montreal dance company Van Grimde Corps Secrets. The event, which opens online Thursday and runs through May 8, explores the human body and the relationship between dance, art, science and technology in myriad ways that push boundaries and provoke conversation.

“It was very, very labour intensive,” Necyk said of his filmmaking for the project, which is so high-resolution it required three computers running simultaneously 24 hours a day to render the 3-D imagery. “There were tens of thousands of dollars of equipment running day and night to produce this piece over six months.”

Necyk, a digital-media sessional instructor at the University of Victoria, created two films for the exhibit, The End of the World and The Birth of the World, both with Edmonton composer Gary James Joynes. They join other cutting-edge creations by an Embodiment 2 team that are wrapped inside science and humanities research.

Necyk has a background in both, which made him an ideal collaborator on the project. His work in art and psychiatry was put to use several years ago for his University of Alberta thesis Telling Stories Otherwise, which looked at mental health through various means of storytelling, from visual art to film and theatre, and interviews with cancer patients, suicide survivors and psychiatric patients.

That led to a research associate position, surrounded by neuroscientists, in the film and digital-media department at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

In December, Necyk, who has his Ph.D in psychiatry, was presented with the Governor General’s Gold Medal, the country’s highest academic honour, for Telling Stories Otherwise. His new films are a continuation of that research, he said. “These are my reflections of my kids’ world, their kids’ world, all generations down the line.”

The End of the World and The Birth of the World were made with the environment in mind. He spent five months filming in Vancouver Island locations ranging from Sombrio Beach and Avatar Grove to Mystic Beach and Englishman River Falls. It was often laborious, he said. “I recorded sunsets in Colwood for two weeks until I got just the right one.”

He also filmed in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, a location he chose for its post-pandemic look. “The world has ended, in some ways, due to this pandemic, and a new one is unfolding right now. When I was making these, I was really thinking about climate and the future.”

Because his footage is layered over images of dancers, the films are purposely abstract and open-ended. “The film is meant to be an experience,” he said. “The idea is that we begin in this lush Vancouver Island landscape — beautiful, green — where everything is full of life. Two people are dancing and expressing themselves, at the end of the world. The sun rises and we’re in this barren, desert landscape, with the film transitioning to these two people coming together and healing at the birth of new world.”

He is currently creating a virtual-reality universe for his imagery, making true-to-life digital structures out of the 3-D world he created for his films in Embodiment 2. Necyk has applied for a Canada Council grant for the project, which would allow viewers to walk through the world he created. “You can move through this universe I made and can go and find the films in different locations and be in the rooms that are in the films themselves.”

He will continue in a similar direction for his next film, The Birth of the Universe, which will “leave Planet Earth and start thinking about cosmic scales.”

Necyk hopes the films will eventually become part of an in-person exhibition. “We’ll do it right when we can.”

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