Scott Barley, the last link in a short chain of true cinematographic artists that include Jean Epstein, Robert Bresson, Béla Tarr and Philippe Grandrieux brings [to the Centre of Contemporary Culture Barcelona] the recent remastering of two of his most powerful works: Hunter and Womb.
What to say that I haven't already said about the cinema of this man-all-alone, who travels alone to the mountains at night to film wonderful places of sleep and death with his iPhone? The fact of being able to revisit two of the most visionary and stimulating films of the decade, two films that delve the most into the cosmological and the eternal, making you lose yourself in their form and their darkness is something that transcends the corporal, that dive in the territory of the soul and into the abyss of the unfathomable. The auditorium hall vibrated to Hunter's piercing and mystical melodies, while in his image, flashes of light were seen in black, deep black water. The quiet hills and the stars that appeared and disappeared in the lullaby of the river recreated the echo of times that are now silent. The spirit emanating from an invisible current, which connects with the sky and in turn descends between the margins of a screen-window, could evoke the true “Mystery” [...] All that and more, much more, under the watchful eye of the dark and the slightest incursion of a human hand trying to reach something unreachable.
[...] The journey of discovery, the continual urge to ask questions rather than answer them. The void that is filled with something invisible but beautiful. The immobile bodies of Womb, the spatial matrix, the hole that opens between the stars and forces you to look inside. There was a passion and a truth in Barley's images that afternoon, like a halo that escaped from banal interpretation and configured itself as heir to the “Form”.
"During the day we investigate, but at night we believe," said Henry James Slack, and I repeat again: Scott Barley does not make movies from light, but in spite of it.
– Borja Castillejo Calvo, FILM CRITIC Cinesinfin
Redolent of the films of Sokurov and Tarkovsky, Scott Barley's feature debut invites us to contemplate landscape, shape, texture and light, but often in absentia. It is a nocturne of long, static takes, wordless, yet vivid, even ecstatic in moments of searing, revelatory and indelidble beauty. All the more remarkable, it was largely shot on on an iPhone. An extraordinary work. – Tom Charity, CURATOR, FILM CRITIC
on Sleep Has Her House
Hinterlands marks a point of deviation, compressing tendencies seen in all that came before it into a single pressurised short that explodes with an intensity that foreshadows the feature [Sleep Has Her House] that would follow.
Shot from a moving vehicle looking up, fixed in perspective but featuring continual motion, the film features a rolling red shepherd’s sunset caught between two lines of trees, black shadows that punctuate the crimson streaks of cloud. Before long, the sequence begins to fracture, a shuddering baseline accompanying the juddering frame, before erupting entirely into frenzy. The image strobes whilst the camera spirals, red lines blurring into haptic disarray.
“I try to convey feelings… especially ones that I cannot rationalise, or understand,” Barley says, “and I try to translate that into cinema,” something that this film speaks to. Subjugated no more, with Hinterlands, that which had been felt quietly is now unleashed with a roar.
– Matt Turner, FILM CRITIC Sight & Sound
Like Warhol’s earliest films on sleep, sex and eating, and the fluxus experiments before them, Sleep Has Her House uses a composite of new and old technologies to recalibrate the audience to a slower, more primeval clock of waking and sleeping life.
– Erik Morse, ART CRITIC
Frieze, Issue 193, March 2018
Barley, an installation artist and filmmaker from Wales, has more in common with the long-dead Caspar David Friedrich, a 19th-century Romantic landscape painter, than any contemporary avant-gardist.
Sleep Has Her House is a 90-minute landscape film of minor movements and subtle changes; it’s at times so still, so tranquil the screen begins to resemble a projected painting. Then a stream will flow, a gust of wind will blow across the trees. But Sleep’s mostly unoccupied vistas—no humans, a few scattered animals—are entirely staggering in their audio-visual scope, not unified or mappable to the viewer, but always greater than we can see, more terrifying than what we can hear. Friedrich would often place meagre humans or their ruins in the foreground of a far greater natural backdrop. That is not necessary here; this is a film that by sheer aesthetic magnitudes dwarfs its spectator in every possible way.
Barley’s method is closer to Sokurov’s than Tarkovsky’s; he is not merely adopting the philosophy of a mode of painting, but distilling its form through the centrifuge of another medium.
Sleep Has Her House is a strange, contradictory amalgam; Barley is finding the terrible sublime not through a life-altering encounter with a thunderstorm or even an imagination of it through oil on canvas, but through grand footage shot on nothing less than an iPhone. With no words and no characters, Sleep Has Her House seeps down into the deepest crevices of our collective soul, engaging a fear spiritual in its disposition. This is a visual and aural language of the apocalypse, a crisis of faith in its purest, most elemental form.
– Josh Cabrita, FILM CRITIC The Georgia Straight
Barley’s film is certainly the strongest film I have seen in years. There have been many films which touched me, but not in the same way. Sleep Has Her House stands out. This is as far as my words can take it. All I can do now is strongly recommend the film. Words cannot adequately translate experience. You naturally lose most of that experience because you try to find words for something that has no words. – Nadin Mai, FILM CRITIC, WRITER The Art(s) of Slow Cinema
A green aurora shimmering across the sky morphs into the reflection of a forest animated by the ripples on the surface of a lake and back again, only for this same operation to be repeated with a mountainside in an endless change of state from plasma to liquid to solid that is nothing short of a cosmic alchemy choreographed in the very mechanics of the image as the production of the visible [...] What is most remarkable about the incommensurability of elements figured in Barley’s film, however, is that way that it is not only the manifest content of the image that remains enmeshed in the thickness of the formless but our very perception of it also. Indeed, the indiscernibility we have witnessed here between the very ground of possibility of the visible and the visible itself, between the object of the gaze and the gaze itself augurs a radically different sensory regime in which the henotic formlessness of sensation is retained in the passage towards perception [...] Our unprecedented knowledge accreted across time has led us to a realisation in the here and now that we are ourselves inextricably bound up in the fate of the universe, not a discrete figure drawn on a background called “nature” or, depending on the scalar dimension we deploy, cosmos but, rather, a zone of intensity on a plane that may at any point be distributed in space and indeed matter very differently from how we are now. And at this point we can perhaps intuit the way in which the incommensurability instigated between the shot of the night sky and the noisy figuration of our perceptual field is not limited to our perception but extends out to our very material being as nothing other than the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron and sulphur formed in the nucleosynthesis of supernovae, as stardust.
– Greg Hainge, CULTURAL HISTORIAN
And suddenly, by the sheer force of [Barley’s] films, the artist tears away this veil of Maya, resistant to the flames of “barbaric” presence, to use the adjective of Jean Epstein; that is to say, a noumenal presence, not a phenomenal one. Suddenly someone is not content to “take for granted”, someone sees.
“When I look at the sky between the stars, I can only see what has disappeared” (Jean-Luc Godard, In the Darkness of Time, 2002). Like those of Jean-Luc Godard but conversely because they are radically minimalist in their production as in their design, the films of Scott Barley possess a visionary power. They contemplate what we censor; they define what we repress; they unfurl what we rebuff; they sublimate what we are unable to observe. But it is not only a question of our psychic processes, it is indeed the real objectified, targeted and sometimes attained by the hard sciences. Like those artists of the negative, such as William Blake who, in observing the stars had foreseen the existence of an antimatter long before physics could envisage it, Scott Barley offers us images of what is there but which, out of ignorance or anguish, we have mutated into absence.
On April 10th, 2019, the world cried with joy and amazement at the sight of the first image of a Black Hole, and this reaction was recognised by the spectators of Sleep Has Her House: just as scientists were gathering the data that would lead to the production of this image, in 2017, Scott Barley had recently finished his Black Hole, marking the end of his resplendent film, Sleep Has Her House. Science meets poetry.
– Nicole Brenez, FILM HISTORIAN, CRITIC, CURATOR
Unlike a filmmaker like James Benning—to whom Barley has been compared—this filmmaking doesn’t so much seem to be calling for a return to the basic properties of nature to form a resistance against modernity in cinema practices as to suggest how painterly abstractions can be created through the simplest of means. Barley crafts images that are extremely sensual in their materialism but minimal in every other sense. Although each works in isolation, when placed in succession they take on an intense emotional weight, layer upon layer of painterly compositions in a rich tapestry of gentle motion.
If Sleep Has Her House at first calls to mind the expressionist landscapes of Peter Hutton, Victor Sjöström and, yes, [Jean-Marie] Straub, the formal apocalypse of its final act recalls the smeary digital cacophony of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's Leviathan, and Sleep Has Her House similarly foregrounds the forceful capacities of DV cameras. By removing his filmmaking from any traditional sense of narrative, character, and, even temporal/spatial unity, Barley invites us to see the world—and the cinematic image—anew.
– James Slaymaker, FILM CRITIC, WRITER
It certainly does not feel an exaggeration to say that Barley merits being considered one of the best artists working in Britain today.
– Giuliano Vivaldi, CRITIC, WRITER
Moving Image Artists (MIA)
Scott Barley's Sleep Has Her House was the single most momentous hour and a half in the dark for me this year, a tenebrous landscape film shapeshifting between reality and nightmare, cinema and dream.
– Tom Charity, CURATOR, FILM CRITIC
Sight & Sound Best films 2017 Poll
"If we needed another reminder that the greatest filmmaker of the millennial generation has arrived, Scott Barley’s Hunter (2015) is just that. – Jesse Richards, FILMMAKER, THE REMODERNIST FILM MOVEMENT (CO-FOUNDER)
The last twenty minutes of the film depict the apocalypse, the end of the world and of images [...] In Sleep Has Her House, death – the end of the world – emerges as the transgression of a limit, an experience that is both ecstatic and intolerable, to the point that even the images can not record it (the screen is black).Paraphrasing [Georges] Bataille’s Eroticism, Sleep Has Her House, a beautiful debut, is a film that ‘affirms life even in death.’
– Lorenzo Baldassari, FILM CRITIC
Lo Specchio Scuro
Barley's internalization of the universe is unwavering. With amazing sound design, Womb is another hypnotic concoction and nice addition to the prolific young artist's growing filmography. There is always something more primordial about Barley's work. His images are devoid of symbols or layered contexts but completely bare and visceral.
– Dustin Chang, FILM CRITIC
Plunging us as deep as possible into the darkness both frightening and intimate, [Sleep Has Her House] provides one of the most unique watching experiences in years.
If Béla Tarr (of some parallel universe) had been asked to create an hour and a half intermission for the National Geographic after-midnight broadcast, the resulting opus would have certainly felt close to Barley's cinematic phantasm.
– Nikola Gocić, FILM CRITIC
NG boo Art
To simply call it a movie feels inherently wrong. Sleep Has Her House is more akin to a transcendental experience; you are absorbed into a void where only light and darkness become the defining traits of existence.
– FilmBizarro, FILM CRITIC
Best Films of 2017
Barley's images cry “behold!” across valleys and mist-doused horizons, rendering timid pastoral British scenes into epic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. This is a document of uncanny stillness, of being isolated simultaneously in awe and daunted by the magnitude of the elements.
– Luke Moody, PRODUCER, CURATOR
on Sleep Has Her House
Sight & Sound Best films 2017 Poll
L’Avventura for the Starless...
– Phil Solomon, FILMMAKER
on Nightwalk (2013)
[Sleep Has Her House] is a very beautiful film, hypnotic… I felt a dialogue with certain images in my own films, and especially in the relationships between sound and image. It is a film on the secret of the nature, on what the eyes do not see, but the soul does. Nature, phantasmagorical cinema, a state of shadows, of what? It never reveals to us. It is precisely the opposite of what cinema, as we know it, usually is. This telluric film is about the inner state that leads the spectator to have an astonishing relationship with the invisible. This is precisely a cinema which proposes to seek and think about the origin of images in itself. – Paula Gaitán, FILMMAKER
Barley’s visual world is not made for the sake of pure sensation. His vision is deeply ethical. In the age of Anthropocene that writers and artists speculate the vision of the end of the world, Barley’s cinematic world is complex and illuminating. On the one hand, he presents the world without humans, with the film not having a single image of humans. This world may be the world before humans, or the world after the humans. On the other hand, this world without us can also be a world with us, because Barley’s cinema allows us to bear witness of that nonhuman world. Slowly, we see the animal, the tree, the river, co-existing with us in their spaces and times. Human’s sense of time is different from the nonhuman’s sense of time. Yet, Barley’s cinema allows us to experience, for a moment, what would it be to live within the other world, the one that we are not the centre of.
– Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn, FILM SCHOLAR
I realised how very long it had been since a new film both filled me with absolute wonder and satisfied my deepest cravings for cinema itself. It made me ask myself, 'Where am I?' in the most precise and hopeful way. – Dennis Cooper, WRITER, FILMMAKER on Sleep Has Her House
Scott Barley is closer to J.M.W. Turner than any other filmmaker of his generation. – Victor Guimarães, FILM CRITIC
A spectral landscape where human traces have completely disappeared. Only animals under the cover of darkness quietly await the arrival of a mystic spirit diffusing over the forest basins. This feature-length cinematic nocturne is a nightmare, a romantic excursion into unbridled wilderness, and an apocalyptic vision in one. Employing slowly passing images of dusky and seemingly deserted landscapes, Barley envelops nature in a cloak of impenetrable mystery, transcendental repose, and chilling expectation.
Painting with an iPhone! I had the most amazing aesthetic experience for a long time.
90 minutes with landscapes, rivers, valleys, woods, sunset, barely visible graphic prints on the film screen, from pleasure to nightmare, no dialogue, cinéma pur, a rollercoaster of impressions and associations, remembering our Danish master, Per Kirkeby [when] seeing some of the colourful images, [... or] thinking of Casper David Friedrich of course but also of Muybridge and his horses, or maybe better of the white horse in Pirjo Honkasalo’s Three Rooms of Melancholia.
It’s Götterdämmerung without Wagner but with lightning and thunder at a sound level that made me want to hold my ears and close my eyes to avoid the epileptic seizures that I could have inherited from my father.
I can’t remember being so much physically attacked by the film medium. I read that [Scott Barley] was born in 1992, this Anselm Kiefer of cinema... gosh, I was suffering with this nightmarish pleasure!
– Tue Steen Müller, FILM CRITIC
on Sleep Has Her House
I write from the point of view of an already liberated history, where the major artists are Maya Deren, Paul Leduc or Jean-Pierre Lajournade. Exactly as, in literature, we know that history was forged by Mallarmé and Proust a little more than by Delly and Karl May. So to give a contemporary equivalent, I posit that Mexican collective Los Ingrávidos and Welsh filmmaker Scott Barley matter more to the [history of cinema] than Steven Spielberg or James Cameron. – Nicole Brenez, FILM HISTORIAN, CRITIC, CURATOR Les Inrockuptibles
The are moments within Sleep Has Her House of such exquisite and subtle rendering of “moving light in place” that I have always dreamed of experiencing in the cinema. A black forest film to be entered into only with great care and caution. Scott Barley has dared us to imagine a cinema of such fragile – and terrifying – beauty (reclaiming once again that real definition of “awesome”, the sublime) that places the both the film and the viewer on equal footing of corporal existence by the closing credits.
– Phil Solomon, FILMMAKER
A fittingly dark film, elementally black almost, both in terms of the images – many of which are filmed at the greatest depths of night or in such thick fog as to be almost indeterminable – and in the mood, one of mounting, crushing despair, or rather, fear in the face of enormity. Shot over four days across remote Wales and Scotland, with a post-production period lasting much longer, similar to the films that came before it but more impressive in almost every way. Here Barley showcases a sense of control that had eluded him before, creating consistently arresting images, commanding the pacing and building an atmosphere that shifts gradually but noticeably, from serenity towards chaos. The duration is essential too; it takes time for these sequences to have their effect, and really for the first time, they are afforded it.
Barley was originally a fine artist, and his filmmaking practice remains informed by his painting, recording individual images then layering them over each other into stacked plains, a “method that brings back a sense of texture and tactility that I loved from painting in a sculptural way, where I was painting with my hands with large amounts of oils, ash, spider’s silk, stone, tree bark etc.”
This technique produces a dimensionality in the image, and also a plasticity, the effect of which is often astounding, the real made ethereal through mounting and manipulation, hundreds of representational images layered to make something much more uncanny. Hard, fixed single images become soft and malleable through duplication. An early extended sequence focuses on a enormous waterfall, the blending of the veneered images creating a blurred effect like that produced by slow shutter speed photography, but in motion. The sequence transitions seamlessly between shots recorded at different distances, the cuts made invisible through layering, creating a long take that moves magically between perspectives.
The film concludes with violence, a great storm made from a collage of deafening sonic constructions and increasingly indeterminable, obfuscated images (most striking: closeups of a horse’s eye, whitened and fearful) giving way to total apocalypse. The film’s final cataclysmic stroboscopic image seems to directly reference the filmmaker’s earlier experiments with total abstraction, where chaos was welcomed. A reset button smashed at the first sight of familiarity or comfort.
From here, it is hard to think where the filmmaker – already well underway in the production of another feature film – can move forwards. “I think we have not even come to close to understanding and manifesting the potential of what image in tandem with sound can create as an experience. I want to keep driving for that, and see how far we can go,” he says. Sleep Has Her House shows a filmmaker who is both iterating and innovating, starting from what is familiar and creating anew. His storm snarls and screams, bludgeons and batters, and ultimately wipes clean. In the wake of disaster, the filmmaker can pick up the pieces and start a new film, begin to build a new house.
– Matt Turner, FILM CRITIC Sight & Sound
It is impossible not to appreciate [Barley’s] aesthetic sensibility in Sleep Has Her House. He gives us everything he has in this work [...] like that of Tarr, Sokurov or Tarkovsky, [it] is made in a way that requires the viewer's involvement in an absolute way. – Borja Castillejo Calvo, FILM CRITIC Cinesinfin
In Sleep Has Her House, day and night are one. Light and dark are one. Film and photography and painting are one. And if I am loose enough to allow it, I am one with that creature with the unblinking eye. I have no need to determine if it is indeed a creature or an element of topography. I can marvel at its scaly green hue and not fret about making any figure/ground distinctions.
But categories persist. I am not loose enough to allow it. So I reach for likenesses of horror and perceive it all as a threat. And at last I have an idea as to why I cried at the end of my first screening of Sleep Has Her House. Barley has created a world of baffling sensations, one with the potential to redefine the very act of perception. But I cannot stay there.