Photoshop is my Friend, Chris Guest & Floating Horizon
When I don’t work from home I’m a commuter. I catch the train. It’s cheaper, less stressful than driving, and better for the environment. Today however, I missed the train and because I was so desperate not to be late, I drove the car.
On the way home, I felt sick with my choice … the slow moving traffic jams, the bitumen fumes permeating my skin, the shuddering idle of the engine and the inertia of my body as I’m forced to follow the actions of the cars in front of me. I am isolated in my heavy metal box on wheels and I’m so repelled that I find myself floating up into the traffic lights to watch the activity I see before me. Slow moving cars as far as the eye can see, my highway horizon is anything but free. It’s this surreal detachment that is the entry point into Chris Guest’s new book Floating Horizon, a story that explores the contemporary human journey of environmental development, how we choose to live in the world and the possibility of an alternative way our landscape could be. He’s made the perfect choice to weave us a tale towards a more connected sensibility, through the enticing medium of the graphic novel.
Chris Guest worked on this book full-time for eighteen months, over a five-year period; to create a nine-metre image that unfolds across 48 pages in a concertina format. It’s visually spectacular, and when it was launched last month at Castlemaine’s Lot 19 Art Space, I had the opportunity of seeing the work doubled in size and stretching around the walls of the gallery. Seeing the work on the gallery wall is interesting, my sightline is extended and its panoramic appeal allows the patterning and transitions of the overall design to take centre stage. But I love turning the pages of the book. The tactility of being a physical reader as opposed to the more voyeuristic view of art on a wall; it seems more enduring, more intimate. I connect and feel part of the journey. Either way it’s read, the design successfully encourages multiple viewing.
Crafting a story such as this through the eyes of a trained architect boosts the experience. Chris Guest worked with the renowned Melbourne-based crew Six Degrees Architects, then created his business known as Small Architecture. He knows how to articulate space and design multi-living environments. There’s a relocation of perception at play in the book, a renovation of perspective. It’s a fresh eye, a more accessible way of disseminating these ideas, most importantly, to our children.
Floating Horizon begins by dropping us into a fisheye lens where we see an intensely ominous cityscape, it’s a comic book style narrative thread and it’s moving back and forth. Simultaneously, we see the perspective from above and below, at a fixed moment in time. There’s also movement at play here; roads of cars twisting like a Mobius strip, shadow play and solo birds in flight, reminding us of movement in the natural world. Advertising is a pixelated wasteland. Signage is reproduced in duotone colour. Nature is fleeting. Then we begin, we fly above in aerial mode, see the urban sprawl and the rigid patterning of what we have created. It’s heavy.
The illusions created using various perspectives are mind altering, clever forms of visual trickery shift our thinking, making us feel more present. The perpetual nature of the design curves like a sphere and we are placed at its centre. Whilst it commences with a sense of being disconnected from the land, it gradually moves to a point of reference where the reader actually becomes part of the landscape. Colour tells the story, as shadows move towards the evening sky. A flicker of recognition occurs, an understanding of how we’re located in the world and then just as suddenly the perspective changes, the lines blur and our position has changed.
I feel enveloped as I turn the pages, caught in the never-ending shift from day to night, circling the stars through various terrains, weather patterns and human endeavours. There are four main landscape depictions; the city, the farmlands, the highlands and a reimagining of a place we could live. Each fold in the book becomes a departure point, the transition to another perspective and another articulation of landscape. The backgrounds for how we live our lives.
There’s no fear of technology here either, in fact it’s a healthy balance. With über sharp technical drafting pens, Chris draws by hand with Indian ink and then digitally colours using filters that replicate the Japanese woodblock print process. I see a strange serendipity in the title too: floating horizon is the name of an algorithm, a step-by-step calculation for the visualisation of terrain, specifically the height and colour used in cartography and computer gaming. This is essentially what the author has done. The terrains are visualised, yet there is always the technological presence. Crop dusters circle high above the fractal patterning of sheep during feeding time. Then the rain comes, an amplification of weather and our constant attempts to control. It’s also worthy to note the way Chris Guest has used computer technology to firm up the colour palate and design, enhancing the hand drawn process of this visual narrative. Photoshop is his friend. It’s understated, a great balance with his choice of weapon – the mighty pen.
The simplest plot for this story is a line drawn from a city full of cars to a city with hardly any. It shows us that we’ve been engulfed by our own rapid urbanisation. At times, the destruction of our environment seems almost too unbearable to contemplate, too big to change. Yet this is the very reason why we must. We’re destroying our planet. This is a truth now. Chris Guest agrees and chooses to practice through localised action – through his lifestyle choices, his home, his business, his creative practice, crowd funding and independently publishing this project. In the last stage of the book, he holds up a mirror and draws us an inspirational vision of what our world could be.
As the sun rises over the city, we see change. The wind farms, the community gardens, more people at play. We’re eating off the land and the birds have come back. The travel is light – hot air balloons and blimp activity. It’s a thought-provoking idea that Chris Guest highlights throughout the tail end of the book – our use of air travel. He’s inspired by books such as Lightness by Adriaan Beukers (who writes about reducing our energy consumption through light construction materials) and the blimp hybrids currently in development by Alan Mulally and the French aerospace firm Thales Alenia. What if air travel was the norm, what if someone in our history, some stupidly rich genius could have foreseen the true benefits of the airship development we had at the turn of the 20th Century? Floating Horizon echoes these questions and then comes full circle. It brings us back to the city and it’s a very different place. It’s both a message to the stars and a message from the stars. We shoot the moon, we look to the stars for guidance and instead what we see is Earth looking back at us.
Chris Guest shows us it’s not all doom and gloom, there is hope in changing the way we co-exist with environment and this other habitat is happening slowly; in little clusters of community, at a deep and valuable local level. Floating Horizon has reminded me why I choose to live in Regional Australia and as the cityscape changes over time, it will become a place I will much happily commute to.
Floating Horizon is a project crowd funded through Pozible, and is available for purchase independently via Chris Guest and his website – chrisguest.net
Klare Lanson is a writer, poet, performance maker, sound artist, data consultant and currently presents Turn Left at the Baco every Saturday night on Castlemaine based community radio MAINfm. She is currently undertaking a Seedpod residency through Punctum Inc called Commute.