Barry Lewis

Barry Lewis, ‘Pond’, London 2010

Pond: which one are you?

It is not often that we are forced to marvel at our condition as living organisms, to observe the minutiae which embody the beginning of all that is alive. Pond is an ingenious fifteen-minute window into a world that is constant, miraculous, but so rarely seen in motion and up-close. Taken from just one thimble full of pond water, the universe that is revealed toys with our sense of scale and with the definition of life itself. The film sits somewhere between the world of science with its tendency for detached analysis, cataloguing and documentation; and a beautifully abstract environment of wonder, humour, colour and kinesis. The shapes and activities in Pond are given voice by a haunting soundtrack that guides our interpretation of the visuals: the near silence of deep space or oceanic sonar, the crackling chatter of interaction. Suspended for a moment from their invisible life in a murky, ancient Dorset pond, these single-cell organisms are magnified to epic proportions, seemingly beyond the imagination of the wildest science fiction movie.

The scenes have been painstakingly selected and enlarged from hours of microscopy footage. The camera initially pans the surface algae of a pond, which could equally be satellite footage of a verdant undiscovered planet. Ripples of algae are then, without warning, sucked from the bottom corner of the picture plane—a moment that affects you to your stomach, destabilising perceptions and marking the descent into the surprisingly luminescent underworld of the pond. In some ways, the following scenes require no commentary: every individual will apply their own experiences to them, but certainly, without the weight of scientific commentary, the protagonists can be enjoyed for their outright strangeness.

Early on in the film, a seemingly lunar glow illuminates floating green plankton, and we are transported into an enthralling Kubrickian-landscape, created, we later discover, by a bubble of air and a set of green ‘flagellates’ with bacteria. The temper soon alters as a collection of quivering red cells are animated by a wistful, warbling sound that rises and falls in tandem with their motion. Their energy and interaction as some pair-off and others wander apparently aimlessly across the screen recall the movement of a human crowd. Later, a similar organism gathers in suffocating numbers, invoking images of population explosion and migration.

There are numerous organisms profiled for their curious appearance or the spectacle of their processes. The film is clearly made with an artistic sensibility—the photographer’s delight in colour and form, scientific framing and careful editing and score—are essential to the film’s narrative and pace. Although these improbable creatures are not sentient beings, they are alive, and it is impossible not to project our own modes of social interaction onto these unsuspecting protagonists. What is perhaps most fascinating about watching Pond however, is the inescapable fact that we all evolved from a primordial swamp, and that these bizarre organisms relate, by however many degrees of separation, to life as we know it.