The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, is a former 19th-century grist mill converted into a repository of work by America’s most beloved painter of rustic farmland, Andrew Wyeth.
One of its galleries, with exposed, hand-hewn beams left over from the original mill, has just been given over to 21st- century technology: an immersive, three-channel video installation.
Created by the Brandywine’s first artist in residence, Dylan Gauthier, “highwatermarks” is the first video work on view at the museum.
The 70-minute video loop is a portrait of the Brandywine Creek through its seasonal changes. The nonnarrated video with surround sound is a meditation on water texture, a document of a working river, and a tour of the communities the Brandywine flows through — from its headwater in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, to its mouth in Wilmington, Delaware.
“I spent the first few months not shooting, just recording sound,” said Gauthier, based in New York. “It’s tricky to record sound. There are highway and suburban sounds everywhere. If you are in industrial places, there are industrial sounds. So I started by asking people where there are quiet places.”
Gauthier built a customized flat-bottomed river boat — similar to one he saw in an Andrew Wyeth painting — to be able to shoot while on the water. He captured rolling meadows, snow-covered farms, burned-out mills, and slow-treading livestock. An extended sequence in Wilmington’s Brandywine Park shows a man in a jogging suit working on his vogue dance moves.
Many scenes look remarkably similar to an Andrew Wyeth painting, even though Gauthier admits he knew little of Wyeth’s work and had little connection to the Brandywine Valley before applying for the residency.
“To an extent the landscape depicts itself, because of the particular light and the quality where it’s been preserved so that it hasn’t changed since he was painting,” Gauthier said.
The video is chronological, moving through the seasons of the year, but it’s unclear exactly where it begins and ends because it’s on a loop. While it does not have a discernible narrative arc — it’s more video art than a filmed storyline — Gauthier said it has a pacing that resembles a documentary.
“There are rhythms. There are peaks and valleys,” he said. “Film can expand our experience of a place, instead of substitute for it. People have said, ‘I’ll never look at that place the same way, and I’ve seen it hundreds of times.’ The moments I’ve captured have added to their everyday experience.”
The video installation will be on view until January.