Harbouring an intense relationship with the sea and a deep passion for the sense of peace that comes from being under water, British-Italian filmmaker, Martina Amati, has created Under, a multi-screen film installation inviting viewers to explore her deep connection to the ocean’s world.

Graduating from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Brera, Milan, Amati’s career grew exponentially as she was hand-picked by MTV Europe to join their forces in London. Since this time, Amati’s work has premiered at Sundance, London and Berlin Film Festivals, with her short-films proceeding to win the BAFTA/LA and the UNICEF AWARD (A'mare, 2008), the BAFTA in 2010 for I Do Air (2009), and another BAFTA nomination in 2012 for gymnastic-story Chalk (2010), which also won the BIFA, amongst a string of other international awards.

I wanted to bring the experience of freediving into an urban space.

Through her latest project Under, Amati draws upon her childhood experiences of growing up within a family of sailors to show her public the immensity of the underwater world and the feelings of freedom and spiritualism that it brings. Exhibiting an installation that offers the audience multiple view points, stimulating the sensation of depth from above and below felt whilst in the ocean, while another two accompanying screens focus on the concept of static distance, Under tells of Amati’s connection to a submersive underwater world that she’ll never leave behind.

Every time I lost my way in life or life felt hard, the water took me away from the world and closer to who I really am. The water is my secret island, my rescue.

Giulia Catani: Hi Martina, can you explain where the idea for Under originates?

Martina Amati: A long time ago I made an animation of a little woman swimming underwater, back and forward, inside a TV screen. I showed the animation in a group exhibition in Milan and was looking for funding to perform it as a live action piece. When somebody from MTV saw my work, they offered me a job in London and, due to personal reasons, I jumped on that plane to London wanting to leave everything behind, including my Little Swimming Woman. Somehow, however – no matter how surprising and full of unexpected changes life can be - that little woman always stayed in my heart, together with the Mediterranean Sea - the only thing I miss since moving to London. Under comes from those very first drawings of a woman swimming and from my love for the sea.

Installation view, photo by David Freeman

You can be at your athletic best, but if your head isn’t in the right place, you are not going to do a good dive.

GC: What message do you want to share with the public? Is your work connected with spiritual feelings?

MA: With Under, I wanted to bring the experience of freediving into an urban space. I wanted to submerge people underwater and bring them into a gravity-free realm where time is totally relative. Every time I lost my way in life or life felt hard, the water took me away from the world and closer to who I really am. The water is my secret island, my rescue, and I hope people will find that when they are at, or even in, Under. I hope they experience a refuge, submerged in underwater pixels, where they can leave everything else outside.

Installation view, photo by David Freeman

GC: Why did you choose the disciplines of free diving? What do you feel when you are doing it?

MA: I signed up for my first freediving course in 2006 with Apnea Academy in Sardinia, and I became immediately mesmerised by the image of the freediving rope disappearing into the blue. I think freediving is primarily a mental or spiritual practice. You can be at your athletic best, but if your head isn’t in the right place, you are not going to do a good dive. You never feel more aware of your body and yourself than when you are mentally in the right place. Freediving pioneer Umberto Palizzari - the first man to have reached a depth of -150m – says of it: “How can you describe the taste of chocolate? You have to try it!” I hope what I feel when freediving also comes through in Under - the images, the vulnerability, the joy, the obsession, the meditation, the loneliness, the people with you in the water...

Installation view, photo by David Freeman

I hope what I feel when freediving also comes through in Under - the images, the vulnerability, the joy, the obsession, the meditation, the loneliness, the people with you in the water...

GC: What was it like working with a team of underwater experts?

MA: I learned immensely from Under’s Freediving Technical Director and eight times British Freediving Champion, Liv Philip. She trained me for the filming and she performs with me in all the three films. After training and becoming so close with Liv… I started to see her as a master; she is a very big part of this work.

Daan Verhoeven, cinematographer, filmed everything whilst holding his breath, he never used any artificial air supply. This was very important to me for this work, as Under is about freedom. At times it proved challenging and overwhelming trying to direct and perform at the same time, especially underwater. Freediving is about letting go and it was difficult to let go of everything going through my head.

GC: But you felt it important to play a part in the piece?

MA: During the filming, I often wished I was a more experienced freediver to make Daan’s job easier. Other times, looking at Liv in the water, I thought, "Why am I not just directing this?" With a beautiful freediver like Liv and a talented cinematographer like Daan, I would have loved to give my entire brain to my director skills, but I hope the work brings something else by featuring my self. Something deeper and more honest. I try to put in my work what I don’t want to show people about my self. My work has always been about my self, secrets, emotions or moments that changed my life and bringing these emotions out of my self. That’s why it was important for me to perform in Under.

Installation view, photo by Daan Veroheven

Last week I went to see Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy. Viewing it, I felt the most courageous and spectacular emotions I have ever experienced inside a museum’s walls.

GC: Can you tell our readers something about your career in general: where do you usually get your inspiration? Your passion? What are you hoping to portray to the public?

MA: People, life, art, the sea… Last week I went to see Ai Wei Wei's exhibition at the Royal Academy. Viewing it, I felt the most courageous and spectacular emotions I have ever experienced inside a museum's walls. This morning I went to see the Agnes Martin exhibition at the Tate Modern and it reminded me of how beautifully vulnerable human life is. After an hour and a half spent in front of her paintings, I entered a mental clarity and calm that was really beautiful. It was almost a shock to exit her exhibition rooms and be thrown into the madness of the Tate Modern on a Saturday morning. But the most precious inspiration to me comes by chance, from unexpected sources; when a person sitting next to me on the bus falls asleep, exhausted by work and I can see the beauty in it. In moments like these I feel blessed and I want to transfer what I see into an image or a drawing.

Find out more about the installation here: www.under-installation.com

Words: Giulia Catani

Photography: David FreemanDaan Veroheven