InFlux Journal of Media Art
Film and Consciousness
The Flux Media Art Gallery is dedicated to presenting innovative art works by local, national and international media artists. It is a place for the exchange of ideas surrounding media arts practice. 510 Fort St. (second floor) Victoria BC, V8W 1E6 www.medianetvictoria.org email@example.com
Trace Nelson, Installation view of Rotor, Flux Media Art Gallery, 2017. Photo by Peter Sandmark.
CONTENTS Waking Dreams - Catlin Lewis Interview with Penny McCann -Peter Sandmark Dream Cinema - Andrew Struthers Interview with Trace Nelson -Catlin Lewis Deirdre Logueâ€™s Psychic Conditions of Living - Peter Sandmark The Dream Life of Animals: An Interview with Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy - Catlin Lewis Addendum - The Secret Bank Account (Part One of Three): Introducing an Economy of Art -Petra Muller On the cover: (Front) Penny McCann, still from Crashing Skies, 2012. (Back) Melanie Shatzky and Brian M.Cassidy, stills of dream sequences from Animals Under Anaesthesia: Speculations on the Dreamlife of Beasts, 2016. InFlux is a publication of MediaNet (510 Fort St,Victoria BC). All writings published with permission of the authors. This magazine or its contents may not be reprinted in whole or part without express permission of the authors and MediaNet. ÂŠ MediaNet 2017
Waking Dreams They sleep; their eyes no longer see.They are no longer conscious of their bodies. Instead there are only passing images, a gliding and rustling of dreams. Thus spoke art critic Jules Romains, on observing an audience in 1912 watching the films of Georges Melies. From the earliest days of cinema, people have commented on filmâ€™s ability to mirror our dreams and subconscious states. From the phantasmagorias of early pioneers of Cinema, like Melies, who created elaborate sets and costumes, to the filmic explorations of the Dadaists and Surrealists, to contemporary fantasies by filmmakers like David Lynch, film has sought to understand our psyches, and to reflect them back to us. If traditional, representational and linear cinema can seem to replicate human consciousness, what about non-liner, abstract and experimental film and media art? The writers and artists in this issue of InFlux explore these questions through interviews and essays, sharing with us images from their own dream landscapes. Catlin Lewis Editor
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Interview with Penny McCann - Peter Sandmark
Peter Sandmark: Thanks Penny for agreeing to an interview about your new film and your filmmaking technique. I wanted to frame the questions a bit, because I am interested in the way experimental filmmakers use imagery in their films, and in particular I am interested in film in general as a metaphor for consciousness. While conventional cinema emulates an ordinary day to day (linear) sort of consciousness, experimental filmmakers tap into dream or memory states with how they use or treat imagery. Sometimes I see films which use images in a conceptual manner for their symbolic meaning, which can reduce their potential aesthetic value. In some of your films I have seen a more mysterious interpretation of the imagery, which leaves them more open ended for the audience. So, this is the approach I wanted to bring to the questions. Let’s start with how you select images for your films, and let’s start with your new film, Gibraltar Point (transformed). Penny McCann: Gibraltar Point (transformed) was a relatively simple idea. I filmed it at Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island, which I have been to a few times. I love the place because I am from Kingston, I was raised on Lake Ontario, and I miss living next to a big, open body of water. So, when I go there I am very fixated on that horizon, that landscape. In this case I was there for a Super-8 and 16 mm film residency, and was focusing on another project called Landlines. I shot a whole bunch of Super-8, but I also had three rolls of black and white 16 mm film that I wanted to shoot and hand-process while I was there, because there was a darkroom, and it can be hard to access a darkroom away from a workshop. In 2006 I had made a film called Lake Ontario In My Head at Gibraltar Point, so I was really conscious of the fact that I was duplicating something [with Gibraltar Point (transformed)]. I thought it could be an homage to that earlier film, which is the only experimental film that I had finished on 16 mm. For that reason, I had very mixed feelings about the footage [of Gibraltar Point (transformed)]. I had
only seen those 3 rolls of black and white 16mm projected at the end of the workshop, and I was afraid of them. I thought, I don’t want to deal with this footage, even though I knew I had something. I needed instead to focus on Landlines. A year later I finally transferred the 16mm film at FRAME DISCREET [in Toronto], and when the digital images came back I thought Oh my god… Well okay then, I have a film. It was very simple from there, because the footage was so perfect I knew to just let it be. It has a randomness, the alchemical process [of film] and a lot of solarizing effects, the hand processing, all combining to be this random trip through consciousness. I simply cut out bits,… I looked, and thought okay, that whole part didn’t turn out, or that goes on for too long. So I cut out sections, but other than that, what is on there is largely what came back to me from the lab. Experimental film is about punctuation, it’s about duration and moments, and about how to lead the viewer, because there is no story. So it’s about how you create a shape, how you give it some sort of structure. Finding structure is always the key in these works, and I know to keep the short, sweet, immersive moments. In this case it was the strength of the visuals that did it. The luminosity of that film still kills me. Peter:You talk about solarization and that this is part of the luminescence of the imagery… You have chosen to do some hand-processing and some solarization in the processing, and that’s a choice in the image quality of the film. What’s your interest in that? Penny: Although I like shooting with a Bolex, and I enjoy Super-8 and celluloid in general, I am not a technical filmmaker like many experimental filmmakers out there, who are very much into chemistry and the machinery of chemistry. I am a director, and I sort of skim above the surface of all of that. In 2000 I made the first of a sequence of short experimental poetic landscape films, Marshlands, which was a mix of Super-8 and 16 mm and video. That was my entry into working with celluloid in an experimental way, because I had made short dramas prior to that.
Still from Gibraltar Point (transformed), 2017
Marshlands is on 16 mm film shot with a camera that didn’t work correctly, and the gate kept stuttering, so I just referred to it as my dream camera. It was like, wow! You can’t duplicate that kind of effect. It was beautiful, very beautiful. So, I am always looking for things that evoke this conscious space in the head. How do I get there? It could be through the dream memory camera, it could be through optically printing Super-8 , blowing it up to 16 mm, or through hand-processing. I first discovered hand-processing at Phil Hoffman’s Film Farm when I was there in 2008, and it is currently what I am working with. That may change, as I find it can be a bit over used as a trope. It is a bit difficult to work in as a format. Peter: Why? Penny: Because it can look all the same after a while. Just like any imagery. My work is about creating psychic shifts in the mind, to trigger memory or changes in consciousness. Peter: Would you say that the hand-processing and the artefacts that you see makes the audience conscious that they are looking at an image? Penny: No, it is not about that, it’s about sublimnity. I don’t know, maybe because I am Irish Catholic, but I am always trying to find
the sublime. If you overuse it, you will lose the surprise, the moment. But for now that is what I am working with. To go back to the Film Farm, when I first went there I got into hand-processing and within hand processing, found that there is a whole bunch of techniques that you can use. I have discovered that I seem to be the queen of solarization. I mean how would you know? I am very good with tinting and toning, I really like that, to create colour and so on, but solarization is my thing. And I love it, because it is so random and so kooky, it blows up the image and you don’t know what you are going to get. A lot of filmmakers try to control the image, by superimposition and things like that, and I am not interested in controlling the image. I am happy when it turns out. That’s always a bonus! And I am always surprised when it turns out, because I am not a technical filmmaker. But the solarizing adds the element of accidental alchemy to an already accidental process, of hand-processing. Tinting and toning you can choose the footage you want to tint and tone, but with solarizing you can’t. Because it works in the dark. Peter: We hope people reading this will look at some of your films, and we have provided the Vimeo link at the end of the article. Let’s get to the psychic space. Earlier you talked about trying to create
Still from Marshlands, 2000
this psychic space, and that the quality of the image is a part of it. Can you elaborate a bit on how you create this psychic space for the viewer? Penny: With Marshlands, my first piece, I used a multiplicity of formats, and what I was trying to do was to create a space of memory and contemplation. I discovered that by going from Super-8 film to video, (and of course editing plays a role), I was creating psychic shifts within the piece. I am hoping to move [the viewer] into memory, into nostalgia. I don’t try to control the meaning in my work, I try to keep it as open ended as possible, allowing the viewer to enter. That’s a very important thing for me. So, my films - In particular this body of work - are not content driven. I am just trying to take the viewer to a place, and let their imaginations free. So that is my vision for Marshlands and the nine short works that I have created, leading up to and including Gibraltar Point (transformed). Peter: Following up on this idea, I am assuming this is why you use celluloid. These are all film based works, so what does celluloid bring to this approach?… you mentioned nostalgia… Penny: Nostalgia does play a role. I keep trying to come back to that “dream camera” moment that I had, with the camera that now no longer works at all. I am trying to find this ability to create an image that is mysterious - that’s a good word for it - and evocative. It could be nostalgic, it could be a dream state, it could be immense loss. I don’t know what it could be, it could be a range of things. Peter: Would you say the use of film stock, per se, evokes or suggests the past, because it is something from the past? Penny: Yes, I thinks that is true, that we are still working with that assumption. Maybe I need to experiment with video more, right? But often you can’t get those results without effects. And I am not interested in effects. I don’t use effects in my work, except I might slow the film down or reverse it. But that’s not what I am interested in. So, it’s difficult… Maybe to some degree that is the next
thing I should be experimenting with, to find that same degree of challenge with what I’ve done before, and maybe celluloid won’t be the answer… Because 30 years from now our relationships to film will be quite different. Peter: You were also talking before about the importance of gesture in your work, and I wonder if you could talk about how you see gesture in your films? Penny: By gesture I mean the gesture of moving the camera, because I rarely use tripods, and in fact I was looking at works last night at Antimatter [Film Festival in Victoria], and I was thinking, they’re using a tripod, whoa what a concept! (Laughs). My work tends to have the feeling of the human behind the camera, which I feel is another trigger, another switch, it’s another thing in my vocabulary. The gesture of the camera tends to be a range of pans in either direction, and I have learned how to edit with that. If you look at all of my films together, you see what I mean. Basically it’s always me as the camera person, and it’s always the same motions. So, it’s very literally gestural. I can’t explain it, I don’t understand it, it is just the way that I film. Peter: So, motion as an expression of attention…? Penny: I think it is about the embodied camera. You can feel the person behind it… Peter: It is the viewpoint behind it, it is your eye… Penny: Yes, yes… or it is the viewer’s eye. That is the more important thing. Because if there is an open interpretation, the viewer needs to be the person behind the lens looking, so as the camera moves, they move with it. So it is that connection. When I put a camera on a tripod, I feel very conflicted about that, and maybe I need to do a whole lot of fixed camera things to understand it. But it doesn’t feel right to me, to be static and to have a camera on a device. I don’t talk to other filmmakers much, so I don’t talk about how they do things. Most filmmakers come out of film
school and have a well articulated way of talking about how they do things, or are technically inclined, and I am not that person. So, again it comes back to this notion of being a director, it’s about choice, it’s not about the proper way to do things, or how you are supposed to film with a Bolex camera. Canadian media artist Penny McCann’s body of work spans more than twenty-five years and encompasses both dramatic and experimental films and videos. Her work has been exhibited extensively at festivals and galleries nationally and internationally, including the Centre national d’art contemporain (Grenoble, France), Oberhausen International Short Film Festival (Oberhausen, Germany), the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, New Brunswick), the Canadian Film Institute (Ottawa), and the Festival International du film sur l’art (Montreal). Watch Penny’s films on VIMEO: www.vimeo.com/pennymccann (Note: Penny’s latest film, Gibraltar Point (transformed) is not currently available for viewing).
Above and below: Missie Peters as “Missy” in Down to the Sea on Drugs.
Dream Cinema -Andrew Struthers
When my film, Down to the Sea on Drugs, screened at the Van City Theatre this summer, the curator, Curtis Woolchuck, warned the audience beforehand it belonged to the “What the heck did I just see?” school of film. Fair enough, although the technical term is oneiric cinema: films that mirror the nightly fare of our own dream theatres. Down to the Sea opens with our hero, Dave, attending a small town talent show. On stage a woman tosses a screaming child high into the rigging, plays a flute solo, catches the child, hurls her aloft again, and tootles some more. That’s a very unusual talent, which hopefully none of us have seen demonstrated on stage, yet the audience somehow recognizes it from their own Dream Cinema. In a later scene the heroine, Missy, (played by local screen goddess Missie Peters) sings while Dave plays a xylophone solo on her teeth with a big old church key. How can such surreal images move the audience to laughter? It’s hard enough to get them to laugh when they understand the joke. But somehow the connection is made. This is one of the deepest mysteries of Dream Cinema, and I think I’ve finally grasped what gives. I first entered the cinema of dreams when I saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead at what is now the Vic Theatre. Later my friends argued about what the film meant but I sat stunned in a corner thinking Dreams on screen? I had no idea such a thing was possible. So I set out to do it myself. Making dream movies became a lifelong dream. But life had other ideas. Following your dreams is so difficult that Mitch Hedberg recommended you should just ask them where they’re going and hitch up with them later, and it worked for me. I
didn’t even have to ask. Life led me on one adventure after another until, at 37, while living in Tofino Harbour on an old wooden fish boat, knee deep in the oily bilge, wrestling with a giant monkey wrench, my filmic dreams showed up unannounced and said, “It’s Showtime!” This was in the wee hours of the new millennium, when digital filmmaking had suddenly made it possible to get something in the can for a tenth of a shoestring. But the bright clean banality of digital imagery seemed to strangle dreamtime in its crib. I was utterly convinced that to capture the dark beauty of Dream Cinema I needed the sort of Eraserhead look that only film could deliver. So I set out to raise money. Then I had the strangest dream. I was in Rome with Art Clark, the wharfinger in Tofino Harbour. Art was one of that breed of BC old-boys, now mostly gone along with the old-growth, who had formed an almost spiritual bond with their machines. Art once fixed a deep fat fryer with a coat hanger. If he said a tool would work, I believed it. He had built a skinny scaffold over top of St. Peters so we could get an aerial shot of the crowd. It looked rickety as hell, but Art had built it, so it must be safe. We clambered to the very top. I could see all of humanity below us. I reached back for the camera and Art handed me a Super 8 film camera that had a digital camera duct-taped to it. I asked “Are we shooting on film or video?” Art said, “From up here, it all looks the same.” I didn’t get the joke until I woke up. Art? Ha ha, very funny. My dreams are always making jokes like that at my expense. I thought, “I’ll show them.” So I ignored my dream and went to great expense to shoot on 16mm, with a professional crew and all the rest. The results were horrifying. There was nothing non-banal about what I’d shot. It took three years of painting houses to pay off the debt. Around that time Lynch made Mullholland Drive. Near the begin-
ning two men sit in a diner in broad daylight while one tells the other his dream. The dream takes place in that same diner, and both men are in it. The dreamer explains, “It looks just like this. Except for the light.” IMAGE 3 IMAGE 4
Despite the broad daylight and banal setting it’s one of the most dreamlike scenes in cinema, in a sense more dreamlike than anything in Eraserhead. It made me realize Dream Cinema can’t be just about looks. That Lynch could invoke dreamtime just by cutting back and forth between two actors suggests there must be something about the structure of cinema that mimics consciousness itself, dreaming or waking. This has turned out to be true. In a recent Aeon essay the psychologist Jeffrey M Zacks asks Why don’t our brains explode when we watch movies? (although sometimes they do, Jeff. After Eraserhead it took me a week to pick up the pieces. But I digress.)
Zacks points out that in all our millions of years of evolution it never once occurred that our entire field of vision was replaced instantly with a completely different set of information, as happens when you cut from, say, a pram going down a flight of steps to the face of a screaming woman.
Yet movie cuts don’t cause any cognitive dissonance. In fact, done right, they seem to disappear completely. How can that be? Zacks’ research indicates it’s because we don’t actually perceive the world in the long Tarkovsky-type shots we imagine we do, but in the scattershot of images we associate with Eisenstein montage. This in turn suggests that consciousness is focused not on the
outside world, but on the screen of the visual cortex, in the back of our heads. The bizarre end-game of this line of inquiry is that we don’t directly perceive reality at all. Rather, as with Plato’s Cave or Lacan’s category of The Real, what we call the world is in fact a sloppily-constructed movie set. Ten out of nine cognitive scientists would agree - we don’t see what’s there, we see a cheap mockup that we’ve hastily edited until it matches our preconceived notions. Donald D. Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, uses the computer desktop as a metaphor. What we see are folders, say of vacation photos, but not the photos themselves. Our consciousness has evolved to focus on the folders rather than their content because, to quote Southpark, “to show it all would take too long.” Or as Hoffman puts it, by the time you process all that info, “The tiger has eaten you.” So what we call the world is actually just a desktop with a nice waterfall screensaver and a bunch of folders. In both consciousness and movie cuts, our mind flicks from folder to folder. Reality is forever out of reach. In other words, it’s all Dream Cinema, all the time. This explains why in the bar fight scene in Down to the Sea, when the cook changes from my sister to my friend Dan in a single cut, no one seems to notice. It also explains what’s going on in America right now, from the refusal to entertain gun control in the wake of mass shootings to the failure of the media to call the last election. Left and right live in conflicting dream worlds, so whether you’re Steve Bannon or Stephen Colbert, best to avoid smug certainty. Yet each faction is utterly convinced by what’s playing in their own Dream Cinema and cannot be convinced otherwise, much like
myself in 2006, still clinging to the idea that celluloid is an essential ingredient of Dream Cinema. Lynch meanwhile made Inland Empire, visually reaching the opposite pole from Eraserhead. Instead of the rich blacks and whites of celluloid negative, that most stylized and seductive of cinema’s many tongues, Lynch shot on a crappy little home video camera, the Sony DCR-VX1000. The results were no less dreamlike. When friends warned him against his choice of tools he said, “If you just listen to these things, they talk to you.” But I’m still not listening. I went to great expense to shoot Down to the Sea on Drugs on black and white neg using a vintage wind-up Bolex. The results this time were satisfactory. What made the difference was not visual quality but syntax, the tacit juxtaposition of ideas: a mom (as opposed to a dad) tossing a child in the air, and on stage no less, with superhuman strength, while playing the flute; the ringing of a chunk of metal on an actresses’ perfect pearly whites. As in a dream, these juxtapositions are both familiar and shocking. So the dreamtime quality lies in the cuts, or in what is not shown in negative space, where it belongs. This is the essence of cinematic power, and perhaps of consciousness itself. Since I first saw Eraserhead, Lynch has gone from unknown auteur to cultural Thor, smashing our heads in with Dream Cinema content. Twin Peaks ended its quarter-century hiatus last night, and this morning the Interweb is a-blog with cinephiles trying to explain what it all means. It’s fun, but it’s also a golden goose chase. Those who see (for example) Jung in Lynch’s works are actually glimpsing deep structures of human consciousness - in this case Lynch’s - and by analogy, their own. That’s why it’s impossible to force oneiric cinema into the tuxedo of reason. The unconscious is a deep ocean. Opposing schools of thought swim in its depths. And that’s why after all these years in the city I still see myself not as a filmmaker, but as a fisherman, wrestling monsters from the deep up onto the silver screen.
Andrew Struthers is a writer, illustrator, storyteller and filmmaker. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, he now lives in Victoria, where he runs his own production studio. Andrew has written for numerous periodicals, published three books, and made the mega-hit video Spiders on Drugs. His recent filmic projects include a video for Sarah McLachlanâ€™s song Monsters, and the multi-part experimental narrative film Down to the Sea on Drugs. Watch Andrewâ€™s films: www.youtube.com/user/apeman888
Interview with Trace Nelson -Catlin Lewis
Catlin Lewis: Hi Trace. Thanks for agreeing to this interview to talk about your exhibition at Flux Gallery and your new work Rotor. I wanted to start by asking about the relationship between Rotor and past work that you have done. Trace Nelson: The Rotor exhibition at FLUX gallery in July 2017 was an installation that was a continuation of work I have been doing over the past five years. I like to work with collaging, and if you look at my previous work, I often collage work together. The sculptural component of the exhibition was the same kind of mapping of the space, with bio-morphic forms that were made of a combination of sculptures using found textiles, and directly painted drawings on the walls, and then the components of the videos and the video boxes. In previous exhibitions I had made video viewing boxes, that were wood constructions, covered in textiles, and wires in biomorphic sculptural forms. Catlin: In your Rotor exhibition in the Flux Gallery you had a triptych of 3 video flat screens on one wall surrounded by biomorphic sculptural forms and two other videos inside sculptural boxes. Could you start by talking about the videos in the boxes…why are they inside the boxes to be viewed through a small hole, and how did you make those videos? Trace: I like making the video viewing boxes, because I want the audience to have a secondary interest with the pieces. The first encounter the viewer has is with the sculptural forms, which are standing at eye level. At first, the forms are not so recognizable, except perhaps as something you might see under a microscope. But then I want the viewer to look into an inner world, again using collaging methods and animation, so one would have an interior vision of the piece. All of the videos - Sous le Ciel (the carousel video), the textural one, the morphing video - all went into video
Installation view, Rotor, Flux Media Art Gallery, 2017
viewing boxes. Then, from those ideas I wanted to expand out into the space. The viewer is asked to move around the space, and look into things, and then look at the installation space as a whole, using all the walls and the floor, using the space as a sculptural encounter. Catlin: There seems to be a correlation between the shapes in the morphing video and the shapes on the walls in Rotor. Could you talk about the connection? Trace: About seven years ago I had made various shapes and objects, and I wanted to animate them in a simple kind of way, so I used a program called Morpheus, that would take one image or object and morph it into the next. I liked the in-between areas created by the morphing software, going from one object or drawing to the next. That interested me in making more abstract images. So, if we are talking about the images on the three screens in Rotor, they are a continuation of the work I had been doing. Last year I had made a video of the carousels during a trip to Paris. I was just wandering around enjoying the scenery, being a tourist, my first encounter with Paris, and then I found all these antique carousels, and started to capture them with my camera. The thing that came out of that project was that I discovered the gesture of the camera movement. I started to just move the camera around while reacting to the movement of the carousel, and that was the beginning
point of the Rotor ideas. Once I finished the Sous le Ciel video, which I showed at the Victoria Film Festival earlier this year, I went on another trip to Europe, and I was caught by the textures and patterns that I found when walking through new environments, particularly in Paris, but in France in general, as I travelled around France a bit on this trip. So, whenever I saw something that was interesting to me, some sort of texture or architectural element or patterns of cobblestones, I would just capture them with my camera. For the Rotor videos, one of the most important elements for me was a visit to a castle in Angers France, a medieval castle, a very beautiful and timeless place, and I started to play with the gestural movements of capturing this place. Those are the main images in Rotor. Catlin: We can see bits of the imagery from Sous Le Ciel in the Rotor triptych. How did you work that imagery into those videos? Trace: I didn’t have a set idea about what was going to happen with all that imagery. But when I got back to Victoria, I started working with Final Cut Pro, using some effects, and started putting the images together, including the Sous le Ciel imagery, and changing colours, playing with the movement and the timing. I wanted the videos to be a kind of rotating loop. They are all three loops of different durations, so they not only overlapped in the process of the editing, but also overlapped in relation to each other on the screens in the gallery. Catlin: There are many layers of images in your videos. What was your strategy in editing those pieces? Trace: I think that comes out of a few things, one was the nature of the imagery, and that would be the textures and the carousel, and the other would be the gesture, the hand held filming of the patterns of the castle, and the rotating movements. I also wanted to have a work that had recognizable imagery in it, but not in a way that the viewer would get stuck on it. Part of the editing process for me - an intuitive process - was to keep anything that was too long or too recognizable or literal to a real minimum in the flow of
the work. Catlin: There’s a variety of textures as well in the Rotor triptych. Can you explain your interest in textures and how you came to use them in the videos? Trace: I’d like to go back to the idea about collaging - which is an important process for me when I am working, and also collecting. When I first moved to Victoria, I went out for walks and I started to collect various kinds of textures and patterns in nature. But I didn’t do anything with that imagery for about 10 years. Then I decided to do something with it when I had the exhibition called Microfauna, earlier this year, and the imagery was used in a work that went into one of the video boxes in that show. That reinforced my interest in collage and collecting. With the three screens of video in Rotor I wanted to push it further and play around with different effects, and keep that continuation. It’s like a seed of something, that ends up moving into something new. It started with the nature textures, and then went to the morphing video and then to the Sous Le Ciel carousel video, and then the collections of textures in France and the castle in Angers. I always like to find new ways of keeping the creative practice going. I find that going on a trip is a great way to see things in a new way and to motivate myself to work on a project. Catlin: Can you talk a bit about your working process? Trace: I am interested in pushing abstraction with what I am doing. In the past, 10 or 11 years ago, I was working more with objects that were recognizable, symbolically, we would say “Oh yes, that is a monkey”, or whatever it was. But then through the morphing video I discovered something that was very interesting, which was the idea of playing with an object that has transformed into something that was more abstract, but still kind of recognizable. It was the process of understanding how something can move towards abstraction. There is something that the brain is always looking for, an understanding in a symbolic way, of what you are seeing. Through the process of working on experimental video or filmmaking the image is always transforming. You start with something
that is perhaps slightly recognizable, like a scene or an object or a pattern or something like that, and then it changes to another form or image, and your brain doesn’t have time to study it and decide what it is seeing. So, you are kind of lulled into a state of meditation, and relax into it and let go, as the imagery keeps moving towards more and more abstract forms. Catlin: In your description of the work Rotor, you refer to “the dreamer.” Could you talk a bit more about the idea of the dreamer in your work? What techniques do you use to invoke dreams in these films? Trace: In my text about Rotor I wrote: “The Dreamer is transported to a place suspended in time, attempting to hold onto an elusive moment that moves, changes and colours our memory in rotating cyclical movements.” The idea of the dreamer refers to the idea of the flâneur/flâneuse or one who strolls through the scenery idly enjoying the moment. In the making or gathering of material for the Rotor work the images collect together to form a dream like souvenir or lucid dreaming meditation on a travel theme.
Trace Nelson is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Victoria BC. She has exhibited her work in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and has worked as an art educator for the past 15 years, teaching at Concordia University and the Vancouver Island School of Art.While living in Montreal, she worked at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. Nelson creates sculptural objects by disassembling found materials associated with crafting and hand work. She reassembles and reconfigures furniture items and household appliances, using video animation and reclaimed textiles to create new meanings in the form of hybrid objects. BFA, MFA Concordia University Trace’s exhibition, Rotor, was held in the Flux Media Art Gallery from June 29 - July 22 See her work: www.tracenelson.com
Deirdre Logue’s Psychic Conditions of Living -Peter Sandmark
Still from Deirdre Logue’s Moohead, 1999
The first works I encountered by Deirdre Logue were her short 16 mm experimental films, many made at Philip Hoffman’s Film Farm in Ontario. These short films seemed to be an extension of Deirdre’s public persona: quirky, playful, intriguing, suggestive of an iconoclastic spirit, but resisting easy interpretation. The simple act of having a basketball bounced off her head plays like a slapstick vaudeville act (Moohead, 1999), but her place as the self-imposed victim played out for our vicarious enjoyment placed Deirdre Logue, in my opinion, as the Harold Lloyd of the Canadian media arts scene. The films became part of a body of work entitled Enlightened Nonsense, made between 1998 and 2000. In 2010, MediaNet and Open Space were fortunate to co-host an artist talk and screening of Deirdre’s work. At that talk she was her usual funny self, and I thought that she was like a stand up comedian, but for the artist run centre crowd! It was during that visit that Open Space developed the idea for a residency for Deirdre. I had previously known Deirdre from her work as an advocate and promoter of media arts in various roles: at the IMAGES Festival in
Toronto, as head of the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Independent Media Arts Alliance, where she championed the rights of artists to free expression and respect. In her art works, films, videos and installations, she personifies these principles. Id’s Its, Logue’s installation in Victoria, at the Open Space Arts Society in 2012, was an uncompromising presentation of the artist’s intimacy and psychological self-explorations. In the press release for the exhibition, she stated: “Leaning lightly on Freud’s somewhat archaic concept of the Id and heavily on performance for the camera, my new work explores the richness of our malfunctions, psychic unrest, the power of the abject and our tendencies toward self-destruction.” In the installation’s video pieces she brings the viewer close to her, but still leaves us wondering, who is she? I thought about Deirdre’s work while reflecting on the theory of the artist as a self-actualized individual. Dutch artist and theorist, Hans Abbing, writes in his book Why Are Artists Poor? - The exceptional Economy of the Arts: “It’s as if artists have injected their individuality into their artworks. Even though everybody is probably authentic, it’s only artists who produce public proof of their individuality.” Abbing’s interest is in revealing why people pay high amounts for original works of art, and how that affects the art market: “And so it’s my hypothesis that the general public wants to be like the artist; they want to be the artist. Because this is impossible, people magically connect with the artist through his or her artwork. People believe the artist is ‘in’ the artwork.” It would seem like Deirdre is in her work, but having known Deirdre personally, the more I looked at her art in the exhibition at Open Space, the less I felt that I knew her. She has succeeded in placing her “person” into the videos, in intimate settings, and often in extreme close-up, to the extent that the viewer identifies with her. The viewer may even “experience” what her character is going through in the video - for example, crawling painfully underneath a mattress, then struggling to make it out from under its
suffocating weight. But Deirdre does not let us into the personal thought processes of the situations depicted in the videos. She is a “mediated self” in her works. Her videos make me think that we are experiencing things vicariously, as though we were by ourselves. We project ourselves onto her “character” in the videos, but the videos are not really self-portraits or auto-biography… per-se… But there is no question that the Id’s Its exhibition declared that Deirdre had arrived as a formidable artist on the Canadian scene. The recent book, Beyond her usual limits: the film and video works of Deirdre Logue, 1997 to 2017 confirmed this, and provided recognition for her work’s ability to engage us in the “psychic conditions of living,” (M. Hyland, page 14). The Velvet Crease piece was the key work in the exhibition, highlighting that the closer we get to Deirdre the performer (or her meditated body in the video) the less we know about her. I would suggest that her work asks us, more than anything, to look at ourselves, and that she performs so that we can experience the anxiety and uncomfortableness, indeed the burden, of existing.
Deirdre Logue lives in Toronto, where she is Development Director of the media arts centre VTape, and a director of FAG (Feminist Art Gallery) with her partner, collaborator and artist Allyson Mitchel. See Deirdre’s work: www. deirdrelogue.com
The Dream Life of Animals: An Interview with Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy -Catlin Lewis I first saw Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy’s poetic film essay, Animals Under Anaesthesia: Speculations on the Dreamlife of Beasts at Victoria’s Antimatter Film Festival in October 2017. I found the film both alluring and disturbing, with its intimate shots of animals rendered unconscious on the beds of veterinary hospitals, cats and rabbits with their legs tied and masks put over their faces. I had to keep reminding myself, it’s ok, the animals are being helped. And once the anesthesia kicked in, it was down the rabbit hole (so to speak) and into a strange and disorienting world of terror and fascination. Anyone who has lived with an animal has witnessed evidence of their seeming dream-lives; twitching paws and whiskers, barks, sighs or whimpers. But we are left to wonder, what do our companions dream of? That animals do dream (or have conscious lives at all) has been the subject of debate for as long as humans and animals have coexisted. In fact, animals were not even legally recognized as conscious beings until the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness in July 2012 (which is ridiculous as far as I am concerned). And yet, even as far back as Aristotle, people have been aware of animal dreams and curious about their dream lives. As Aristotle writes in The History of Animals, “It would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep.” As we have read in the essays in this journal, experimental film is particularly apt at mirroring our dream lives. I wrote to Melanie and Brian to further explore the film, and their thoughts about the unconscious experiences of animals.
Still from Animals Under Anesthesia, 2016
Catlin Lewis: Hi Melanie and Brian. Thanks for answering some questions about Animals Under Anesthesia. I wanted to begin by asking you, how did you first come up with the idea for this film? Melanie Shatzky/ Brian M. Cassidy: We made a narrative feature film a few years ago called Francine in which there was a scene of a cat being anaesthetized. The image was striking - of the animal on its back with seemingly no will of its own. In this vulnerable position, the animal was firmly at the mercy of human will. We were deeply haunted by this image, and it lingered with us. We felt it was an apt visual representation of humans not only imposing their own will onto animals, but also of humans projecting their own sentiments onto animals. And from that, Animals Under Anaesthesia: Speculations on the Dreamlife of Beasts was born. Catlin: Did you have other animals that you considered? and other types of dreams? Melanie and Brian: We wanted to focus on household pets, so the four that we chose seemed like the right balance. Catlin: How did you decide which attributes to assign to an animal?
Melanie and Brian: Our starting point was a pseudoscientific and absurdist attempt to psychoanalyze the inner thoughts of animals, the result of which becomes a nightmarish reflection of our own human anxieties. The attributes, which were assigned intuitively, were meant to underscore the dominant themes of each segment, while discreetly poking fun at the often presumptuous impulse to anthropomorphize the animal world. When we refer to “Speculations on the Dreamlife of Beasts”, it might be said that the beasts we are referring to are humans, and not animals. Catlin: The pig is the only one not actually under anesthetic. Why? And why did you decide that his dreams would be about sex and repression? Melanie and Brian: The pig was undergoing a therapeutic procedure to soothe its aching joints. The tank is an unusual contraption that slowly fills up with water as the pig walks in place. It’s difficult to talk in concrete terms about the links between this phenomenon and the images of violence, menace and sexuality which follow. As with an actual dream, oblique relationships grew more and more insistent as we were editing. Catlin: Could you talk a bit about the devices that you use to visually invoke the sense of subconsciousness or dreams in the film? Melanie and Brian: Water is a recurring theme from segment to segment - from an aquarium to a sink of dirty dishes, a city drain, ponds, water pooling around the base of a headstone… We felt this provided a certain life force to the piece while at the same time permitting a way to signify a shift in consciousness. Catlin: I find the film both fascinating and disturbing. It is strange that, although these animals are actually being helped (as patients in veterinary hospitals), they look as though they are being hurt, or are even dead. Could you talk a bit about this mixture of empathy and fear in the film? Melanie and Brian: Like with most of our work, there is a strong
feeling of dread and discomfort, which inevitably polarizes audiences. And yet within that dread and discomfort, we try to find moments of grace and beauty. We are not after facts or answers, but rather try to find moments of resonance within discord. Catlin: Do you have pets? Melanie and Brian: We have a dog, Pixel, a 12 year old black lab/ schnauzer mix who is the most empathetic being we’ve ever encountered, and with whom we are madly in love.
Still from Animals Under Anesthesia, 2016
Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky are based in Montreal, where they make work under the name Pigeon Projects.Their films have screened at the Sundance, Berlin,Rotterdam and other film festivals, as well as The Museum of Modern Art and other art institutions. Cassidy and Shatzky also maintain an active photography practice, and in 2015 were invited to guest curate “A Photographer’s Eye: Photography & The Poetic Documentary”at La Cinémathèque Québécoise. Their work can be seen here: http://www.pigeonprojects.com/
The Secret Bank Account (Part One of Three): Introducing an Economy of Art -Petra Muller
Filmmakers talk a lot about money, much of the work in experimental film and video is about the practical business of production and distribution. There’s the need to find money to produce the films, the need to finance teams and equipment, and then all the post-production work of the editing process and sound production, and then the drama along the way, the cameras stolen from parked cars, and equipment that needs to be begged and borrowed. Once that’s all done there’s the work of getting things out to festivals, art houses, internet channels, and so on. All this focus on production and distribution also seems to apply just as well to art in general (photography, ceramics, sculpture, painting, performance). There’s the efforts in securing and financing materials, for deals on studio space, for access to specialized equipment and so on, and drama along the way, and then once that’s all done and the work is made, well then there’s the task of distribution, of getting the finished products out to festivals, art galleries, internet channels and so on.
Talk about what is in the films, in the videos, in the photographs, etc, questions on all the important stuff, the questions of content, intent and merit are left to critics, curators, funding agencies and attendee views and buys and clicks, and the occasional artist interview on cultural programs. It’s a manufacturing model, minus the factories and mass production. Manufacturing is so old school, so mid 19C, and we’re living in post-post-everything times. Yet here we are. Even new technologies haven’t managed to shift things around. New platforms, same order. Production, distribution, reception (to borrow a phrase from communication studies). Here we are, with an economy of art that’s not simply mass culture nor is it a new born digital everything. Which brings me to a joke, maybe you’ve heard it. It goes something like this. When in public, and everyone can hear, it’s the bankers who talk money and the artists who talk art. In private, at dinner parties, art openings, and casual beer get-togethers, it’s the bankers who talk art and the artists who talk money. We laugh when we hear it, for we know it’s true, especially for the artist part. Let us therefore continue and keep the conversation going on what’s going on with the current setups of production, distribution and reception, there’s a lot to talk about. More on the economy of art in Part 2 of The Secret Bank Account in the next edition of Flux. Petra is a photographer and filmmaker who was born in Germany and is currently based in Montreal. She studied film with David Rimmer while completing her undergraduate degree at Emily Carr University, and received a Master’s Degree at Concordia University in 1992. She has contributed photographs and writing to numerous publications, and has just completed an artists’ book called What the World Wears (2017). Her latest project is called the Jezts Set. See her work here: http://www.petramueller.ca/
Critical journal on contemporary media art in Canada and the world.