A few years ago I wondered: “with the progression of culture and technology, what would the interaction between the first human and the last human be like?” Thus was born the idea to produce Voyage of the Galactic Space Dangler.
This film address a few subjects relevant to me:
Firstly, is the advancement of technology and global culture, as it relates to a perceived quality of life. Have our technological advancements really provided us a better life? We may have set the black Plague behind us, but I am not sure the results ahead are much better: Effects of GMO’s, cultural anxiety and depression, high speed auto accidents, and relational disconnectedness. Without any substantial research, I would like to think that the first humans were more alive than we are today, having been bogged down by the consumeristic fancies of the western world. This film allows the primal life to trump the ways of the future.
Secondly, I recently watched Kens Burns documentary about the colonization of the west. The idea of the pioneer, discovering new worlds, and conquering their native people, either by force, sickness or the slight of hand over time, is an upsetting universal reality of human nature. Being the product of a colonized world, I find the almost silent displacement of Native Americans so disturbing. I wanted this film to allow the underdog an upper hand, however, I am unsure if any culture is better off remaining within a hierarchy.
Last, I wanted to play with, and manipulate the space/time continuum, which is really the job of every filmmaker, but I wanted to grapple with it directly. The mechanism that best supports this type of visual exploration in my experience is the portal, the most classic means to break the laws of physics. The possibility to disfigure spacial relationships and bend the passage of time, creates a delightful playground of impossibilities for any filmmaker.
I will leave you with a simple quote that struck me towards the end of making this film. It comes from a book written by Kallistos Ware entitled The Orthodox Way. It was towards the end of the book, I think it was addressing the idea of being present: not dwelling upon the past or being anxious in regards to the future. It goes something like this: “The present is the only point in time which touches eternity.” I realized i was able to manipulate time as a filmmaker, but in reality, as it relates to my life, I struggle greatly to place the present moment where it ought to be, in eternity.
(The following is an excerpt from my thesis and regards the process of filming the opening and closing sequences of Real Ethereal)
"I hit the record button and began the journey into the sea while Deborah remained on the beach with the camera. She gave me verbal directions to keep me in the frame, “turn left... go straight... turn right...” As I ventured further, the waves washed out her guiding voice. The costume was disorienting, lacking both eye slits and peripheral vision, so my course wandered. Water licked my chin.
By now I was shoulder deep in the sea, attempting to submerge myself, but the wetsuit and costume were too buoyant. This was a problem I had not anticipated. My initial plan was to emerge from the water and walk toward the camera, but because this was not possible, I had to settle with the less epic version. I bobbed around in the tides for a bit and made my way towards the beach. Deborah’s voice returned again, guiding my path. The waterlogged costume slowed my movements and became increasingly heavy as I progressed towards dry land. By now, we had gathered the attention of more than just a few casual onlookers.
The police were waiting for me. Apparently a concerned citizen thought it unusual to cover one’s own body with household materials, and in the twilight, walk into the icy shadows of the sea. The blustery weather brought no consolation, for it had snowed the previous day. What I intended as poetry, someone else perceived to be a tragic oneway journey into the ocean. I struggled to remove the saturated costume and transfer it into an oversized trash bag.
With the soggy whiteness encapsulated, we made our way to the parking lot, where the idling police cars waited patiently. I needed only to mention “RISD” and “school project” for the officers to fully realize the innocence of the situation. They said I had been described as a “mentally disturbed person (dressed like Lady Gaga) attempting suicide” and suggested that next time I should disclose my intentions beforehand to avoid confusion. The thought of calling the police before making art had never occurred to me. After giving them my regrets for the miscommunication, we moved on.
This experience enriched the content of the project, for it revealed the presence of death in a scene that I perceived as life, thus painting truthfully the predicament of existence. The opening scene of Real Ethereal represents creation and the emergence of birth. It is the cleansing waters of baptism that purify the soul, the reclamation of life from the frigid waters of death, and the introduction of a profound mystery that continually nudges us along the winding path we follow. In regards to the final scene, it is the completion of reality and the satiated cycle of life. In order for something to live, something needs to die. Death gives life."
(The following is an excerpt from my RISD MFA written thesis. This event took place on August 6th, 2008 while climbing the face of Longs Peak in Colorado)
"I watched the cloud pour over the peak of the fourteen thousand foot mountain and drop into the chasm below. Curling like an upside down wave, it ascended the face of the cliff until it engulfed us. I climbed faster as trickles of water trailed down the rock, passing like people fleeing the source of something terrifying; in this case, a vertical flood of frigid rain. The temperature dropped forty degrees. Rain morphed into hail, while my fingers crimped themselves desperately to an tiny ledge of rock. I yelled for Austin to take up the slack, but my voice was lost in the deafening ruckus of nature’s purging. I could hold on no longer.
Letting go of the ledge, I pushed my body away from the granite wall; the mass disappeared upward as my body matched the velocity of the falling hail. The frozen spheres hovered before me as I fell. The rope caught me in a swinging motion as I arced across the face. With instinct, I climbed up to the next piece of protection and waited on a ledge no bigger than a cereal box, while a pile of hail buried my feet. The alpine downfall made Austin invisible; every sound became lost in the unceasing repetition of ice spheres contacting my helmet. I began to pray to God, making the necessary arrangements for the parting of soul and body.
Eventually the downfall subsided, opening a window for me to complete the traverse toward Austin. After consoling one another, we humbly began our descent. The work ahead was daunting. Our violently shivering bodies made slow downward progress as we rappelled. The soggy rope was beginning to freeze, making it nearly impossible to untie. My hands had swelled to resemble boxing gloves with fingers and were unable to function according to the demands of the situation. Lightning danced around us without delay between light and sound.
We had lowered to the next set of rappel anchors when lighting struck the iron dense rock just above our heads. This happened as I was clipping into the steel bolted anchor with my metallic carabineer. Metal, flesh, and electricity united; the power coursed into my hand, and through my body. I was shocked. Austin, who was next to me, didn’t feel a thing, although he recognized what had happened. The mass of the rock had absorbed much of the energy, leaving me unscathed to continue our exit strategy in the dimming day.
We made it down to a big ledge and gathered ourselves under a rock overhang where we proceeded to take our shoes off and warm each others feet. Only under unusual circumstances can two dudes be found giving each other foot rubs in the wilderness, but the moment called for nothing better. Once feeling returned to our toes, we continued our descent. The sufferfest concluded five and half hours later in the darkness of the trailhead parking lot. We crawled into the car and drove into Boulder, where we consumed a pizza in silence.
This single experience has become an inspiration and a metaphor for the themes in my work: organic and feeble bodies negotiating ascension through expanses of unmoving rock while trial upon trial is thrust in opposition. Enormous scale. Forces of nature: earth, water, wind, and fire. The presence of clouds, light, and energy. Loss of clarity, vision, and strength. Undergoing suffering, exhaustion, thirst and hunger; the nearness of death. In this encounter I vividly experienced the mysterious attributes that make one consider anew the purpose of existence."
(One specific reference to this experience can be found in Real Ethereal, as the q-tips (lighting) emerge from the rocks)
My work is the product of an explorative process, each project resulting in the creation of a little world, which contains its own array of materials, muted colors, creatures, and gravities. I try to keep preconceptions limited, however, as the sequences and segments find their places, visual narratives emerge. This method of working allows the process to (somewhat) ordain the final result. When control is relinquished, the results are able to transcend any overarching plans I may have developed. In this way, the process informs the meaning, which is ultimately translated from personal experience.
I value personal experience above objective understanding, therefore "what my work means" is somewhat irrelevant, even though loose tropes do exist (birth, life and death, the unknown, macro and microcosms, light and darkness, transitions, portals, time, space, faith, etc). Each project becomes a totem to personal experience, where meaning is gathered from the collection of memories, experiences, and quirky stories that come with the making process (this is especially true for my short films, which can take a couple years to create). I have discovered this method of working to become a means for me to reflect on personal history, memory and the passage of time.
In regards to my work (primarily this applies to my videos), I have chosen to embrace the handmade, physical struggle involved in the process. I appreciate the effects of gravity on substances, as well as the challenge of making the real look unreal, while creating other worlds using materials from our world. I have decided to shun CGI (except for the minimal use of lens flares and lights), not out of spite, but in order to embrace the corporeal world and strive to transform it into something transcendent.
(Because every artist and person is really attempting to find or become something transcendent.)
Transforming ethereal, organic, mechanical and geometrical imagery into visual metaphors, I create with the intentions of transforming the familiar world into one of wonder. I attempt to depict the inconceivable, manifest the immeasurable, and tether the infinite. Creatures are invented, environments fabricated and planets are birthed; the microscopic commingles with universal scales.
This being said, my works fails to uphold its own statements and visions. The notion of creating without reference or corporeal influence is paradoxical and obviously impossible. The futility of this concept reveals my inabilities to transcend the physical world as an artist, despite an innate longing to do so. The shortcomings in my work, especially in light of my hopeful attempts at really capturing the numinous and essentially awesome, reveal the limitations of my knowledge. I am unable to think or act beyond what I know, and can only “know” from the collective pool of what can be known. This realization both encourages a greater thrust towards the advancement of knowledge, while simultaneously rendering knowledge as a device that is limited in its concrete rationalization of reality.
Art making is a blind grappling into darkness in search for enlightenment, I long to experience those rare and precious slivers of light that pour from the essentially unknown. I attempt to collect these slivers and embed them into my work, massaging them into context in order to understand and process reality. Art is a means to physically interact with a world I do not understand; I create little worlds in an attempt to experience and perceive anew the existence of life with the hope of fostering imaginative nourishment that feeds the mystery of reality.
(Perhaps I sound too conceited and this is just a bunch of fancy words attempting to express intelligence. I really want to remove this and say nothing at all, but I feel something must be said to justify the work. I am told it is the job of the critic to explain the work and that the artist should remain elusive and vague, of which I feel I have succeeded. Why would I say "art making is a blind grappling...?" What does that even mean?)