• Debating the Darkness: Talking Film with Abinadi Meza

    Date posted: July 10, 2014 Author: mauri
    Abinadi Meza, Still from the Hour Between Dog and Wolf, 2013. Found film footage transferred to video, original sound. Image courtesy of the artist.

    Matthew Hassell: Your work takes many forms from writing, to sound, to moving image. Is all of this part of one rolling, organically forming vision, or do you see them as separate pursuits?
    Abinadi Meza: Working across a range of formats lets me explore very specific aspects of the concepts and materials I’m interested in. So, yes it is part of a larger organic vision, but I try to pay close attention to what each format allows me to do, specifically.

    MH: Whose work do you look to for inspiration?
    AM: I went to art school and architecture school, so I picked up a range of influences: Land artists, minimalists, performance artists, experimental filmmakers, technologists, utopians, visionaries, and provocateurs. Film-wise, I continually enjoy unabashed poets and symbolists like Jean Cocteau, Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

    MH: Where do you find sources of inspiration outside of the art world?
    AM: I read a lot—fiction, poetry, non-fiction, “the news.”

    MH: Give us an example of how the inspiration to create a new work begins for you.
    AM: It often involves chance encounters, for example I recently read an article about Vishnu devotees in India who routinely sacrifice their hair by shaving and leaving it at temples. In the past this hair was burned or used to stuff mattresses, but today it fuels the global market of hair extensions. Something like 40,000 impoverished pilgrims—adults and children, sacrifice their hair every day; it’s all they have to give. Since it’s long and untreated with chemicals it’s considered the highest quality, fetching premium prices for the sellers. Something about this stuck with me, something almost like an image. I haven’t done anything with it yet, but it’s in my mind waiting for another ingredient to appear, and then a chemical reaction will happen, launching a new work. It won’t literally be about hair, or Vishnu, etc. However—I do enjoy imagining rooms, cargo containers, whole ships filled with hair for an ancient God!

    MH: You seem to like making work that has a fragmented or otherwise broken narrative aspect, what is it about moving image work that seems to lend itself to narrative so immediately? Do you fight or embrace this?
    AM: Yes, narratives are so immediate, no matter how disparate the compositional elements involved seem to be. I do embrace this—sometimes layering narratives like textures—like vertical stacks or architectures; juxtapositions and simultaneity in layered space. Tarkovsky used the phrase “sculpting in time.” He was describing working with inner-time, the inner-time of an image, a frame—but also how images need space to unfold, and to evolve. This sometimes involves slowness, but not always.

    MH: Why do we always want to abstract temporality as artists?
    AM: Maybe we’re infected with a time-virus … tempophilia? Actually, I think it has something to do with the intensity of our interactions with time. Perhaps we want to capture some real—as in, a communicable aspect of those experiences. Sometimes the abstraction is more palpable, more comprehensible (and probably more fictive) than the incident that triggered the “capture-impulse” in the first place.

    MH: In viewing your work, I have come to think that you are either a very convincing costume and set designer, or you have access to vintage film reels. If the latter is correct, where are you sourcing this footage from and what do you generally look for when choosing a film clip for your work?
    AM: I have a time machine! Well, actually that’s kind of true, in that archives are a kind of time machine. I’ve been working with found footage for a while, coming from lots of places—public and personal archives, random finds, even gifts. It’s a very intuitive process, full of “accidents.” I look through lots of footage and things jump out—interesting things, strange things, small things—an animal, a color, a hand, a gesture.

    MH: Are you also shooting your own footage? If so, on what formats?
    AM: Yes, I shoot original material in a range of formats—16mm, HD video, sometimes even 8mm, or with an iPhone, if necessary!

    MH: Dark imagery seems to be a common thread, both in the compositions you choose for your video work and in the nature of the sounds throughout your audio work. Is this a choice to tie the work together thematically, or are you just drawn to this style?
    AM: Yes, I see where you’re coming from, but we might have to have a longer discussion about “dark.” I don’t think it’s a thematic or stylistic decision so much as just how the materials feel after having been handled, cut into, stretched, scrutinized, or dreamed about. They become heavier—with anxiety, love.

    MH: Maybe we are reading too much into this, but how obvious do you want the underlying theme of mortality to appear in your work? Is this something that all your work approaches in some way?
    AM: I would probably describe the work as concerned with ephemerality—something involving distance and transformation—noticing the real and sometimes monumental impact of something fleeting. In my early 20’s I studied Butoh with Japanese, European, and South American teachers; there was something there that resonated with me, that I wanted to work with, and probably do.

    MH: I really enjoy your choice to have the narration in The Hour Between Dog and Wolf and Black Box Recorder spoken by what seems to be a computer program.  It lends a universality and gravity to the words in some way. What was the thinking behind this decision?
    AM: That’s precisely it, I needed a kind of distance, a removal. To some extent Black Box Recorder is about what a machine might show us about ourselves; the voice needed to be artificial yet deeply human at times. Hour Between Dog and Wolf required a similar kind of narrator—an uncanny voice. You might recall the film opens in “somewhere that is also happening.”

    MH: Sound is such an important part of your work, it really makes me want to see your video work in a proper venue, so that I can sit in the dark with your imagery and be enveloped by the sonic elements through a professional sound system. It’s an experience you just can’t really get online. Is this something that troubles you, or is it just a necessary evil of these hyper-technological times we find our selves in?
    AM: Yes that’s tricky. There are rich subtleties in the soundtrack, and it’s actually quite powerful when properly experienced. But, I do think some sense of that comes through, even online. I think it’s important to reach your audience, and obviously people realize they’re not getting the full experience online, or maybe even at a festival. But, it stimulates the appetite, as they say.

    MH: Who are some lesser-known contemporary moving image or sound artists we should all be viewing or listening to?
    AM: Lately I’ve been enjoying work by Chinese sound artists Xie Zhongqi and Yin Yi, as well as the Japanese noise/performance artist Fuyuki Yamakawa. The corporeal and chaotic aspect of Yamakawa’s work is great. This summer I happened upon Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s film The Exception and the Rule, and thought it was very well done.

    MH: When can we expect to see your work in New York?
    AM: Soon, I hope! I’m looking for a good opportunity.

    MH: What projects or exhibitions do you have in the works for 2014?
    AM: Several new projects—a film about abandoned technology in the Chihuahuan desert, a public sound installation commissioned in Houston, site-specific installations in Ireland and Japan, and new “studio-editions” in limited edition vinyl and prints.

    MH: Thank you very much for your time!

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