Continuing our profile on a few creators from our NYFF Projections section (formerly known as Views from the Avant-Garde) that starts this weekend, FilmLinc Daily presents a discussion with Jodie Mack, the director of Razzle Dazzle and Blanket Statement #2, which will screen as part of Projections Program 10.
Mack's works featured in the festival deal with expressive moving materials. She describes Razzle Dazzle: as “tacky threads luminesce at a firefly’s pace” and Blanket Statement #2 as “a quilted call and response.” Glean more insight into this extraordinary artist's work below.
FilmLinc Daily: Fandor called you “2013's breakout star of the avant-garde.” Why do you think the experimental world is responding to you work?
Jodie Mack: Wow, that’s kind of a tall order—plus does the avant-garde have stars?!
It has surely been a wonderful year of traveling with my latest batch of films; I am humbled and inspired by the support I have received from friends, colleagues, and strangers. People seem to respond to how much effort I put into my films, simply by the virtue of the animation process. Beyond that, I think perhaps people have responded to the personal risks these films tackle. They are honest and vulnerable, which seems uncommon these days in this tradition. They also challenge pre-existing genres of experimental film, attempting to push the tradition beyond its own pre-established forms. I wondered if films could perform the interrogative/critical labor of other experimental traditions while also providing enjoyment, humor, and visual delight. It felt kind of awkward at first. But, in the end, that journey/combination brought the films to a new place that audiences seem to appreciate very much.
FL: Your work delves into the history of design and the material world, would you say Razzle Dazzle and Blanket Statement #2 do this?
JM: Yes, absolutely, I do think Razzle Dazzle and Blanket Statement #2 delve into the history/contemporary realities of design and the material world. Razzle Dazzle is a baby step of sorts into a series of investigations focusing on the material production of desire and the illusion of glamour. Blanket Statement #2—with its quasi-digital stitch horizons—recalls my pre-glitch Chicago roots, reflecting upon appearances of quilts in fine arts from Michelangelo Pistoletto to Beryl Korot and drawing comparisons between basic elements of analog and digital aesthetics.
FL: Something about the changing sizes of the stitch paired with the throbbing propeller-type soundtrack is mesmerizing in Blanket Statement #2. Was this intentional and do you agree?
JM: The direct relationship between sound and image in Blanket Statement #2 intentionally stems from the film's production technique. The images are actually making the sounds. Shot on a Super-16mm camera, the images of the blanket actually extend into the soundtrack portion of the film—creating an indexical relationship between image and sound. Rhythmically, the piece explores a 26-frame meter, both in unison and counterpoint.
The “throbbing propeller” soundscape comes from the sound of the frame lines running through the projector. I have become infinitely fascinated with this technique in recent years and have thus employed different variations in other films like Persian Pickles, Blanket Statement #1, and Let Your Light Shine. I’ve had an interest in strategies of image/sound synchronization for many years. But, it wasn’t until I realized exactly how much influence Oskar Fischinger had over the development of John Cage that I understood how important these types of experiments were: not only for the development of experimental animation but also perhaps for the entire catalog of 20th-century experimental music. When you analyze the history of such audiovisual synthesis, it’s easy to reach a dead end once arriving to the digital realm. So, the aforementioned indexical relationship between image and sound that plays out in Blanket Statement #2 seems possibly the purest form A/V combinatory play.
FL: In a 2014 New York Times article you are quoted as saying: “I became really interested in the way the general public can experience abstraction and what sort of stigma attaches to the medium.” Would you say your work challenges this stigma? Are you aiming for a level of accessibility?
JM: My work certainly identifies and addresses the stigmas associated with abstract animation, and perhaps that foregrounding of such ides can aid in challenging such a reputation. My last batch of films exhibited a wide range of approaches—from the highly uptight/sterile/formal/silent to the cacophonous/joyous/entertaining… accessible! Accessibility comes up as a topic amongst friends and experimental film enthusiasts quite frequently. Because I come from a family that had little to do with culture, I recognize how ridiculous this type of filmmaking can seem to anyone who is governed by the narrative expectations that popular media has placed upon him/her. I’m also reminded of this on a daily basis in the classroom, as I’m a professor by trade.
Life, economy, and education, have changed drastically even in the 10 years since receiving my undergraduate degree, and I believe my generation’s work should respond to this. If no one else wants to tackle these truths, then I will. All too often, I see work that’s not revolutionizing anything, playing it safe, stuck in the same traditions of art that came from a time when there wasn’t such an economic pressure on, well, not just artists, but everyone. Maybe artists of the past could risk alienating their audiences. I don’t feel that I have the same freedom at this point, which is fine because—ultimately—I believe that the ideals behind experimental film are accessible. Cinema is a medium of experience, not storytelling: is that so alienating?
Whereas previous generations may have completely rejected notions of representation/storytelling/declaration in favor of adopting other methods of abstraction/purism/sensation, I actually enjoy thinking about and working through all of these possibilities, how they’ve played out historically, and how to combine them to force this medium into something that can move into the future. The cinematic experience is an act of generosity, coming both from the filmmaker and the audiences. I intend to treat it as such—forever.