Proposal

Bio

I put “experimental filmmaker” on my Tinder profile, like most under 140 characters one liners, that could mean many things. To the informed, I’m a “surrealist cineaste”. To fine-art academics, I am a “multimedia artist focused on moving images synchronized to sound that play in the space between figurative and abstraction with stylized, saturated, camp, visceral and psychedelic results”.

My ex-coworker, friend and author, Flavie, describes me in three sentences as an Arab woman called “light”. [1]“Noor, in her thirties, behind her espresso machine, hunched over the Fantasia program. After work, she writes and directs experimental shorts. She studied industrial design.” Flavie Chonière, … Continue reading

If you have more questions, let me expand.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The answer depends on whether you’re asking a neurologist, an endocrinologist, a behaviourist, an ornithologist, a zoologist, an ethologist, an ecologist, or the chicken. Where one might explain the role of neurotransmitters, another will talk about food and reward systems. Each will explain different things and they will all be correct and they will all be partial. In the same way, you can look at Van Gogh – the artist of artists – and you can explain his painting in different ways. One person might note that Sunflowers are plentiful in the region where he worked, someone else would note that the invention of the photograph affected how painters saw their role while Van Gogh might say that he slept well and quite likes yellow. And a week later, he realizes that it might be the drugs he takes. [2]Kathryn Harkup, It was all yellow: did digitalis affect the way Van Gogh saw the world?, The Guardian, August 10, 2017, … Continue reading 

Knowledge Held Within States of Being

“It was revealed, this great tension at the heart of scientific enquiry. It was revealed in this absurd pantomime. I was there tripping balls on this bed and laughing at these questions like ‘How do you rate your experience of infinity?’ How do you, at any moment, rate your experience of infinity? Let alone when you’re under the influence of government-produced, government-sanctioned LSD. […] This, of course, raises this really major problem for people who are going to try to understand the nature of the mind from conventional empirical scientific method, because you can’t design an experiment to get inside someone else’s experience because that’s just, it’s a paradox that’s built in.” [3]Merlin Sheldrake interviewed by Russell Brand, “#177 Interconnection”, Under the Skin, March 19, 2021. Podacast, 1:19:58. … Continue reading explains biologist and mycologist Merlin Sheldrake. He was one among other scientists and mathematicians who were asked questions about infinity  in a hospital room decorated in mood light and funky tapestries. My films are often described as psychedelic. I’m not interested in drugs themselves, but much like the scientists who were not tripping balls, I question what the drugs and dreams reveal about the nature of knowledge or what knowledge is held within states of being.

My research is unfit for peer review and publishing in a scientific journal, but  I am free to create images and sounds as the basis of my research that proposes connections through juxtapositions in space and time. I like to turn things inside out and illustrate the unseen. Every moment is a truth that is partial, incomplete. How do you illustrate the multiple truths overlapping in every instant? We strive to connect these fragments into something that can be held within brains, brains shaped for survival and reproduction, but co-opted into understanding the universe. At the other end of the spectrum we can be overwhelmed with too much information like when a stranger sees an old man, but you can only see your grandfather. The lens of our perception is a far messier lens than what we care to believe.  

It’s hard for me to comment, because I’ve never heard an Aldous Harding song.

Aldous Harding [4] Aldous Harding, “Aldous Harding live performance in KEXP studio” KEXP, Seattle, October 16 2019, YouTube video, https://youtu.be/O-_yCMPNNEo, accessed on October 14th 2021

Words Skew Reality

Psychologist and researcher Lisa Feldmann Barett explains how our brain works like pattern classification: we see similar things associated with the same word over and over again to create a concept that becomes our social reality. Think of the way a day-care teacher might repeat the word “Blue” to toddlers while pointing to a rainbow, while in Russia and China the day-care teacher has two colours that we would both call blue in the west. These extra words for colour changes how people in Russia and China perceive colours, with two extra bands in their illustration of rainbows.  [5]Lisa Feldman Barett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2017, https://how-emotions-are-made.com/notes/Categorization and … Continue reading Lisa Feldman Barett concludes that the language shapes how we perceive see colours in a rainbow though we know it exists on a scale. She also goes on to argue that our emotions are shaped this way and are culturally specific rather than universal. Yet, we do not think of these as alternate states of perception. 

The Madness

“Sans folie” [6] without madness he specifies, I know the madness he is referring to. The prompt was “renewing your cinema” and he is suggesting that I would have been accepted if I had offered to make a straight film. He’s right and a worm in my stomach whispers that I would sooner ditch cinema before making a straight film, maybe drift to comic books or sculptures. The worm is letting me in on a secret about myself. I must be drawn to something else that exists across mediums. I just happen to think that the moving image does it best.

I approach a project with the mindset of a juvenile delinquent meet the Microsoft Excel module for creating charts from numbers. I play to turn abstract concepts into visual code and/or sounds. I want to discover new links between ideas in the same way the Excel pie chart exposes the links and the significance of the numbers without imposing an interpretation. I believe dreams do this, in their own way. I think of dreams as the language of the brain speaking to itself. I am attracted to cinema because, like Fellini, I believe that the experience of this medium is close to the experience of dreams: 

Talking about dreams is like talking about movies, since the cinema uses the language of dreams; years can pass in a second, and you can hop from one place to another. It’s a language made of image. And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream.

Federico Fellini [7]Frederico Fellini, “Fellini’s Language of dream” interview by Jonathan Cott, from Scraps from the Loft,  December 5, 2017, originally published in Rolling Stones Magazine, February 1984, … Continue reading

Back to School Special

In the same way that I like to pick apart my dreams looking for hidden meanings,  I explore this dream language in the hopes that the cinematic medium itself has something to teach. In 2015, I made Deer DeForge based on an illustration by Michael DeForge through the collage of various moving and still elements. I did not take the illustration and animate it directly, but found ways to animate equivalents. I manipulate time and layers using available digital compositing tools. The worm in my belly leads me to keep going down this road.

My application to the MFA in studio arts proposes to keep researching this cinema. In my initial research question, I propose to repeat the exercise I did to the illustration to a sculpture by David Altmedj. I want to translate David Almedj’s The Pit into cinema which is most obvious in Audiovisual Sketch Series | Winter 2019. The results echo Shiya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: Iron Man series, Norman McLaren’s Pas De Deux or Vera Chytilova’s Daisies.  I am led adrift from classical cinema towards a form of moving collage. I blend in animation and puppetry to live action and pass by a hybrid medium. 

Surreal Without Surrealism

Inclusion in the medium of cinema is not the only thing that falls under question within the academic context. I had always named my dreamlike aesthetic as surrealist. I see a resemblance between my work and that with the century-old surrealist art movement and I learn more about how they share with me an involvement with collage, juxtaposition, dreams and the unconscious. “Fluctuating between abstraction and figuration” does not roll off the tongue quite the same. However, the devil is in the details. I’m a century late to care about fights between French men with “B” last names. My psychology (the study of the mind) has evolved from psychoanalysis and interacts with the science of cognition (the study of mental processes) and neuroscience (the study of the nervous system). The progression of these fields  continue to revolutionize the way we think about the interaction of the body and the mind. I conclude that the art of surrealists is as influential to me as Hieronymous Bosch and other fantastic grotesqueries like the illustrator Michael DeForge and the sculptor David Altmedj. 

I’m encouraged to research the theory of the grotesque with rich results. I learn to understand this aesthetic principle as a culturally bound and moving target that works to play in the space between attraction and repulsion. This theoretical research also  leads me to Julia Kristeva’s essay on the abject.  Abjection exists only in the interaction between subject and object. It causes an emotion of repulsion at the encounter of the body in the process when the body loses its discreet form. The artists work with the abject to complexify and create ambiguity between perceived dichotomies : the interior/exterior, subject/object, individual/society, psychological/anthropological. The body is caught in a process as it seeks to explore the interrelationship between the forms it takes in deconstruction and reinvention. [8] Julia Kristeva, “Pouvoir de l’horreur”, Pouvoirs de l’horreur: Essai sur l’abjection (Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1980), pp.145-148.

The Apocalypse

Hold your breath, it’s only two weeks. Two months. Two years later and everything is different. The faded rainbow paint is chipping off the cardboard sign still hanging from the balcony:  “ça va bien aller”. [9] Everything is going to be okay The duct tape repairs melt in the heat wave. “Back to normal” is replaced by “new normal”, but I don’t hear that one either anymore.

The hope for an upturn as abrupt as the downfall seems naive in retrospect. That hope is the same impatience of wanting to be done with heartbreak or grief over the loss of a loved one right now, thankyouverymuch. Things fall suddenly, but we rebuild ourselves slowly.  We think we are going to go back when in fact we grow over that fracture that is now a part of our story and our being. A tree grows around, over and through a fence. It is not broken, the liquid adaptations solidify in a new shape. Are you still holding your breath?

The pandemic strikes and ripples over the lives of most of us and triggers many new adaptations. It is impossible to ignore the circumstances as I huddle at home, building this website of my work from the MFA. In this tracing I discover that this very process of identity transformation has always been the basis of my research-creation.

This Webpage

Ok. J’commence à catcher là.” [10] Okay. I’m starting to get it now.

Said Maude after the first few films.

It was my thirtieth birthday when we made tacos and watched every film I ever made. A retrospective for four close friends. This was two months before that application. In this webpage I trace my steps through all of the audio and/or visual things I made during the course of this degree.  Each page is a fragment of my research. I connect my experience of the piece to a piece of theory.

Certain experimentations stand out from the rest: 

Research Questions

[11][…] Though profile pictures are meant to be gazed at, yours gazes at the onlooker […] But in a playful way, not serious, a questioning gaze half smiling And you do that a lot, switching … Continue reading

Armed with these aesthetic tools and with a focus on the hybrid medium I create brainteasers where we understand enough to want to put it together, but the elements never quite add up. I am primarily influenced by genre film, but my work vacillates and mixes absurd narrative projects with formal explorations. I seek to subvert structural categorization in the hopes of peeking into truths that are hidden to naturalistic perception, as you might see it at noon on a Wednesday, to help us believe through embodiment what we understand through cognition. The viewer is encouraged to question my sometimes divisive propositions that subvert perceived binary such as organic/digital, inside/outside, mind/body, gender/sex, rational/emotional, material/conceptual, attraction/disgust, bad/good taste, social/personal.

What do we learn from the juxtaposition of representations of the human body in transformation as both multiple and fragmented; both natural and constructed; both in the organic and digital?

Can help us resolve the multiple perspectives and truths that inhabit us and the fluidity of our identity?

References

References
1 “Noor, in her thirties, behind her espresso machine, hunched over the Fantasia program. After work, she writes and directs experimental shorts. She studied industrial design.” Flavie Chonière, Fibres, p.11, Éditions Tête Première, Montréal, 2021.
2 Kathryn Harkup, It was all yellow: did digitalis affect the way Van Gogh saw the world?, The Guardian, August 10, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/aug/10/it-was-all-yellow-did-digitalis-affect-the-way-van-gogh-saw-the-world, accessed on March 29, 2021.
3 Merlin Sheldrake interviewed by Russell Brand, “#177 Interconnection”, Under the Skin, March 19, 2021. Podacast, 1:19:58. https://thepodcastplayground.com/podcast/177-interconnection-with-merlin-sheldrake/
4 Aldous Harding, “Aldous Harding live performance in KEXP studio” KEXP, Seattle, October 16 2019, YouTube video, https://youtu.be/O-_yCMPNNEo, accessed on October 14th 2021
5 Lisa Feldman Barett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2017, https://how-emotions-are-made.com/notes/Categorization and https://how-emotions-are-made.com/notes/Categorical_perception
6 without madness
7 Frederico Fellini, “Fellini’s Language of dream” interview by Jonathan Cott, from Scraps from the Loft,  December 5, 2017, originally published in Rolling Stones Magazine, February 1984, https://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2017/12/05/fellinis-language-of-dreams-rolling-stone-interview-1984/, accessed on December 7, 2020.
8 Julia Kristeva, “Pouvoir de l’horreur”, Pouvoirs de l’horreur: Essai sur l’abjection (Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1980), pp.145-148.
9 Everything is going to be okay
10 Okay. I’m starting to get it now.
11 […] Though profile pictures are meant to be gazed at, yours gazes at the onlooker […] But in a playful way, not serious, a questioning gaze half smiling
 And you do that a lot, switching the expectations – in particular through de-hierarchization

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