An Interview with Daniel Sousa

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | May 5, 2015

During his visit to SAIC in April Daniel Sousa sat down with graduate student Elizabeth Metcalfe for a revealing interview about his background in painting and illustration, his relationship to animation and upcoming projects he is currently working on.

Daniel Sousa

Daniel Sousa

Elizabeth Metcalfe: I know you have a background as a painter and illustrator. Your films have a very painterly quality. How did you first come to animation? What relationship do you see between your films and your painting practice?

Daniel Sousa: I went to Rhode Island School of Design. At the beginning, I was going into illustration. I liked illustration as a major because it allowed you the most number of electives. As a child, I was never really into animation. Of course I was familiar with Disney and Bugs Bunny, but that’s about it. So I didn’t have a burning desire to become an animator until I was in school. But, while I was there, through different screenings around campus, I was exposed to non-traditional animation: European work, especially Eastern European work, as well as independent American animation. I realized it wasn’t just a medium for children’s entertainment. Animation wasn’t just cartoons, but could be used as a fine art, used to express dream or internal states in a much more specific and universal way than live action films could. So I found that fascinating. I took an Introduction to Animation Class as an elective. It was a lot of fun to experiment with different materials. This was before computers, so it was a lot of hands-on work: playing with celluloids, scratching directly into film, playing with paints and charcoal, and different cut-out techniques. So I realized that this was a medium that encompassed a lot of other mediums and you could try sculpture and use stop-motion animation or do painting and use hand-drawn animation. It incorporated literature, storytelling, theatre, and I thought it was a good size of filmmaking for me because I didn’t have a lot of money to afford a film major lackey. With animations, I could do stuff on my own and I didn’t need a team. I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be, but that’s when you realize that animation is either for you or it isn’t. You have to enjoy the time that it takes and the trance that you almost get into by doing really repetitive work. It takes a very specific type of personality. At the same time, I was also taking electives in painting, especially figurative painting. What I was trying to do with the films was to make paintings come to life. So I wasn’t necessarily interested in storytelling but more in just capturing moments like a painting would. I wanted my films to be living paintings.

EM: So it that how your process works now? Do you start with an image or do you have some sort of narrative concept in mind before you begin a film?

DS: It really depends. I go back and forth a lot. I do find that images are usually more helpful for me; they are a way into the film. I can sit back and interpret the images I’ve created and see if there’s a story there or not. By connecting two images, I can see if there’s a third image that is suggested and then start to build a story from the inside out like a puzzle, rearranging the pieces. In many ways, it’s a lot more frustrating than writing a script first. I do that a lot more for my commercial and freelance work; when you work in the industry, you sort of have to do that. But the problem with that process is that all of the creative energy gets spent on writing and conceiving of the work so that when you’re actually producing the film, it becomes an assembly line. I lose interest in it by that point. By assembling a film like a puzzle, the process is interesting the whole way through. There’s always room for possibility and discovery, even down to the editing and sound design processes.

EM: Where do you find inspiration for the films that you are creating?

DS: Everywhere, really. Other artists, of course. I find inspiration not so much from the external world (meaning nature) but more so from memories or certain feelings I am trying to evoke, certain states that are hard to explain through words. Movement itself inspires me. I find certain movements, like branches rustling in a tree, fascinating. I could stare at that for hours, observing the intricacies of that movement. I’m inspired by the choreography of nature…not so much the look of nature but the movement of nature.

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Spring 2015 Season Wrap-Up

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | April 30, 2015

Marisa Olson presenting at this season's Conversations at the Edge.

Marisa Olson presenting at this season’s Conversations at the Edge.

It’s with a heavy heart that we call a close on the busy Spring 2015 season of CATE. We have welcomed artists from far and wide to present a diverse and eclectic spectrum of work here in Chicago this spring. From Soon-Mi Yoo’s beautiful and complex Songs from the North, a film that weaves biography, archival material, and first-person footage together to create a nuanced look at life in North Korea, to John Gerrard’s hyper-realistic digital works that question the power structures and energy networks that facilitate our everyday existence. I’d like to thank all our visiting artists for sharing their work with us, as well as our presenting partners the Gene Siskel Film Center and Video Data Bank. I would also like to thank our numerous SAIC student writers, who each week  have sat down to write thoughtful and sensitive editorials for our blog. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming special content on our blog and the release of our Fall 2015 season line-up!

On “Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques”…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | April 22, 2015

Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques: Works by Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss screens the at Gene Siskel Film Center tomorrow, Thursday, April 23rd at 6pm. Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss in person! 

Ouroboros—an ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. Rather than requiring or demanding a space, this reworking of a culture opens up its own space in the form of a temporal or social rupture. This serpent is all knowing—a never-ending circuit from mouth to anus. It is the constant consumption and regurgitation of the detritus of society. And although there may be no originality in the form, it is through the process of digestion that one may reshape it into an alternate form. Rather than viewing identity construction as something forged through denial and loss, this feedback loop short-circuits the concept of transmission. This temporal feedback is critical to make sense of contemporary identity formation and culture through reinvention, renegotiation and reimagining—a problem discussed by Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler in their opening text of Queer Diasporas, the stated focus of which is “on how to make sense of the always poignant and sometimes hilarious labors of reinvention and renegotiation in new places, or in reimagined old ones.”[1]

Mariah Garnett, Still from Encounters I May or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin , 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Mariah Garnett, Still from Encounters I May or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin , 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

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Apr 23 – Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques: Works by Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | April 19, 2015

Thursday, April 23rd | Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss in person!

Mary Helena Clark, still from The Dragon is the Frame, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Mary Helena Clark, still from The Dragon is the Frame, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Artists Mary Helena Clark, Mariah Garnett, and Latham Zearfoss (BFA 2008) self-reflexively play with portraiture and autobiography in a cultural landscape dominated by selfies and shifting social media platforms. In Home Movie (2012), Zearfoss engages with the contemporary urge to capture personal moments for online public consumption. Garnett’s Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin (2012) uses hand-painted celluloid, drag, and intimate conversation to reveal and obscure the reality of her relationship to the 1970s porn star. Clark’s The Dragon is the Frame (2014) meditates on a world shaped by missing persons by linking landmarks from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) with the persistent online presence of the late artist Mark Aguhar. Each artist articulates personal identity in relation to aesthetic and community, fiction and truth.

2011–14, US, multiple formats, ca 70 min + discussion

Mary Helena Clark (b. 1983, Santee, SC) is a filmmaker based in California. Her films explore genre tropes, the materiality of film, and the pleasure of tromp l’oeil. Bringing together observational, appropriated, staged and abstract footage, they operate on dream logic until disrupted by moments of self-reflexivity. Clark received her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago. She has exhibited internationally, including at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Anthology Film Archives, New York; and Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Mariah Garnett (b. 1980, Portland, ME) mixes documentary, narrative, and experimental filmmaking practices to make work that accesses existing people and communities beyond her immediate experience. Using source material that ranges from found text to iconic gay porn stars, Garnett often inserts herself into the films, creating cinematic allegories that codify and locate identity. Garnett holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Film/Video and a BA in American Civilization from Brown University. Her work has been screened internationally, including at REDCAT, Los Angeles; White Columns, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Venice Biennale (Swiss Offsite Pavilion).

Latham Zearfoss (b. 1980, Xenia, OH) is an artist and cultural producer living and working in Chicago. His artwork often centers on reclaiming historical and mythological texts, and revising them to incorporate radical notions of love and sex, possibility and probability. Zearfoss graduated from SAIC with a BFA in 2008 and the University of Illinois at Chicago with an MFA in 2011. His commitment to art and activism has also manifested in the creation of sporadic, temporary utopias like Pilot TV and Chances Dances.

Projections, Portraits, and Picaresques Program Notes

On Marisa Olson…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | April 15, 2015

Tomorrow Marisa Olson will be joining us at the Gene Siskel Film Center to present a selection of her works from the past decade. Olivia Junell, dual degree graduate student in art history and arts administration, blogs for us about Olson’s exploration of technology–it’s precariousness and codependency–within our contemporary culture. Marisa Olson: In Praise of Garbage takes place April 16, 6.00pm.

Marisa Olson, Assisted Living. Courtesy of the artist

Marisa Olson, Assisted Living. Courtesy of the artist

From the telegraph to television, new technologies always bring new concerns, with the onset of the internet being the most dramatic example of our generation.  We’re concerned with it weakening human relations, with the very real feeling of being buried in information, with the possibility of losing our own original voice. Communication often becomes a collage of other people’s (or machine’s?) content. With the amount of information we take in, its easy fall into a dialogue of recycled and rearranged quotations, images, and sound bites from the internet. Last night my best friend sent me a text string of Beyonce dancing, two gifs of an anonymous kid dancing, and a photo of her cat. Is that a real communication between us, or an impulsive gesture that essentially says nothing?

Marisa Olson takes what often feels like a saturated, impersonal world mediated by new releases of endless content and technology, and makes it personal. In part this is due to her skill at sorting through the vast fog of information resources, deploying a careful selection of references from pop culture, media culture, and her own life. However, instead of imparting personal information, opinions, and personality through collaged content and various technologies the way most of us do, Olson often reverses the formula, looking at technology, the internet, and popular culture through her personality. In Monitor Tracings, Olson extracts images of outdated technology that she personally chooses to recall from their archived place on the internet. O.Yeah.I.Love.You.Baby shows us the popularity of certain words in pop music through the lens of Olson’s own mp3 collection. And her most recent work (according to her website), Star Trek TNG/TLG looks at narratives around searching for information, defunct technology, and science fiction, through the recreation of a gift given to her by her mother.

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Apr 16 – Marisa Olson: In Praise of Garbage

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | April 12, 2015

Thursday, April 16th | Marisa Olson in person!

Marisa Olson

Marisa Olson

For more than a decade, new media artist, curator, and theorist Marisa Olson has staged on- and offline interventions that shrewdly and often hilariously shed light on the politics of pop culture, histories of technology, and aesthetics of failure. Her projects take shape through an array of forms—YouTube responses to iconic feminist videos and “women’s” television genres, blogs charting elaborate autobiographical performances, music videos, slide lectures, Internet searches, and physical installations of media’s detritus (cassette tapes, boomboxes, laptops). In addition to these projects, her writing has served as a beacon for a generation of new media practitioners and thinkers. Olson presents an overview of her work, including a selection of videos made over the last ten years, and discusses her thoughts on new media and the post-Internet today.

2003–14, US, multiple formats, ca 60 min + discussion

Marisa Olson (1977, Augsburg, Germany) is an artist, writer, and media theorist. Her work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale; Centre Pompidou; Tate Modern, London; Tate Liverpool; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; New Museum, New York; Nam June Paik Art Center, Korea; British Film Institute; Sundance Film Festival; PERFORMA Biennial; and P.S. 122, New York. She has also written for numerous publications, served as longtime Editor and Curator at Rhizome, and curated programs at the Guggenheim Museum, New York; New Museum, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; White Columns, New York; and Artists Space, New York.

Marisa Olson Program Notes

On Daniel Sousa…

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | April 8, 2015

I’m delighted to welcome SAIC art history graduate student Elizabeth Metcalfe to our blog for the second time. Elizabeth speaks to Sousa’s unique ability to address the intrinsic human condition through his delicate animation work. Keep your eyes peeled for Elizabeth’s upcoming interview with the artist himself!

Daniel Sousa

Daniel Sousa

Painting springs to life in Daniel Sousa’s award-winning animated short films. The delicate, hand-drawn animations are deceptively simple.  Silhouettes dance and tumble across the frame, a creative force that appears effortless despite the meticulous and time-consuming labor of the artist’s hand. The muted, monochromatic, landscapes of Sousa’s films, which sometimes morph into full-blown abstraction, mirror the themes that unite the artist’s many projects—boundaries, liminal space, and the nature of duality. Within a stark, animated world of black and white, Sousa explores what separates animals from humans, questioning the stability of these categories by highlighting the gray space that lies between.

Feral, the short film that won Sousa an Academy Award nomination, tells the tale of a wild child—like Romulus and Remus, Tarzan, or the protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book—who is abruptly thrust into civilized society. With only animalistic instincts to rely upon in a foreign and terrifying schoolyard, the boy is tragically caught between two worlds that can never fully accept him. This film, along with other equally compelling short animations by Sousa, will be featured in an upcoming screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center this Thursday.

Perhaps what makes Sousa’s animations so universally appealing, besides their hauntingly beautiful craftsmanship, is their ability to address the intrinsically human condition of being stuck between two ends of a spectrum. In a world that seeks order and categorization, humanity exists and evolves within the messy, ambiguous, gray space that lies between good & evil, success & failure, courage & fear, and memory & imagination. The fact that Sousa’s films, all under fifteen minutes long and without dialogue, so succinctly and beautifully convey this reality of human existence is nothing short of magic. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to see Sousa’s exquisite hand-drawn animations on the large cinema screen.

Apr 9 – Daniel Sousa: Feral and other Animations

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | April 5, 2015

Thursday, April 9th | Daniel Sousa in person!

Daniel Sousa, film still from Feral, 2012. Courtesy of the artist

Daniel Sousa, film still from Feral, 2012. Courtesy of the artist

The lush, painterly films of Cape Verde–born, Providence-based animator Daniel Sousa employ puppets, collage, and hand-drawn characters in tales of memory, perception, and the struggle between the intellect, unconscious, and unknown. A young boy raised in the wild attempts to make his way in civilized society, a man and woman are doomed to repeatedly and passionately destroy each other, and a young minotaur struggles to understand those who are not like him. The Academy Award–nominated director presents a selection of his works and discusses the events and artists that have inspired him. Presented in collaboration with SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program.

1999–2014, USA, multiple formats, ca 60 min + discussion

Daniel Sousa (1974) was born in Cape Verde and raised in Portugal. He was a founding member of Handcranked Film Projects, a group of New England filmmakers actively engaged in the production of independent experimental films. His films, which include the 2014 Academy Award–nominated Feral (2012), The Windmill (2007), Fable (2005), and Minotaur (1999) have been screened around the world at the Sundance Film Festival, Ottawa International Film Festival, Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and the Hiroshima International Animation Festival. In addition to his independent projects, Sousa has worked as a director and animator with Cartoon Network, Olive Jar Studios, Global Mechanic, and DUCK.

Daniel Sousa Program Notes

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When Art Reveals Unspeakable Social Reality: Recalling Anna

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | April 1, 2015

This week for our SAIC student writing series Natalia De Orellana grapples with the compassionate yet self-serving work of Massimo Sarchielli and Alberto Grifi Anna. How she as a viewer is challenged to come to terms with the ethics of this film by the directors, whilst the camera prevents her from doing so. “We preferred,” explained Grifi, “a movie about reality rather than undertaking the struggle to create a slightly less revolting reality.”

AnnaThursday, April 2ndIntroduced by Dennis Lim, Director of Programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli, still from Anna, 1972–75. Courtesy of the Cineteca Nazionale, Cineteca di Bologna and Associazione Alberto Grifi

Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli, still from Anna, 1972–75. Courtesy of the Cineteca Nazionale, Cineteca di Bologna and Associazione Alberto Grifi

Anna is a wanderer; a sixteen-year-old, eight month pregnant, and homeless adolescent. In February 1972 her childish stare attracted professional actor Massimo Sarchielli in the midst of the noisy and lively Piazza Navona, Rome. Anna’s gruesome reality inspired Sarchielli to reach out to underground cinema director Alberto Grifi to make a documentary about her.

The film chronicles Anna’s pregnancy from her first encounter with Sarchielli—who took her to his house to take care of her—in alternation with various interviews with a number of people in the Piazza Navona. Grifi and Sarchelli’s work is both a restaging of this encounter and an incentive to disseminate the voices of an Italian population on the heels of anti-fascist upheaval. Anna is thus at the crossroads between documentation and creation; the script was forged more as a guide than as act of creative fantasy.”We preferred,” explained Grifi, “a movie about reality rather than undertaking the struggle to create a slightly less revolting reality.”[1]

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Apr 2 – Anna

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | March 29, 2015

Thursday, April 2ndIntroduced by Dennis Lim, Director of Programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli, still from Anna, 1972–75. Courtesy of the Cineteca Nazionale, Cineteca di Bologna and Associazione Alberto Grifi

Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli, still from Anna, 1972–75. Courtesy of the Cineteca Nazionale, Cineteca di Bologna and Associazione Alberto Grifi

Recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna, this astonishing 1975 documentary centers on the titular pregnant, homeless 16-year-old girl whom filmmakers Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli encountered in Rome’s Piazza Navona. Mainly shot on then-newfangled video, it documents the interactions between the enigmatic Anna and its directors, whose interest in her is at once compassionate and self-serving. Far from straightforward vérité, this complex, self-implicating chronicle includes Grifi and Sarchielli’s explicit attempts to direct their subject, reenactments of off-screen events, and intrusions from behind the camera (not least the emergence of the film’s electrician as a love interest). In Italian with English subtitles.

1972-75, Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli, Italy, DCP, 225 minutes + discussion

Massimo Sarchielli (1931–2010, Florence, Italy) was an Italian actor, filmmaker, and mime. As an actor, he worked with Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Dario Argento, Terence Stamp, and Spike Lee.

Alberto Grifi (1938–2007, Rome, Italy) was an Italian painter, filmmaker, and inventor. His experimental works range from incisive montage films to a 12-hour event composed of magnetic tape distributed among and reassembled by the audience.

Anna Program Notes

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