Cycle … Circulation … Revolution
The Multimedia Conscience
BENJAMIN VILLARES PRESAS
Curator of Contemporary Art, specialised in Photography and Audiovisual Media.
Interview with Alexandra Meijer-Werner.
Published in Revista Encuadre, number 69, 1998. CONAC, Caracas.
The potentiality of the media and the expansion of consciousness joins hands in a broad variety of art manifestations. Thus, multimedia possesses great advantages when it comes to channeling expressions and conveying messages effectively.
This assertiveness has been very well handled in the two latest works by Alexandra Meijer-Werner presented in the III Salón Pirelli de Jóvenes Artistas in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas Sofia Imber and in the experimental room of the Museo de Bellas Artes.
Kreislauf and Ouroboros are both indications of one of the most relevant directions contemporary audiovisual art can take. Collective concepts, emotional processes and expressive liberties drive this promising youth of the multimedia consciousness.
BVP: How did you come to choose video as your main medium? You are a multimedia artist, but you use video in most of your work. You have a direct relationship with dance, performance art and video.
AMW: I do not consider myself an artist in any traditional sense, be it fine art, video art, or any other definition. What interests me most is to reach new frontiers and I am just starting. Perhaps my work will involve other combinations in the future but for the time being video is the medium that is most multimedia itself. Ever since I began to study art, I always had multimedia in mind. I was attracted to film because it is multimedia. In film you work with movement, space, sound etc. It is not doing like sculpture. The fine arts are more confined. When I started doing film because of its multidimensionality, I felt limited by its defined spaces. There is much action and movement in film, but when it ends, everything separates… the image on the screen and the viewers watching from their seats. I found this limitation frustrating. My concern was to create sensorial experiences for the public. I wanted the public to live those experiences. A good movie leaves an impression on you, it makes you think and wonder more than a painting for instance, which is one more reason why I prefer video. I think I was always more interested in working with people than making art, and not only at an intellectual level, but with them as a whole, including the senses and perception. That is when I started to break the cinematographic space, the two-dimensional screen, by including human elements, dance and expressive movement, which often say more about emotional states than words.
I have used all of these, dance, video, sound, in my search for the deepest human expressions.
BVP: What is the difference between cinema and video? How come you pursued video after having started with film?
AMW: The main difference is cost. Because of the experimental nature of my work, without a definite script, video is less expensive. The idea is for the work to grow from a basic concept, to have its own life, its own information and for me to operate like a channeling agent. I feel that an artist should function more like a channel, making decisions and interpreting as you go. Information comes up happenstance, out of intuition, or otherwise...
That is how I work. I have a theme and I begin to research it with other people. I work with the subconscious, my dreams and sensations. My investigation requires paying great attention to the senses, much like an antenna – those are the times when everything flows. I really believe in synchronicity. For Kreislauf for example I recorded extensively; I spent a whole year recording images of sensations, dreams. I would take the dancers to a natural setting and let the landscape inform them. I would tell them about the emotions that interested me, but I did not tell them how they should move. I only told them stories, or dreams to let them sense the mood and the atmosphere. They interpreted these, and then I interpreted their interpretations. I can only do this with video because I am able to record all of this material and then make a synthesis.
BVP: Do you think that video has an advantage in that you can interact with other media with more freedom?
AMW: Yes, cost is not the only advantage; it also gives me more freedom to experiment. I am not a highly technological person. I am a little intimidated by it. Video is the simplest medium to play with. That is how I see it; it’s like a game to experiment with effects, spaces, etc. Ideas can be realized with greater immediacy with video. I do not like video shown on a monitor; it feels limiting to me. My dilemma has always been that I consider projected cinema to be more poetic, and that at the same time I want to break the two- dimensional nature of that projection. Video can also be projected, although there is the problem of the visibility of pixels. I would prefer to see the images between light and shadow as in film, but video is evolving so rapidly that no doubt those problems will not be an issue in the long run.
BVP: So you think that video offers the triple advantage of malleability, immediacy and economy. Is it possible for anyone to do video?
AMW: I think everybody can use video, the difficult part is to synthesize. All stages are interesting, but that of synthesis is where you need to be more discerning. I do not work with linear stories. I am more interested in the language of dreams because of its polysemous nature. What is more important for me is to learn about the public’s different interpretations.
BVP: Is there a concept, a theme or formal line of work that you follow?
AMW: What is primordial is the intention. Technique, concepts and formal lines will all fit around that intention. My intention has always been – and increasingly so, not to do art for art’s sake, decoration, or entertainment but to touch people. This is why my themes are always about life, cycles, birth, death, nature, our connection to nature, our soul and spirit. In this sense, my themes are always spiritual, trying to inquire about the human condition. This is why I work with psychology and expressive therapy. Art as a therapeutic mean, as the primordial language. That is where I experiment with everything. I envision making it an integral experience, to work with smell and touch as well, to take you to profound emotional states.
BVP: You studied filmmaking and presently you are studying Expressive Therapy. Tell us a bit more about how you combine both disciplines.
AMW: Expressive Therapy is a branch of psychology. There are two lines: The first prompts individuals to express themselves creatively, they do not have to be artists, they just have to realize that it is all inside them, that the body holds that information and they must learn how to use it. The other way is to work consciously with colors, sounds, positions that can influence your state of mind.
BVP: Which of the two lines do you follow?
AMW: A combination of the two. In any case Expressive Therapy continues to have a very clinical side. I feel limited by this, which is why I have tried to combine it with my past, which is cinema. I have always felt that film is a very therapeutic medium. I also have been involved in shamanism to learn about ancient forms of healing. Art has been the oldest form of healing in all Asian, African and American cultures. In those cultures, healing was approached through painting, dance and sound to allow people to see their inner world. Art was not only used to represent inner states of mind but also to reconnect with them. So now my proposal is to engage in performance art and art experiences that have a therapeutic effect on the public. I do not know how it will work out. I am still experimenting.
BVP: You are finding different responses.
AMW: Exactly. I am trying to see whether I can get the public to interact. I am increasingly interested in having the public enter the artwork and finding themselves in the interaction.
BVP: At the moment you are participating in relevant events such as the III Salón Pirelli de Jóvenes Artistas and you have presented a multimedia work in the Museo de Bellas Artes. How would you describe your experience with these museums and do you plan to continue with visual media?
AMW: My first important video installation (because I have done others) was the one shown in the Salon Pirelli exhibition, which is where I break the space and work on the cycle idea (Kreislauf). I felt the need to reach out to a larger public, to study the audience and watch them interacting. I was not necessarily interested in a museum for its presentation, but I had heard that I could have an opportunity there and I applied. What interests me is to use therapeutical elements in contexts like museums, the street … to have more diversity and different social classes. I often find myself working with Jung’s idea of the collective subconscious.
BVP: Do you consider yourself to be a psychologist, an artist, a filmmaker? Which do you identify with the most?
AMW: I am graduating in Interdisciplinary Studies. In this discipline you design your own post graduate studies. I am designing my own directives, so I am neither an artists nor psychologist … I am an interdisciplinary being.
BVP: How did the public behave in your installations at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas Sofia Imber and the Museo de Bellas Artes?
AMW: I had all sorts of experiences at the MBA. People would come to me in tears, others were dazzled, and yet others were terrified… all of them were emotionally touched. In the Salon Pirelli exhibition, it was interesting because there were people who understood why it is a circle, who realized that the work was about them, a symbolism about human nature, something to do with all of us… others told me how relaxed they felt upon interacting with the piece. We see and hear so much about aggression, frustration, depression and I am more inclined towards themes of life, living, positive qualities. The theme of Ouroboros, shown in the MBA, was crisis as fertile ground for new possibilities.
BVP: Are you New Age? Do you believe in a generalized change through an evolutionary process?
AMW: There are strong implications in the term “New Age”, it is almost like a trade mark. So, no, not in that sense… but in a different one, yes. I do believe in a change of conscience, that through our crisis we learn to find ways… You do not know how healthy you are if you have never been ill. Hostility and violence are not ends in themselves but processes that will take us one step further in evolution. This is why I believe it is important to bring a positive message. It is about using art to create consciousness and bring hope.
BVP: Tell us a little about the technical aspects of your work.
AMW: In Kreislauf for example I worked with 16 mm, Hi 8 and Super 8. It is a circular screen where three synchronized video films are projected. The images are oneiric, stemming from the subconscious. The work is interactive because people can view it from different places, inside and outside the transparent and circular screen. When they walk outside, they project their shadow and they can also see the others inside…this way images of the viewers are interwoven with the filmed images. In that particular installation I worked with three video projections edited in both linear and non-linear form. I always use projectors because I am interested in space.
In Ouroboros I worked with dance, drama and music… and used Hi 8. The four projected videos were part of an integral performance that I had edited in a linear form… This is the closest to the kind of work I want to achieve. I looked for a group of artists between 20 and 40 years, from different social strata and who use different artistic languages. For a period of time, I worked with them doing exercises to express inner experiences through the body. We did “Rebirthing”, a kind of regression that takes one back to the time and experience of birth, but in a natural setting so that we could relate to a wider environment. This comes from a shamanic tradition in which a 7-year-old child performs a ritual connected with the umbilical cord of Mother Earth. Based on this ritual each of us chose the element he/she wanted to be born in. It was all recorded and I then edited it.
I interpreted these experiences artistically. Interestingly, when the videos were projected in the experimental room of the MBA, the public also identified with their own element (water, earth, air, fire) … It proved to be therapeutic for the performers and an experience of identification for the public.
BVP: After living all those experiences with multimedia, would you go back to filmmaking?
AMW: No, I could not. I really like film, but I want to experiment more…I would like to try interface holography for example.
An interview published in Revista Encuadre, Issue No. 69, January-March 1998
CONAC (National Council for Art and Culture, Caracas).