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Introducing: Victoria Fu and Dylan Mira

Dylan Mira, video still from A Woman is Not A Woman, 2015

Dylan Mira, video still from A Woman is Not A Woman, 2015

A conversation between artists Victoria Fu and Dylan Mira moderated by Marco Kane Braunschweiler. The dialogue took place in person at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles on Thursday, June 9, 2016, following Open Window, a screening featuring artists who use the computer desktop in their work. The following is a transcription of their conversation, which was the first time the two artists spoke with one another.

Marco Kane Braunschweiler: I’m going to start with a piece of writing by Tom Gunning on Victoria’s work: “Traditionally, screens hide something; they block the gaze to carve out a space of privacy or concealment: places to dress, or hide the dirty dishes or unmade bed. But at least since the middle of the nineteenth century, ‘screen’ has also named the surface on which images are projected, first by the magic lantern, and then movie projectors, migrating eventually to the electronic displays of televisions and computers. Instead of blocking a view, these screens display an image and open onto a different space. The screen merges with the Western tradition of perspective, defined by Alberti in the fifteenth century as ‘an open window through which I see what I want to paint.’”

Thinking about that, I’d like to start by talking a little bit about process. Dylan, what is your process for writing?

Dylan Mira: Well, around the time that I started working on A Woman is Not A Woman, I was working with the writer Laurie Weeks learning an automatic writing process, and I came to find it almost as a process of recording. For instance, there’s a line in the video that’s a quote from Susan Sontag’s journal where she says, “I’m not ‘saying something,’ I’m ‘allowing something.’” So I think getting into this process of writing allowed a different kind of language to come out, and it almost felt like that itself was a form of found footage, like something I can just pay attention to.

MKB: So in that sense, the writing process is analogous to recording?

DM: Yeah, and I think it really informed the editing process of that piece, too, in this way of paying attention to accidents—what that brings and what are those connections. As in, there are both things you don’t expect and a synchronicity.

MKB: Yeah, that definitely makes sense.

Victoria, how are your videos built and where do they come together? Is this in writing or in editing?

Victoria Fu: When making a piece, I basically organize my thinking around questions of space and how one perceives space—illusionistically in a cinematic sense and also simultaneously calling attention to the surface of the screen. In editing, I choose my source images and build the narrative through a process that usually employs some sort of chance element so I’m not just making it up as I go along—it’s almost too much pressure otherwise. So it’s very important to me to have some chance delimit the source material I’m choosing [in order] to take me into the editing process where the piece really comes together as dictated in creating a viable, illusionistic space.

MKB: What is your editing process like?

VF: A lot of layering. Maybe Belle Captive 2 isn’t the best example, but while editing I often get lost trying to organize many, many layers to make spatial sense, sometimes prioritizing those actions that render other things odd narratively.

MKB: I know that this piece has two layers, so can you tell us a bit about the different layers?

VF: Do you mean the analog-related layer and the stock-related layers?

MKB: Yes.

VF: I shot all the backdrops of skies on 16 mm, which were then transferred to digital, and I used an element of chance to create the palette by exposing film stock to light and mixing those colors with what I shot. Then the objects in the foreground were layered on top of the backdrop, most of it being stock found footage from the Internet. The same goes for the sound—also found—if you count that as a layer.

MKB: You’re dealing with the ways cameras capture light, that was something I found compelling about the piece. The background is light, and the foreground is also light—they’re just different types of light that come from different places. The background is wide-open sunlight, the foreground is people, who are in their own way also sculpted light. In a literal sense, they’re the reflection of light on the camera’s sensor, which results in a prototypical digital image.

VF: Yeah, I didn’t mean to stratify or create some sort of hierarchy between those two groups with [Belle Captive 2]. I think this piece was one step in a process towards the later work that mixes together, like a hybrid, where one can’t necessarily tell whether a layer is analog or digital, or whether it’s stock or original footage. But this piece is a good example of separating them out into perceivable layers.

MKB: That makes sense.

Dylan, how do you think about time? Linear? Concentric? [laughter in background]

DM: Time question…OK, well, that’s interesting. I feel like it relates to a Western perspective, too. I think when I started researching this piece—I don’t even know that I knew I was researching it—but at some point, I learned [Edvard Eriksen’s] The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen is one of the most violated pieces of public art in the world. So I kind of went from there: where does this statue come from? What is it about? It represents the dancer from the Little Mermaid ballet inspired by the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Then I asked what is the history of the mythology of mermaids, and following that trail, I came across this point in 1653 where one of the earliest mermaid sightings on record is also the first written account of a European in Korea.

And so down at the bottom of this [line of inquiry], there was a basic question of how some people become human, how some people become othered, and a mythology of the mermaid who is always a woman and never a human. There’s this weird time phenomenon that occurred, where I felt like I was doing research that goes really far back in time, but there were so many points where I felt brought up to the present, too. For instance, the Haenyeo, who are also in the video, were women diving for seafood, which has been proposed as the explanation for the [1653] mermaid sighting. But [the divers are] having this important moment right now—which has been in the news a lot as younger generations are questioning the incentive to do that kind of labor today and development increases on Jeju Island, so the practice may not continue.

I guess time doesn’t move in a linear way at all, and I think all these layers of representation and opacity in the piece are a way of challenging this linear narrative, linear time, Western linear perspective. There have to be a lot of different sources that we’re pulling from and working with to understand where we are now.

MKB: Yeah, and who we are. Taking all these different parts of history, both personal and shared, and then putting them together for this very strong narrative was significant for me in that it shows time as an subjective, malleable structure.

Victoria, how do you think about time?

VF: Great question—it’s very loaded! Well, I’d say that one of my main interests and what’s so great about [Open Window] is considering ourselves as spectators and our relationship to the screen. Embedded in that consideration is the question of how we situate ourselves when we’re engaging with the moving image, both temporally and spatially. Something I see as prevalent in current moving image work, including a lot of the pieces that were screened today, is the implication of the desktop as the space of the screen. That in itself reconfigures us as spectators: we’re part viewer, part user. These terms don’t have to be separated. It’s a melding of the two. That also dictates our read of where we are in time. We get these indications that there’s an outside operator dealing with the flattened image space we’re looking at, but we’re also simultaneously immersed in the image as a deep narrative space as well, which is also narrative time. So all these levels are functioning at once.

MKB: Yeah. One thing that your work does very well is it codifies a lot of the UI elements that we use on a day to day basis—like the swipe and the pinch—and positions those gestures as a way of demarcating time.

How do you decide the form or medium for a project?

DM: I’ve done projects before that are more spread out in space. Donna Haraway has this idea around diffraction as a kind of light that is interrupted—it’s not reflection and it’s not refraction. What the screen records is actually a social history of what the light had to go through. I’m interested in this idea of what gets in the way—both of the actual image that we’re seeing and as a history of arriving—like what gets in the way of the story, the subjectivity. So I think in [A Woman is Not A Woman], I wanted to see if I could bring it all into one place. I was working on all these different things—I was writing, keeping lists in my journal, and doing performances—and feeling like there was a way that all these things could come together. Over time I found more and more relationships as I brought them into that space, which challenged the ways I understood the elements.

MKB: Definitely. When you watch this work now, does it feel very personal?

DM: Oh my God, it felt really personal just now. It’s interesting because I made it a while ago, but there are different things that I notice each time, which in a way is like I’m still recording information from it. So yes, this time it felt personal.

MKB: Victoria, I think, one thing about your work in terms of stock footage, for instance, is that appropriation is normalized at this point. How does that factor into what you do and how you make work?

VF: It’s funny because as I was watching this piece of mine [that we screened tonight] from 2013, it really feels that old. Maybe that was a moment when stock had a little more charge to it. I remember seeing a lot of pieces that dealt with stock around [that time]. This may be true of the radical power of certain appropriation acts—even going back to the Surrealists or the Dadaists, as appropriation has been around for a long time. Their potency can be undermined very easily and this is just part of the game where everything is eventually co-opted. Perhaps what remains and what’s interesting to us today is this compression [Marco is] talking about [in his program notes], this different engagement that happens simultaneously with time and space—present time, desktop time, cinematic time. So to me, the layering is most relevant, as I’m a little less invested in the fact that it’s stock or that it’s an act of appropriation, something we already assume.

MKB: It’s a vocabulary at this point. For me, that was one thing that was striking about seeing all the films together. I really have a sense that there’s a certain group of artists who are working in a certain way and have a certain set of concerns. So even though a very wide range of images come from those concerns, they’re still specific: body, memory, technology—and they manifest in new, expanded forms of work.

VF: Do you feel like the desktop as a motif is undergoing a similar transformation to what you said about appropriation, that it is being normalized or has lost some of its edge?

MKB: Well, you watch all these videos and they look like YouTube videos. Everybody’s watched a YouTube tutorial—like “How do I make a keynote play on repeat?”—so it makes sense that as it’s normalized, it becomes part of an artist’s vocabulary. It’s really just another part of culture that’s built into the way we understand to process images.

VF: Yeah, I’m remembering Camille Henrot’s piece [Grosse Fatigue from 2013], and I remember that it really grabbed my attention then as a new vocabulary. But then I was just watching one of Rachel Rose’s recent pieces, and it feels like a much more complex acknowledgment of the desktop with multiple moving images at once. It made me think about how things have changed in normalizing that desktop vocabulary in a short amount of time.

MKB: I totally agree. Since Grosse Fatigue, these things are just part of an existing vocabulary. Before that, there was Nicole Miller’s video The Alphabet. That piece is from 2007, so seeing that in the context of all the other work tonight, I recognize this is a really codified vocabulary.

DM: I think there’s kind of an old technology in it also. Formally while making my piece, I thought about Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied, how in trying to represent a community that had not really been represented, he used so many different kinds of scenes and different kinds of footage and devices to do that. I think that is an old [strategy] to cobble together an image from many different sources, because it’s something that’s never been shown before. Maybe looking and making more with this fragmentation can challenge that singular screen and its kind of legibility.

VF: That’s a really good point. However, it’s apt to point out that it’s not only a purely formal organization of layered screens because now there’s a haptic dimension to consider as well. I don’t know what that all means, but there is the idea that our relationship to the moving image has been reconfigured to see these stacked windows as an embodied relationship where we feel like we could move them. I mean we’re not going to try [moving windows] because we’re watching something, but there’s something different there, a link that’s been forged that differentiates itself from past vocabularies. I think it involves our bodies in a different way, but I don’t know exactly how.

MKB: Yeah, you can see the hand, there is a person there.

DM: We’re all here.

MKB: We’re all here.

This dialogue was organized by Marco Kane Braunschweiler and edited by Karly Wildenhaus with Aria Dean.