ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS - ABIGAIL HE
During this period of global public health-sanctioned isolation, Millennium Film Workshop, like many other organizations has sadly had to postpone many of our planned events for the time being. We’ve decided to continue to showcase in the meantime, great work from great artists here on our own website, in a weekly series we’re calling “Isolated Experiments,” accompanied by comments from the artists themselves. Sign up for our mailing list via our contact page to get email updates about new films as we post them weekly.
This week, we are featuring "ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT!", a six minute video made by artist Abigail He.
MFW: "ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT!" shifts alternately from playful lightness to the void, doubled as it shifts from light to dark. Where do these patterns originate for you?
AH: The video was made shortly after I moved to my new apartment this summer. I had very little belongings and the mattress was the biggest piece that was brought into the space. So the apartment was very empty and you could hear echoes when you speak. But it was its emptiness that I found very interesting. So the idea of intercutting the space itself and me dancing with high volume music came to me very naturally. The music and my movements are like fireworks, temporary, time-based and will never become part of the space, neither day nor night.
At first I planned to wear outfits but decided to keep my pajamas on. I wanted to make it as natural and minimal as possible. Also the image and sound, everything was recorded as it was. But when they were put together, even though they were filmed at different times of the day, the audio was seamless without adding any artificial effect. The camera was just pure recording, mechanically.
MFW: I found while watching it that I became fixated on the shifting position of the blanket on the bed—that it sometimes returns to the same spot in the same light made me feel like there was an unseen narrative, and we were seeing the moments between, presented in a jumbled chronology. Was this an intention?
AH: When I was filming it, I moved the blanket and pillow around from time to time. But at that point, it was more of an instinctive reaction. It felt dull to me if the bed remained the same throughout. It should have some kind of motion as if it could breathe in the space. So the blanket and pillow add some textures to it.
And I agree that the non-chronological order fragments the viewing experience. The viewers might feel disoriented and lose their sense of time, which in fact, gives life to the piece as it never comes to an end and can be applied to any day and night. Almost eternal in a sense.
MFW: Does the song you dance to have any intrinsic meaning (beyond informing the title) or is it another instance of happenstance association ?
AH: Like many songs from the 80s and 90s, "Alright" is actually one of those songs I would dance to when it's played on the radio. And I happened to hear the song from a commercial a few weeks before the video was made so there was a bit of coincidence involved. The reason I chose the song is that the tune is amazingly cheerful and upbeat, and makes you feel everything is perfect at the moment. Very similar to watching a fireworks show, when you sort of release yourself from your current state of mind and slide into the internal fantasy world momentarily. Also the lyric is fairly absurdist and hedonistic, seeking pleasure against the void at all costs. So me dancing to the song at its loudest is pretty much a Sisyphean act.
MFW: On the subject of seeking pleasure against the void, one could say that "ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT!" is representative of a growing genre, post-pandemic quarantine, of video art focused around home-bound banalities (in a sense, like the video equivalent of a lo-fi bedroom pop album). Could you talk a little bit about this development, how you view your video in that context, and what you think it means for the future of the form beyond the pandemic, whether personally or at large?
AH: That's an interesting perspective, although I think as a genre, bedroom pop isn't necessarily about "home-bound banalities". Many filmmakers and artists had brought in cameras to the domestic environment and produced great works in their living spaces since the 60s. The pandemic elevated this type of video form and motivated more artists to practice and engage in it. But as for the connection between the pandemic and "home-bound banalities", the video is partly inspired by the situation I was in at the time, and yet it mainly aims for a broader time frame. It's more about the void in life overall and home, which presented as an everlasting empty space in the video, is one of the particles within.
Personally, I'm quite concerned about the terms "post-pandemic", "quarantine" and "self-isolation" being overused when people talk about the artworks (films, paintings, sculptures, installations, etc.) that are made in 2020. Those terms might label and stereotype the works, which will limit, even terminate the interaction between the artworks and the viewers when those works being revisited 5 or 10 years from now. I find it alarming. This year I've been trying to keep my work minimalist yet condensed and essential. Instead of searching for stimulation from the outer world, I've become intrigued by how intuition affects my creative process. Hopefully, my work can reflect on that and stand on its own.
MFW: In the spirit of staying committed to looking beyond this uncertain historical moment, where do you see yourself going creatively in the coming year?
AH: I believe 2021 will be a continuation and expansion of what I've been working on this year. My two ongoing projects from this year had inspired me to produce several supplemental short pieces in the forms of video, sound, and performance. So a motif, which is highly condensed, abstract yet with incredible plasticity, can be manifested in various forms and mediums, and ultimately creates its own universe. I'm still at the starting point of a new creative path so I'm very much looking forward to seeing where my intuition and curiosity will lead me.
Abigail He is a Brooklyn based filmmaker and video artist. Her recent work explores the alternative relationships between image and sound through integrating film with conceptual art and deconstructing pre-recorded visual and audio materials and found footage in digital and analog formats.