ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS - KERSTI JAN WERDAL
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 "it is at this point that we see lightning", a four minute video made by artist Kersti Jan Werdal.
MFW: One thing I really love about this piece is that at the first basic glance it functions almost like an educational film, but one that approaches its subject with what feels like romantic ecstasy—can you talk about your choice of this subject and what was behind this inspired approach?
KJW: The film was made with the intention of being a gift, or maybe a letter. Words often fail me to express nuance, making a film comes more natural to me. I made it for my boyfriend, who is fascinated by the green ray that occurs when the sun is setting over the ocean. He grew up in California, and started surfing as a kid, where you can witness this all the time. He’s also loves Tacita Dean’s work, who has made pieces about the green ray as well. This was the anchor and starting point for making the film. The other subjects - cloud formations, lightning and cloud lightning, were other forms of moments in nature I feel are sublime, dangerous, seductive - all feelings experienced when falling in love. He is a photographer and cinematographer, I felt that tying in these elements that all regard looking also felt fitting.
The idea of fusing an educational and formal approach with a more romantic feeling I suppose initially came from instinct. I’ve made a few pieces this way over the years, and think it may be how I process things that happen in my life, or stories that I hear, and so forth. When I began making films they were exceedingly dry and formal. As I opened up more to the medium and felt comfortable being vulnerable within it, the work then became more emotional. I like what happens when you combine the two; it engages two very different parts of the mind. Pushes you back to think of something objective and seemingly disconnected entirely from this sensation that’s happening, a tug on something inherently emotive that maybe isn’t the easiest to depict in words.
MFW: Your description of the push and pull friction between the two halves of the mind also fits within that same lightning metaphor-the film works on so many levels! Do you feel a similar conflict between the personal nature of this film as a gift/love letter with the public/exhibitionist element of presenting work to the world?
KJW: Hmm, that’s a good question. I think the approach to making work stemming from a personal place, as described in the previous answer, is what allows me to feel comfortable releasing it into a public space. In general, the more personal I am in films, the more receptive viewers are to the work - or so I’ve experienced. It’s never a specific goal to be personal, it’s more of a natural built-in part of my process to put something honest into a film that I relate to on some level. I’m not sure if I’d call sharing personal work an act of exhibitionism; I think it’s important as an artist to put work out there even if it’s not polished, in order to grow and evolve in dialog with others that comes into contact with the work. I don’t think you can separate the personal from making films, no matter how dry or formal or (so called) ‘documentary’ the artist or filmmaker may self-proclaim to be. I really believe all work is personal in some way, the moment the camera turns on and you choose what to include and exclude from a frame - there’s a personal history and individual motive embedded in that choice. And, I also believe that sharing work is a way to connect with people, which is what being on Earth is about. To me anyway.
MFW: A lot of the footage (maybe all? I’m not sure but let me know) is found footage, even once revealing some YouTube interface around a clip, ( I recognize some Eric Rohmer in there also, The Green Ray?). Have you worked in the found-footage genre before, and can you talk a little on why you chose to in this instance?
KJW: All of the footage is appropriated, you are right. I’m so glad you noticed the brief YouTube interface. I wanted to show the source, and wasn’t sure if anyone would notice. I appropriate found footage in my work constantly, but usually it is a mix of my own footage alongside it. A mentor of mine influenced and highly encouraged that choice, and I’ve been doing it ever since. He recently used a Leonard Cohen song in a film that became huge in Europe and screened all over, even winning the Grand Prix at Cinéma du Réel. Still to this day no one has contacted him about removing it. I actually appropriated his work in this film, most of the cloud footage. The brief YouTube interface clip alludes to that. I like using found footage because it involves an archive, and I find it enjoyable to go through this endless void searching for footage that is amazing, perhaps only viewed 100 times by a stranger. I’ve cultivated a vernacular found photo collection for a long time, and have worked in artist archives before (actually still do, Luchita Hurtado’s) and I think the impulse and pleasure stems from this activity as well. And lastly, perhaps the most obvious reason — if I have an impulse to make a film and haven't shot the footage I need myself, it’s a great resource.
MFW: It is really incredible that we live in this exceptional era with an endless continuum of images available to inform and build our work. What do you see when you try to imagine the future of our society of images in that respect (and what’s in your immediate future, as relates to your personal work?)
KJW: As much as I value web-based archives, my concern for the future lies with theaters, schools, libraries, museums, galleries, and physical archives, all of which have been in some form or another shut down or moved online since last year. Searching for images in person, spending time with images in person-nothing replaces this. I believe films are meant to be viewed in a dark quiet theater alone, next to a friend, or a group of strangers. There is more backing for artists and cultural institutions overseas than in America, my hope for this new administration is that they will place value towards them, so they can endure through the pandemic and be enriching spaces in the future. I worry about this - a local theater with incredible programming ran by ambitious creatives has already been forced to close. Thinking of all the children and students trapped behind a screen is brutal to me, even if it is the only semblance of a structured education at the moment. In the long run, I feel concerned about internet culture replacing anything in person, this concern has only grown during the pandemic. I am hopeful though, that if not the government, enough individuals with opportunity to help, share these values and will support these places re-opening as the pandemic begins to be under control.
This week I’m headed to the northwest to finish editing my first feature film, and begin on the sound design with an artist based in New York. It’s a 16mm observationally shot meta-narrative about a group of teenagers in a pre-social media early 2000s, as they navigate a series of challenges in their personal lives alongside moments of euphoria, first love, heartbreak, and community. That’s taking the bulk of my creative focus at this time. However, I have also been developing a project with an Indigenous basket-weaver who lives on the Skokomish reservation for quite some time, and hope to start collaborating on making images together this winter.
Kersti Jan Werdal is an artist based in Los Angeles working in film, photography, and installation. She has a BA in Sociocultural Anthropology and Art History from Columbia University, and an MFA in Film/Video from California Institute of the Arts. In 2020 she was awarded the Panavision New Filmmakers Grant. Presently she has writing and film-stills online in an art-show called ‘After the egg, a war’ curated by Perwana Nazif. There is an in-person socially distant film screening component for Los Angeles based residents through February 15th.
After the egg, the war: https://www.mascot-studio.com/