A biweekly series where we focus on short works by fresh voices in experimental moving images. Sign up for our mailing list via our contact page to get email updates about new films as we post them.
This week, we are featuring "Learning About Flowers and Their Seeds", and "Live Chicken," a pair of four minute mixed moving image works made by artists Annie Horner, Emily Apter, and Shanna Maurizi.
MFW: Since these two pieces are being presented together, can we start by talking a little about the relationships between the films and the decision to make that pairing? Were they made together or you came to associate them after the fact?
AH: I wanted to show these films together because, though I didn't realize it when Emily & I were making it, Learning about Flowers and their Seeds was very much influenced by Live Chicken. LAFATS is about mechanisms both within us and external to us that we use to represent the natural world, and while talking about this with Emily, this preexisting microscope footage came to mind immediately as a very definite physical lens with the capability to redefine our experience of the natural world, to such a degree that it is almost like a hyperbole for looking at the world with a camera. So LAFATS pulls from the same pool of microscope footage that we shot for Live Chicken, which was originally intended for an incredible film Shanna made called Sunken Treasure, and was then repurposed for Live Chicken. Repurposing and thereby re-contextualizing is a big part of the inspiration for LAFATS as well, and so literally reusing footage that was shot for two other films has its own significance I suppose.
But like I said, I didn't realize the two films were so connected until we were releasing LAFATS, and I hadn't told Shanna that we had made this other film with the microscope footage because it was very much a hobby film, and when I realize it was going to be released and shown I touched base with her and then I think at that moment that I began to realize all the connections between these films thematically, experientially (at least for me) and physically in the footage. So I thought they must be shown together and I'm hoping those connections will be reborn in new ways outside of myself with them being shown together. (Annie Horner)
MFW: Between these two films, there's a sense of the union of opposites---watching them you recognize a few dichotomies established (macro/micro, flora/fauna, film/video, sound/silence) that become fused and obliterated through the montage, and through the pairing of the films--for instance, the human becomes the chicken in Live Chicken, uniting as fauna, positioned opposite the flora of LAFATS, and both categories (and films) are united again on the microscopic level. In a way this also speaks to the nature of collaboration, given that they are also collaborative works. Can you discuss your collaborative dynamic and how it becomes reflected in the form and content of these films?
SM: Yes, the union of opposites is a good take on it. And Annie does become the chicken.
I don't think Annie and I are opposites at all, we're rather similar, but from different generations. So that makes for a productive friction of viewpoints on filmmaking. She grew up with digital technology, I grew up with analog for the most part.
She came to visit my place in Detroit a few years ago (I live between NYC and Detroit), and we decided to make a film. We followed whatever was happening, and while we were exploring some themes emerged. Detroit is in large part reclaimed by nature, and that always comes thru in work made there I think. We played around with camera modifications and mirrors, and were just experimenting without an agenda really. The chickens kept coming around, my neighbors have a chicken coop, and then she started to channel them. I had a microscope I was using for a past project, and had tried to photograph amoebas but ended up with mosquitoes, and that was perfect for our project.
I'm trying to remember how Rimbaud came in. Annie had this poem she wanted to work with. We tried recording our voices reciting it, and that didn't work, and then she came up with the electronic voice, which is great. We would just kind of hand ideas back and forth. We both edit, so we would hand cuts back and forth.
Collaborating is a lot of fun, and I think it's easier when there is no pressure, like this piece has nothing to do with my other work and I wasn't trying to do anything in particular. It's best to just let the third energy that happens between people to come to the fore. (Shanna Maurizi)
MFW: I love that idea of the city (Detroit) being "reclaimed by nature" as you say. I think there was a lot of talk of earth reasserting itself going around last year with the pandemic (and the ongoing circumstance of climate change), memes saying "the earth is healing" and dolphins turning up in the canals of Venice, etc. —- I’ve noticed also, a lot of artists cinema recently that thematically links to that idea (It also relates to the “After Civilization,” program Annie + Emily were interviewed about in our spring 2021 issue of MFJ). Since these works show the world of plants and animals, do you see them also as being part of that context/conversation?
EA: I think the interplay of nature and technology is always floating around and informing conversations between Annie and me. With both After Civilization and LAFATS—which we started before After Civ and finished after it—we absolutely found ourselves interested in this idea of "reclamation." We wanted to expand notions of "landscape," jump between scopes and scales, crack open the digital and analog technologies that mediate "natural" imagery, explore histories of exploitation, and envision a liberatory horizon. And we wanted to do all these things while being careful not to fetishize a sort of eco-fascist prioritization of nature at the expense of human life. So, for us, the question really became: how might we care for, heal, sustain the earth, while continuing to center the material needs of people? And what does "nature" even mean, as something that is mined and exploited for the very technologies we need to represent it? LAFATS definitely does not pose any concrete answers to these questions. If anything, it's intended to ask more questions—what are the connections here?—in a tiny, abstract, and exploratory way. (Emily Apter)
MFW: That makes sense, I can see how the process of 'Learning' in the title is expressed very literally through the material of the films-- there's questioning, imitation, study, repetition, examination. In 'Live Chicken' the only other human figure is a little kid, having fun with chicken-Annie. It feels very positive to think someone so young might inherit these methods of experiential learning. What are your hopes for passing these ideas, this questioning, onward?
AH: Awh that's a nice thought Joe! Well in many ways I feel like making these films has been a tool in itself to manually and mentally process ideas about the experiential component of filmmaking. Whether we were hand processing Super 8 film or looking through the microscope or working through odd troubleshooting problems in Premiere, there was a great deal that came from the acts of making these films that informed the questions that the films ended up revolving around. So that act of critical participation is something that I'm excited to take part in and that I see so many people pushing forward in terms of filmmaking being a location to question the act of filmmaking. That questioning can have an importantly cyclical pattern that reflects some of the fundamental forms of power that film possesses and that I hope to see become more precise and probably even more complicated as people continue to question these questions, and make, and question and on and on. (Annie Horner)
Annie Horner is a filmmaker, film programmer and occasionally a puppeteer living in Brooklyn, NY.
Emily Apter is a curator, archivist, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She works as a Cinema Programmer and Development Associate at the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem. Image-making, archives, labor, and landscape are core themes of her work.
Shanna Maurizi is an artist and experimental filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. Her films have garnered festival awards and screened at venues such as Anthology Film Archives, Other Cinema and the Rotterdam Kunsthal, and her 2D work has been shown at LaMaMa Gallery, Famous Accountants, Songs for Presidents and the Santa Monica Museum of Art among many others. Her short film Late Night with Carl Sagan premiered at NewFilmmakers NYC, her feature documentary How to Make it in Filmmaking was nominated for best emerging director at VisonFest, and most recently Sunken Treasure won the Art and Science Award at the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival and was a grant recipient from the Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2019. She is currently teaching in the Film and Television Dept at NYU, and in production on a new film.