ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS - RODRIGO COURTNEY, HANNA-KATERINA ALEXANDRA, & STAN ZENKOV
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 "A Chariot Drawn By Cats" an eight minute Super 8mm film made by artists Rodrigo Courtney, Hanna-Katarina Alexandra, and Stan Zenkov.
MFW: The title and characters of this film suggest a loose adaptation of a story from Norse mythology, more attuned to imagery than storytelling. How does myth+legend play into your artistic practice, as individuals or as a collective?
RC: Whether at a conscious or subconscious level, myths and legends always play a fundamental part in my artistic practice. When we listened to the song for the first time we immediately knew that was gonna be the piece we wanted to work with, then we read the title "A chariot drawn by cats" and all the imagery from that mythology came to mind. I see myself like scratching the surface of ancient myths and stories when I play with mythology as a reference for my practice. I love syncretism in art, mixing belief systems and mythologies with my own imagery, that way I understand more the world around me. For me, the film is not about Norse mythology or Freyja and her chariot drawn by cats, that was only an excuse to research more into it and to be able to play in that beautiful location that is the Edward James surrealist garden in Xilitla, México. I see ourselves creating our own myths around the preexisting ones, each scene or part of this film is a "live action" performance by the actors and myself. If someone gets interested into Norske mythology or surrealism by watching our film, well that´s super nice even though that wasn´t our intention. Our intention was to play with some fictional characters in various magical locations to create a visual poem for the song, that can be interpreted or reinterpreted every time we watch it.
HK: For me, myth and story telling play a major role in my being. I find them to be my soul candy. I very much enjoy to study the story-telling of all cultures. I suppose there-for, it must inevitably reveal itself in most of what I create, individually or collaboratively.
From my point of view, the storytelling is ever present in all art forms. We are all by inheritance, story tellers. Weather it is an object, a necklace, a song, a dance or narrative film, there is a story. It doesn't need to be linear, obvious or described in a particular language. The myth, the magic and mystery of being are ever present. It is my way to cope and understand this mystery.
I am never aiming to recreate or reimagine any particular story, moreover evoke the feelings and play in the essence.
I prefer to allow space for a new myth or language to be born. I love to get the opportunity to play in the mystery of the moment and see what story unfolds.
I feel this collaboration gave me that opportunity.
SZ: I often think of titles as miniature poems to compliment my instrumental compositions and evoke inspiring imagery or ideas. As far as myths and legends go specifically, through my sound practice, and creative process, I embrace intuition and celebrate mystery.
MFW: The closing credits allude to a project called "Mystery Flight Music." Is this film part of a cycle or larger project of some kind you're planning?
SZ: Mystery Flight Music is a project named after a suite of songs that I composed. "A Chariot Drawn by Cats" is one of its pieces. Mystery Flight Music is also the project name under which I'm releasing this music. We have already released the opening piece from the suite called "Who Got Lucky?" by A Joyful Echo Sounds digital music label on bandcamp a few months ago to introduce the project. The whole suite will probably be up on bandcamp by the time people are reading this, and possibly also available in some physical form.
Right now there aren't many people involved with Mystery Flight Music, but our goal is to eventually make it a larger musicians' collective, dedicated to exploring the unknown zone between composed and improvised music, inspired by all the mystery music of this world and any other. I knew I wanted Hanna and Rodrigo to create a visual representation of some part of the "Mystery Flight Music" suite, because I loved what they made when I gave them total freedom to make a video for a song off a solo tenor saxophone album I released, "I won't tell (Luminous Incubator)." I asked Hanna and Rodrigo to choose a composition from the suite, and they chose "A Chariot Drawn by Cats." I knew Hanna'd make fascinating costumes, and asked her to act in it. I told Hanna what the title meant to me, and what the allusion was and told her that I trust her artistic direction and Rodrigo's vision from there.
MFW: Can you talk a little bit about the performers in the film? Were the actors chosen to match the personas of the gods or the gods chosen to match the performers?
RC: I think Hanna being the character of Freyja came natural, from then we started to think who were the people we felt connected to work on this piece and check if they´re available. The whole casting process for me is like a puzzle that comes together naturally and it has to do with directing your energy towards making it happen, its about coordinating peoples energy and time. For direction, I work with Hanna almost in a daily basis and I love her performance and acting skills, in the case of Benedek, I´ve just worked with him in a couple of previous videoclips and knew about his capabilities. I´d directed Dani in another videoclip so basically I was working with friends and talented artists that I feel really fond of. At some point I really wanted to play with real cats but it was a difficult production challenge. I think the character of Loki was proposed by Hanna at some point just about starting the shoot and that opened up new possibilities to make Loki a shapeshifter and turn him into Freyja at some point. At the end of the film there´s a strange character interacting with Freyja, I see him as an elemental or forest being and it was brought by Benedek right there in the river so we play along. There are also some other hidden characters in my mind (the organic hacker playing a huge harp structure where Dali used to hang when he visited Xilitla, for example), the three spirits of the surrealists lighting a candle over a Leonora Carringtón sculpture, the 1920´s Freyja, the futuristic storyteller Freyja, the siamese cats... and so on.
HK: Hmm, interesting question...
From the first time we listened to the song, Rodrigo and I envisioned cats.
The title of the song and the music itself evokes amazing imagery. We wanted big, humanoid cats. Cats that smoked and carried a tiny chariot. Rodrigo was interested to cast his cat Nico and put him in a bow tie, but decided very quickly he would likely not cooperate well.
Stan sent us plenty of his inspiration for this music project and told us he completely trusted us.
In the same telephone conversation I shared with him some wearable pieces I had started, made of wire and pearls. In my perception these pieces are meant to be webs of stars. He told me he loved the concept.
So the costumes and concepts came first. The spider web crown and a corset of stars that Benedek's Freya wears.
I kept having dreams of a tiny instrument, a sacred necklace, and the burning desire to go to Xilitla.
In terms of cast, we discussed in the beginning how we wanted to create something intimate and free form. No crew and a small cast. We wanted to take a trip, make each scene a ritual performance and use a cast that would bring a lot of improvisation to the piece.
Both Ro and I knew from the moment we heard the song, that we wanted to invite Benedek Mendoza.
Rodrigo, Bene and I had a conversation brewing about making something together since we met. He's an incredible dancer performer and presence. As I was exploring different stories and interpretations of Loki, I knew he could wonderfully portray a Loki character.
In my own narratives for costumes and movement I was playing a lot with the motif of the shape shifter / trickster, a concept and image I've been seeing a lot for the past few years (the spider, coyote etc).
Loki is depicted as the shape shifter and the trickster archetype.
I thought he could very well shape shift into Freya. Thus, Bene also plays a version of Freya, and also one of Freya's cats. However, Ro gave Benedek just a taste of information, and let him explore through performance, his character in the moment.
Dani's character the Cat ( and "the girl") were based on the paintings and drawings of Stan.
Dani is a wonderful being and artist. We practice movement together, I thought she could embody a great cat and also appear like she walked right out of one of Stans drawings. She looks and feels like she came out of Paris in the 1920s
And me, well I was by default Freya. I'm a ginger. The whole time I really wanted very long braid hair extensions, but I never manifested this. I thought I could cry tears of gold, but they came out silver.
MFW: That reminds me of a video I’d seen of Ingmar Bergman on the set of Fanny and Alexander where he kept trying and failing to get a cat to cross the frame at a particular moment in a shot—so don’t feel bad, not even Bergman could direct cats apparently!
You both talked about how the location of Xilitla puts your film in spiritual conversation with surrealist artists from the 1920s, and the mythic subject matter with ancient traditions of legend elsewhere in the world—I would add as well that your use of super 8 (and mixing in digital video) collapses any temporal specificity on might assume watching your film. For the last question, how do you feel about the notion of cinema existing outside time and space, occupying some other immeasurable dimension?
RC: I´ve seen that Ingmar Bergman video! Someday I will direct Nico my cat dressed with a bowtie.... you will see.
This is a great question. I definitely think that cinema exists in a special and sometimes paradoxical dimension (by one hand it is a new art form that's only been around for a little bit more than a century so in that regard all cinematic pieces are "new" to art history. On the other hand cinema gives us the opportunity to shape any time and space we want, like creating a moving painting from another dimension). That being said, I see my cinematic pieces as ephemeral, somehow they´re capsules of emotion that can be seen by someone at some point in time and they only exist when seen. Of course the Super 8 mm film gave us the chance to actually play with technology from the 1970´s and let us emulate images from the 1920´s, just as digital cinema lets us do whatever we want now!. So I love the idea of cinema being both ephemeral and timeless. For me the question would be, how do we keep our pieces existing after 300 or 500 years from now?
SZ: I love the idea of making art not ruled by fads or trends of the day. That is a type of timeless quality as well. I do think cinema, recorded music and even visual art have a quality of existing in a separate time and space. They still exist after they've been created. Things like cinema and recorded music still occupy time and space here, but they truly only exist in the moment they are accessed from wherever they rest otherwise, as opposed to something like live music or dance which exist only in the moment, and hold a different kind of magic and beauty.
HK: Absolutely, I believe cinema exists in a world of its own. Music and art as well. By practicing and enjoying these art forms perhaps we are building and entering portals to other worlds.
Cinema is a a particularly powerful art form in my opinion because it's all encompassing, it mimics life itself, all the while simultaneously it is creating a new life; a totally new reality.
I am quite interested in investigating through art and conversation the way we actually perceive our realities. Be it through memories, stories, and visions. To me there is this wildly special and intriguing quality of cinema is that you can attempt to share your perception with others and in turn share theirs.
This has all been on mind quite a lot this year and last, as I explore my own perceptions of time and reality.
When making this piece we had absolutely no conversations about depicting a particular time period. Actually Ro specifically did not want to create something linear.
When I make adornments, I'm inspired by many things that are rarely time specific. The song itself has this incredibly beautiful timeless quality. Las Pozas feels like an ancient ruin from the future, surrounded by out of this world nature.
As I mentioned before, each scene sort of acted as a ritual performance. With no real idea what was going to take place until it did.
I found shooting with film to be totally thrilling in this way.I got lost in the moving moment, the new world being born.
There was no second chance, no going and back and no reviewing the footage. This doubled that otherworldly aspect for me.
At the same time I really love that Ro and I both have no interest in being too precious. we are not purists, I believe a big part of his practice is experimenting digitally, so I really love the bits of 4K footage he added in and experimented with.
The video is another world but it does not belong to anything.
(México, 1980) is a video artist and a self-taught experimental filmmaker. His filmmaking style is often unconventional and experimental, associated with Gonzo journalism. Most of his audiovisual work shows strong references to his personal life, his self awareness and his own healing processes.
Rodrigo considers his most important works all the bits and pieces he's been gathering through the years alongside his video installations. Since 2016 he has created a prolific array of video pieces, shorts and micro-films every year. These audiovisual pieces are mostly personal catharsis in which he explores through images and sound his own fears and human psyche. Social problems, addiction, mythology, mysticism, human virtue, art, spirituality, psychedelics and sacred plants are often topics of his work. Most of this pieces are showcased in art galleries, museums and the internet and remain undistributed.
The artists sees these pieces and video installations ephemeral and irrelevant in the art world. Every time they are presented, he changes some bits, rearrange them and show them in different mediums each time. They have been showcased mostly in underground venues and museums in Latin America, United States and Europe.
is a composer, improviser, multi-instrumentalist, and visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York. His primary instrument is the saxophone, with a focus on the tenor and alto. His interest is in the mysteries and transformative properties of the human perception of sound, various autodidact approaches to composition, and especially in the creation of spontaneous improvised music: collaborating with various improvisers, experimental musicians, and also playing solo saxophone concerts. In the past he has played tenor saxophone in rock n' roll combos such as the Jigglers, and later The A-Bones. He recorded with The A-Bones on their last album, after playing with them locally for a while, and wound up playing their last short tour of Japan. Besides playing solo Stan Zenkov has a variety of projects with various musicians/composers/improvisers such as a duo with John Thayer, Tone Nebula, DGSZ (a duo with Daniel Gillian), sometimes The Fabulous Roman Candles, and his latest project Mystery Flight Music.
As a visual artist, he is primarily self-taught and has been drawing from life and the imagination from a young age. A large output of work is on paper in india ink, watercolor, acrylic and/or gouache for the immediacy of the media. He also makes paintings on canvas and wood using acrylic paints, and oil paints. He has been part of a couple of group shows in Brooklyn, New York.
Mystery Flight Music:
A Joyful Echo: https://ajoyfulecho.bandcamp.com/
(a digital label dedicated to documenting and releasing the work of Stan Zenkov and his collaborators)
was born by the sea and grew up in the mountains of Northern California. She currently resides under the Colima Volcano in Mexico, where she has been collaborating closely with video Artist Rodrigo Courtney as well as many other artists, musicians and performers.
Hanna works mostly creating one of a kind adornment, performances and creative direction for videos, photos and performances.
"Mostly I love to play."
Creative direction and performance at Lamusafea.com
Current collections available at