ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS-Zuzu KNEW
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 Spring season. We’ve decided to continue to showcase in the meantime, great work from great artists here on our own website, in a new 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 “The Golden Owlive” a nine minute video piece made by artist Jasa Baka, a.k.a. Zuzu Knew
MFW: Can you give us a little background as to how The Golden Owlive came about as a project?
ZK: Yeps! I made this film at the Koumaria Residency, on an olive farm near Sparta in Greece, autumn 2013. It was 10 days of site specific improvised collaboration with different artists and their projects. The idea sprouted for me when I had a rly intense craving to put giant gold sequins that I brought with me in the olive trees. Then the rest of the story, a sortof invented mythology, just organically unravelled itself. I was also inspired by the other artists at the residency, who they were as people, to create characters surfacing their alter egos, or their “living cartoons”.
MFW: That element (as well as other elements of this video) reminds me K. Anger’s “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” wherein its said the performers’ mythical alter-egos were inspired by a costume party where invitees were told to “Come as Your Madness.”Can you expand on the “living cartoons” idea and how you were able to bring this out in the other artists?
ZK: Yesss I love that movie! Making people into living cartoons is a very intuitive process for me. When I’m doing costume work, as I did in this film, it is collaborative with the performer’s personality as well as an invocation of the archetypes that we are surfacing within them. Creating the makeup and costume becomes a ceremony, even tho casual, it is transformational. The makeup is especially maximalist which makes them larger than life. In this case I was using what I could fit into a suitcase so the costumes are most basic, but I think they still convey the same energy. But people themselves when you give them the space to be so, can inhabit their most intrinsic natural magic, their own living cartoons. I hope to encourage this with every performer that I work with.
MFW: When you consider the Greek setting of the residency (as the ancient origin of much popularly known Western mythology), it also begs the question of how place contributes to the energy of an artwork. As an artist who has worked in Montreal, Iceland, New York and elsewhere, do you have any thoughts on how your location informs what you create?
ZK: The setting is definitely significant no matter where I am. It is influential in many levels, subconsciously and consciously. In this case, surrounded by breathtaking nature, it was easy for me to be informed by it. Not only were we on an olive farm full of olive trees, there were massive Agave plants at our feet, mountains in the distance and the brightest stars in the sky at night. It was obvious to me that the Agave would be personified, since I was so amazed by their presence. I remember also, we went on a hike up a nearby mountain and would stop every now and then to dress up more. We had a local guide with us, an older Greek man who had never seen anything like what we were doing before. When we got to the top, he found a ram’s horn and gave it to us. This was so intuitive of him, what a gift, he was the ambassador of this land giving us our next clue to the puzzle. The horn was instantly integrated into the story. I think anywhere you are, if you have the sense to listen/feel it, all the better, but the place will feed you information that affects you no matter your ability to realize its impact. The more we are aware, the more playful our dialogue can be.
MFW: Are you self-isolating currently, and if so, are you discovering any previously unseen qualities about your immediate surroundings, drawing any new inspirations?
ZK: I am lucky enough to be self isolating in Iceland, a huge privilege, where I have been living for almost 3 years now. I am with my lovely partner, and our adorable dog, at his cottage Kolsstaðir in the mountains. My immune system is pretty weird and I am very grateful to be in a place that I am safe. I have started a daily yoga/meditation practice, which seems cliché, but I’m so amazed at myself for having the perseverance since it is really saving my sanity. The weather has been very extreme the last few days! A really intense storm passed over last night, something that would happen mid winter. It’s incredible to have the weather teach you humility. The weather is always dramatic here but also a comfort to listen to the wind, feel grounded in the mountains and stare out the window at the next weather system approaching.
Perfect gluggaveður, window weather. Breathing deeply in these practices helps me to feel the presence of my surroundings even more. There are always new levels and they are always inspiring. I haven’t been able to make anything new as yet. I’ve been working on my portfolio for my MA in Fine Arts application at Listaháskoli, the art school in Reykjavík. Really digging into my past. This isolation mixed with the application has really made me question myself, my artistic purpose and what I want to do in the future.
MFW: This is a uniquely good time to work on those things.
ZK: What can you do when you lose all your jobs and the cottage is free from cancellations and you have nothing else to do but ponder your existence!
Zuzu Knew is a Canadian west Icelander, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary artist living between Reykjavík Iceland and Montréal Québec. Her drawings surface creatures known as fluffs, which make the solitary banal into a surreal, friendship club. Zu lives to embellish people and change their very notions of self, expanding them into characters of their own folklore. Her installations are environments combining magic realism and a cryptic candy land. She collaborates often to bend her visual vocabulary with other visual artists, dancers and musicians. She plays an overhead projector like a light organ, producing a visceral animation that is soft on the eyes. She believes that handmade and analog technologies are necessary and a delicious part of her aesthetic. She is a graduate of Concordia University’s Design for Theatre BFA specialisation. She hosts and curates a site specific art residency in Iceland called In House Outer Space.
The music in ‘The Golden Owlive’ is “FMLOL” by Syngja, the musical project of Jasa’s sister Tyr Jami and Justin Guzzwell, for which Zuzu designs costumes, projections, and stagecraft.
Zuzu and Tyr are the subject of a forthcoming documentary by director Catherine Legault titled “Sisters: Dreams and Variations.“