A lot of it is memory because when I was very young I used to watch maybe two or three films a day. So what I remember is not always what it was, there’s a lot of exploration that’s going on. I made three of these video collages and each one has between 400 and 600 film clips. It almost becomes a stream of consciousness exercise.
I know what the signposts will be and what kind of story I’m telling. So the first one would be more of a religious tableau, the second one is more a chronology and third one is like a pop culture spiritual journey. I come up with what the landmarks in that journey would be. In the first one there would be five characters in the whole canvas to start with and then all the connections in between and the journey is filled in from memory.
The first step is really working on it as a Photoshop documenter, and with physical paper cut outs on the floor of my studio. I just start moving things around and see what develops during that process, but I have a very clear idea in mind about what the story is at the beginning. The format the story will take changes substantially during the course of making it. It’s all sampled so I have no control over what the source material will be.
Absolutely. I think it was changing when I left Los Angeles. It used to be a director’s medium, and then it became a producer’s medium. And now it’s a marketing medium. The marketing department of the studios basically tells the producers and the directors who to cast and what to show. I think it has become unimaginative, and for a creative person it’s very limiting. Of course, there’s independent film, which is great and there’s interesting things going on there, but for mainstream cinema … it has become completely different to the ‘70s when I grew up watching films.
Of course, particularly in the last 10 years. But the advantage of an art practice is that you’re not relying on the same support of funding that you would be forced to rely on in a film. In a film if you’re spending 100 million dollars, there will obviously be many people involved in the decision making process. In an art practice ultimately it’s not so much a collaboration with anyone. You’re expressing what you want to express.
The production of my work can be expensive but it’s manageable. It’s not like I have to go out and fundraise and have distribution for the work, as long as I’m not concerned about the art market, which I find very distracting. I know a lot of artists that are very concerned with the art market and they have a strategic approach to their work, but I came from that background being a filmmaker and saw that destroy the film business, so for me, I make what I want to make and there’s very little strategy or marketing involved in what I do. Fortunately, it sells well and I’m able to make more work, but it’s never a precondition of making a body of work the way it would be if you were making a film.
I was working on a 20 minute film for VR, I realised it’s very difficult to tell a story in VR. It’s more of an experience medium; more about spectatorship and putting you in an environment you wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable being put in. There’s an interesting piece about an Ebola clinic in Africa and a refugee camp where you’re aware that you’re in an environment that might not be accessible. It’s about the fantastic and the inaccessible. It’s great for documentaries. But for conventional story telling I don’t think it’s a very good tool because you want to have POV and cut back and forth. When you remove all those tools you have to make a very specific story that takes advantage of the technology.
Yes, and its very much in synch with the way we communicate culturally through social media, through the immersiveness of our connected world. Although it’s not a visual thing, it’s an emotional thing. We feel more connected in more places, able to experience more points of view, tastes, friendships, more of everything. And VR is everything all the time. You put on the visor and you’re literally inside an interface that can be used for anything.
I think some of the more interesting ways of using it will be more behavioural and more about connectivity. I guess that’s why Facebook bought Oculus. Essentially it will be a way for me to sit with you while you’re in Hong Kong and I’m in Berlin, and we’ll be having this interview with these avatars.
That’s what my work is all about, even the first piece I did, Cyclorama, where I shot simultaneous sunrises in nine revolving restaurants across America. In the actual installation you walk into a cylindrical room and you’re able to witness the sunrise and the movement of each the restaurants in all of these cities. You’re everywhere at once, but it’s a very empty experience because there’s no focus or emotional connection. And that was machine age technology, in a physical revolving restaurant. So if you look at the rough line, in 2002 I made a piece about video games—massive multi-layer video game called Half Life—and I shot kids playing these games in cyber cafes in California where they actually had gang violence related to what they were doing. We spent a week there shooting and looking into monitors. This idea of dislocation and violence going on inside the game compared to what you were seeing was really shocking at the time. And now the technology has gotten even better. So, I think that all of this connectivity, which is not biological, essentially takes you further from the experience, while bringing you closer. But it does push you further away from the emotional experience.
Well Prokofiev had such great satire. So cynical but so beautiful and theatrical. I wanted to find something that would celebrate and satirise what you’re watching, So when you see Julie Andrews singing the sound of music, but to Prokofiev, it reduces everything to a gesture and spectacle that has a hollow sense to it. That’s what this piece is about. On one level I can watch it and revel in the cartoons and the 3D superimposition, but on another level you’re really at a distance from everything and the characters are like they’re trapped in amber. They’re not able to break free of the narrative so you’re in this vortex, which can be quite overwhelming and quite alienating at the same time and that’s exactly the intention of the piece.
It’s always the music. For these three pieces it’s always been the music first. For the last one I had (Soviet composer) Khachaturian originally, and that was the inspiration for the vortex, but it didn’t work; the music didn’t have the structure to carry the visuals forward. But then I finally found the Prokofiev piece at the very end. It had a similar feeling … the first one was Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the second was Prokofiev which I think is the most effective and bombastic march. Always the Russians.
It’s also anti commercialism. For some reason the music has that spirit. Whether it’s anti-authoritarian, anti-conformity. The biggest battle right now is conformity we’re the most conformed the world has ever been. Everywhere you go, every bar looks the same, every shop. I went back to Milan recently—I was born in Milan and grew up there until I was 12—and it was always the most grey dingy city, no good hotels, very particularly Italian, not like Rome or Florence. And Milan’s completely transformed in the last 10 years. Every hotel looks like a hotel in New York. The bars look like the bars in Williamsburg. I was really disappointed because I thought globalisation has completely erased its character. For me Milan was always this place where you found the wrong type of marble; it was always interesting.
In Berlin when I got there eight years ago I remember thinking this is exactly what I like about New York and not what I don’t like. I was there again with a good friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, and we found ourselves in this brand-sponsored party. I thought Berlin of all places is so anti this, and now on all the invitations everything is branded. So, you’re living inside this advertisement. Globalisation and the Internet have made everything the same.
Well, we don’t allow it. Now we’re destroying photography too with things like Instagram. Pretty soon if you’re required to look at a large-scale photograph in a museum you wonder will people actually spend the time to be moved by a photograph. If most of our interaction with photography is swiping on a 3-inch screen, then that becomes our daily interaction; do you still have the capacity to be moved by something that requires more time? It's a cultural thing that is constantly changing.
No, I just use technology to make a point and try to adopt whatever methods a certain type of media is using. So in the case of ‘Megaplex’, I adopted the methods of Hollywood using really expensive 3D software and incredible density to make a point and hopefully be subversive at the same time. The technology allows you a point of entry where you can be subversive and make a point by exaggerating it and making it do more than what it’s supposed to do. And hopefully people pick up on what I want them to feel which is that this may not be a good thing. This is alienating rather than connecting you. This is not a spiritual thing, this is superficial. In a lot of ways, my art deals with the concept of superficiality through technology.
Technology and art is also a distribution platform. You’ve got so many ways of experiencing art. Many people will not go to a show until they’ve seen it on a laptop or phone. It immediately reduces that experience to something you’re not going to be surprised by. It changes not just the production of it … I think the production is great because it allows you to see things in different ways and things we could only dream of. It allows you to visualise anything. But in its distribution it has removed a lot of the magic and sense of discovery and the sense of the sublime, the sense of emotion and poetry. It’s not everyone’s responsibility to appreciate art in the way people talk about it; if you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter.
Well, that’s what artists are supposed to do, art is supposed to trigger that feeling. There is still a lot of work that does that, but there’s less and less of it with each generation. —[O]