Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist? I fought hard! I was raised in an educated family that wanted me to become an academic, but my imagination was great and I enjoyed making things more than hiding who I was to have the career someone else wanted. After college, I resumed the suppressed habit of drawing, and I got hold of a still camera of my own to work on photography. My development was in collaboration with others who had resources I lacked, or via occasional classes, but in many ways i was self-taught. When I applied to art school in Berlin, they promised to kick me out if that was what I wanted, which was a joke to them in a way as they were telling me, ‘you’re too cool for school’, but then once I’d been there two years and they did so (I was bipolar, undiagnosed, and misbehaving ), you can imagine my parents were not pleased.
What was your first job in the art field? I was a summer intern at Franklin Furnace Archive and Performance Space in New York City.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work? More and more I prefer to create worlds and characters that are completely fantastic, but I started out in filmmaking as a documentarist exploring existing alternative worlds, such as the squatting community of New York in the 1980s. I came out as queer in the mid to late 80s when video and the indies were emerging and it became more possible to tell stories about people and places who weren’t being represented onscreen, such as myself and my fellow queer artists. But I also lived in the Berlin underground during the period when the Berlin Wall came down, and witnessed the end of a geopolitical era, so there’s a lot about real estate speculation, the blurring of cultures and boundaries, the beginning of the European Union, and things like police violence and the suppression of dissent and jockeying for power in some of my work.
Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project? In my 20s I often started with a title! Now I don’t often know what the project ‘is’ until I’m quite far into it, and the title comes last, which is to say my method is highly experimental. As an animator, I make multiples of paintings until I have a grasp of what is emerging. That is quite different from writing a novel or planning to shoot live action with performers where at least in part, it’s expedient to have some advance notion of what I am trying to accomplish, in the form of a script or a location. I’m more likely to stick with the lyrical/poetic now than the narrative, as I generate material, and then I just cobble the elements together.
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you? For me, the New German Queer Cinema was highly motivating when I started out, but also Warhol was, and Raul Ruiz, who lived in exile. The book ‘Film As A Subversive Art’ by Amos Vogel played a role, and “Incredibly Strange Films’ by RE/Search (V. Vale). In college , the academic years, I had read film theory in Paris, so at first, i was doing something between trying to hypnotize my audience through repetitive structures, comment in a Brechtian way on existing social conditions, and do this all in the realm of a fabulous, imagined universe. When I began to paint, it was because I was finally enrolled in a theatrical design program and painting was our tool. My interests shifted with the medium.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation? Hollywood seems to be teetering, to my eye, and there is a world of unseen gems out there that are not entering the major festivals like Sundance but are streaming online. I can’t speak to how COVID affected people who were used to shooting only live action, but for me, it deepened my commitment to experiment in the smallest scale, things I could do with what I had on hand.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid? Try out all the things that engage your interest in a long term way, and don’t head out the door expecting to be rich or famous. You can learn from all sorts of experiences and people, you don’t need experts for everything. Be sure you’re master of one or two technical skills in your field, but be open to understanding the others! Read a lot, see a lot.
Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world? I sadly do not fully believe films ‘change the world’ but they definitely can educate us about the world and agitate us to try to influence what is going on around us via other means.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?
I haven’t the foggiest idea what people are watching! I’m completely out of touch. There are too many choices, and I speak with only a handful of friends about what they look at.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects. I might revisit the site of an old trauma, a psychiatric hospital in New York where I spent time in 1996, in an experimental documentary short. And currently, I seem to be combining painting in oil with animation, a strange process because it takes so much time….