by Marius Hrdy
From interiors of the physical to interiors of the mind, the nine films in Ghost Dwelling present off-the-wall perspectives on habitat.
In Fluorescent, Avner Pinchover shoots a tube lamp from a cannon against a wall, capturing the resulting shimmer of shards – at 3000 frames per second. Gabby Follett Sumney’s The House These Words Built is a meditation on home, and the interior relationships of objects within it, set against a layered exchange of poem readings.
Camille Gibut’s yellow gingham portrays a house emerging from an elusive memory to express a fascination for patterns, both in the textures of the image and on the soundtrack, and to evoke a sense of holiday and leisure. Exploring reproduction, photographic method and questions of emotional inheritance, Sofia Theodore-Pierce’s One Off is a conversation between a mother and daughter, weaving together dispatches from an incomplete record.
Examining both body- and mirror image, Vincent Guilbert’s Super8 work Of Her Kingdom is a meditative filmic puzzle about memories, fleeting moments and contradictions, in which a solitary woman is seen listening to an LP, drying her hair and applying eyeliner while her actions are narrated with existential Zen-like mantras.
To the eerie sound of a vintage record, colour blotches saturate the frame like moving-image stained-glass windows in Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s Kitchen Sink Film, a short 16mm work of painterly psychedelia – handmade in the artist’s own kitchen sink. Karen Russo’s use of projection and shadow play evoke a ghostly terror in Junkerhaus, a response to the sculptor and architect Karl Junker’s wood-carved home in Lemgo whose lighting and sound design atmospherically translates the property’s oppressive, creaking interiors.
In Woodrow Hunt and Olivia Camfield’s We Only Answer Our Landline, indigenous American resistance to white settler colonialism is explored through a range of strategies and modes, including archival photos, home movies and performance. And in Áine Phillips’ Buttered Up, a woman applies a plate of butter to a crack in a couch, puts on a bath cap and goggles, and takes a deep dive into the underworld of domesticity: literally.
Avner Pinchover – 2’09 – Israel
THE HOUSE THESE WORDS BUILT
Gabby Follett Sumney – 2’30 – USA
JAUNE À CARREAUX (YELLOW GINGHAM)
Camille Gibut – 6’47 – United Kingdom
Sofia Theodore-Pierce – 13’09 – USA
OF HER KINGDOM
Vincent Guilbert – 10’34 – France
KITCHEN SINK FILM
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster – 3’47 – USA
Karen Russo – 8’10 – UK
WE ONLY ANSWER OUR LAND LINE
Woodrow Hunt, Olivia Camfield – 5’50 – USA
Áine Phillips – 6’42 – Ireland
Avner Pinchover, Fluorescent
A fluorescent tube is important because its length offers a kind of visible duration. We see the shadow before we see the light.
That’s very true. The work originates from a habit I had as a teenager, to smash such tubes against walls. Due to the tube’s elongated structure combined with the immense velocity, it crashes into itself, disintegrating completely, resembling the collapse of the Twin Towers in 9/11. Interestingly, fluorescents are classified as discharge lamps…
We also hear the sound – distorted, prolonged, ethereal – after the action. It’s like an after-sound, a sonic footnote. It has its own life…
That’s precise and profound. In high-speed videography, it is common for the sound to be non-diegetic. And indeed, Fluorescent was at first silent, and only six-months after filming, I decided to add audio – which was crucial for the work to ripen. I started from a very short recording of my breath, and all further edits derived from it. It reminds me of a phenomenon called cosmic noise, where random electromagnetic radiation moves through space. I feel that just like the picture, the sound also deals with this sort of disintegration. And at the same time, it creates a post-apocalyptic feeling but also admiration and wonder at the beauty of these glittering particles.
Gabby Follett Sumney, The House These Words Built
It seems like this is an absolute outpouring of information and emotion on the one hand, and yet the vocal layers render one another obscure. It’s very difficult to get a coherent or comprehensive reading of this space or the thoughts that inhabit it.
The House These Words Built is at its core a meditation on a space and the journey to it. The film combines images of the apartment I share with my wife, Jess, and audio of lying in bed reading poems we wrote to each other before we lived here. Jess went to graduate school nearly 800 miles away from where we live now. When we lived apart, we wrote to each other constantly as it was our main means of communication. I would walk around with a stray line of a poem or a letter in my head and find myself scribbling small observations that I wanted to share in course notebooks. There were days where we only sent poems via email and then didn’t speak in prose until a video call before bed.
When I dreamed up this short, I imagined adding an extra layer of direct animation to the film – most of my art practice centres hand-painted images on film – and having each individual poem read on its own, using each poem as an opportunity to explore a different space within the larger space. After hand processing the first two rolls of film, I was so taken by the artefacts and the look of the low-lit images that I decided to forgo adding colour and shorten the film, adding that same level of density to the audio that I observed in the footage itself.
The film is full of the second-person address. We hear, for instance, ‘I felt your heart against mine’, and the greetings cards and letters also express things like ‘I Love You’. Is this a romance film, and do you think of it as past-tense or a present-tense film?
I’ve said that the film is a meditation on space, but perhaps that’s me seeking to minimise my own vulnerability. This is absolutely a film about love. I love and am completely devoted to my wife. This is my third project about my marriage – an installation called Rituals and a short animation called Turquoise precede it. Each of these projects heavily relies on the artefacts of our time living apart while still remaining together – whether by referencing things we wrote to each other or incorporating gifts we exchanged in the mail. I am confident that I’ve processed this period of our life together sufficiently as a filmmaker, and I look forward to seeing how our relationship informs the films I’m working on now, which are about race and aging with a chronic illness respectively.
Camille Gibut, yellow gingham
This film deploys various animation techniques, and yet it’s incredibly singular and focused. What was your approach to making these otherwise disparate styles cohere as a whole?
I wanted for this film to work on a process quite intuitive, to see what will come while making it. As the film explores a place and a memory, the way of producing it was an exploration too. There is an exchange between the mediums, sometimes the sound as well was taking the lead, and then a logic built up between all these elements. I was interested to see how they can come together as part of the same work, how the coherence of a film is linked to the consistency of the visual. With that structure, the film interrogates what we can rely on to understand it, what are the codes to read its language. I wanted to involve the audience to explore in their own way during the film.
There are ‘concrete’ scenes here of photochemical film – home movies of a beach holiday. But there are also patterns, like a tablecloth or a wallpaper, and sometimes you reduce the image merely to lines. Is it memories of an experience governing form, or is this an attempt to give form to a remembered experience?
I think it’s more about an attempt to give form to a remembered experience. The film is trying to bring together different memories and perceptions to figure out an experience. There is a research of meaning, of a truth that is hidden, almost unreachable. I wanted to play with this notion of subjective and blurred temporality, with what can be read as the reality more than another, what can be the ‘truth’ in this film. In this sense, the ‘concrete’ scenes for instance become to me the more dreamy and elusive part of the film, perhaps its core, as a secret that can never really be told.
Sofia Theodore-Pierce, One Off
This idea, expressed in voiceover in the film, in the inimitably ghostly timbre of a telephone message, that ‘when time passes, parts of you get left behind’ – was that the origin of your film, or was it something that emerged as you were compiling materials?
The film is an attempt to make a portrait of my mother, while alluding to the inherent impossibility of the task. I began by reading my mother’s meticulously kept journals from throughout my childhood and recording subsequent conversations with her over the phone for about six months. That line came up in one of our first recorded conversations, when I asked her why she has always journaled so consistently. She finished the thought by saying, ‘I suppose it became a way of holding onto my identity.’ Her ability to articulate how journaling functions for her, as a means of keeping track of the core of herself, despite life changes and the passage of time, spoke to me. By journaling my mother has compiled a flawed and ongoing document of herself, much like the one I was trying to make of her. She knows the journals cannot encapsulate her or her life experience. She didn’t know anyone else would ever read them until I began this project. Yet somehow the attempt to record has felt necessary. The attempt is the thing.
There’s a great deal of attention paid here to shadows, the absence of light, emphasised by the presence of light alongside it.
In addition to conducting interviews with my mother over the phone, and delving into her journals, One Off is born of research into the life and work of Anna Atkins, considered to be the first woman photographer. Atkins was a pioneering botanist in the 1850s who collaborated with her best friend Anne Dixon to compile one of the first photographic books, using the then newly discovered cyanotype method – later popularised industrially as blueprinting. The two women worked in tandem to build a comprehensive document of their immediate natural surroundings. While this research does not appear overtly in the film, it inspired much of its visual construction. Atkins’ cyanotypes were initially dubbed shadowgraphs. She labelled each of these botanical photograms by hand, in her distinctive script. Atkins also claimed she rarely discarded any print, even those rendered slightly imperfect. My mother never discarded or revised any of her journals, no matter how challenging the content might be to revisit, or have her daughter unearth from the basement.
I often wondered while working on this piece whether the extreme specificity of my mother’s narration, while moving to me, would touch a wider audience. Surprisingly though, I think intimately detailed personal work often has the most potential resonance with strangers.
And there’s also a great deal of attention given to handwriting – the embodied and the disembodied…
The embodied and the disembodied is such an intriguing way of characterising handwriting! I did think about embodiment in the edit, in considering when the audience gets to see my mother’s face, and not. Withholding face, as a means to shift focus to other forms of articulating being – through language, hand, and voice.
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Kitchen Sink Film
Your film’s title is literal. It was made in your kitchen sink. What are we actually seeing here? Is it a portrait of your home?
The title for my film is a playful reference to the process of making art by hand – specifically women’s hands in the domestic space of the kitchen. It is an expressionist portrait of interiority, materiality and joy, a celebration and homage to homemade art projects in the spirit of experimental women filmmakers such as Storm de Hirsch, Marie Menken, Barbara Hammer and Maya Deren, and portrait artists such as Cindy Sherman. We live in the dark age of the twenty-first century, but art is free to express anarchic joy, love and wonder. It’s a form of resistance in the face of rising fascism and a global pandemic. What you are seeing is the manic expression of jouissance in infinite patterns of light and abstract hand-painted streakings on celluloid. If this is a portrait of my home, it is only in the sense that home is the inner subjective mind of the artist. That place, the ‘kitchen-mind,’ is a sacred space of alchemy and magic, embracing endless possibilities for creativity in a space of female materiality and creative power.
The music is very ghostly and very homely – like a household cartoon from another age. What is this music, and why did you choose it?
‘A household cartoon from another age’ is an apt description of the kind of sounds I tend towards for most of my work. I composed and created this track by hand, using public domain tracks, distorting them, and re-editing them in iMovie, which I retrofit as a sort of lo-fi home recording studio and mixer. I adore the music of early films and cartoons from the 1930s – everything from vintage Warner Brothers cartoons to the gently anarchic compositions of Georges Auric for early Jean Cocteau films, or René Clair’s À nous la liberté. I adore music that evokes the tracings of another time and place, an era rich with surrealist experimentation, artistic mania and art as alchemy and magic.
I was a radio programmer, and I love the popular music of the 1920s and ’30s as well as twentieth-century ambient, drone and chill music. I like to mix a funky lo-fi analogue sound with digital technology. It’s all alchemy, a bit of a ‘mad lab’ from my kitchen office – ethereal, cinematic and otherworldly, like the music of James Leyland Kirby. Some find my work dark and ghostly, but others are drawn to the fluttering moth that is life and hope. Music and film are both alive and dead. We reimagine them into life. I am obsessed by that phoenix quality in art, particularly in the age of the new black plague which will inevitably result in a new renaissance, one that we may even already be experiencing.
Karen Russo, Junkerhaus
Karl Junker’s house in Lemgo. Corridors upon corridors, alcoves within alcoves, a structure that makes architectural sense on the one hand and whose functions beyond the ornamental are puzzling on another. How did you approach translating this great sculptural work into a film?
The film takes us into a space which, while very real, is entirely the product of one individual’s imagination – an inner world made into a material one. In that sense, the biggest challenge for me was how to interpret Karl Junker’s psyche and how to approach it, both visually and spiritually. However, Junker didn’t leave any written documentation about his artistic intentions and little is unknown about his private life, so in that sense I had freedom interpreting his total artwork.
I wanted to dissect the architecture to create an accumulation of fragmentary visions where architecture, furniture and ornament appear to flow into each other and reality and imagination loop back into each other. This claustrophobic view and lack of perspective suggests that we are not in the social, rational and functional space of conventional architecture. The camera’s ability to produce ambiguities of scale, depth, transparency and reflection, and the intersections of architectural planes, vistas and apertures, weave a sensorial awareness through distortions of sound and light, and creates a psychological retreat that sits outside conventional hierarchies.
One of my main points of reference was the landscape surrounding the house. The camera uses the wood carvings covering the house to shift playfully between the house’s interior and the nearby forest. In doing so, it forges a relationship between Junker’s visionary ideas and the German landscape and questions architecture’s role in reconnecting humanity with nature. I wanted to develop a film that used the place as a point of departure, taking its secrecy and obscurity as a theme, to explore analogies of the way it crosses discrete orderings, and combined qualities of insider and outsider artistic practice.
To what extent is this a haunted house film?
You may say that the Junkerhaus is a haunted house in the same way that every personal residence is haunted by its former residents. But in this case, Junker’s spirit indeed seems to occupy every little corner of this strange building. A large cubic volume with a gabled roof, it is a building one might find in a fairy tale, lost, it seems, in a pine forest.
Junker obsessively cocooned himself within wood carvings resembling structures made out of bones which extended over all floors, furniture and into all corners like a spider’s web. The profusion of tangled motifs, combining symbolic elements with shades of art nouveau or hints of expressionism, creates a fascinating yet oppressive effect – all the more bizarre since Junker designed it as a family house, with children’s rooms and cribs, but lived there all by himself.
So formally speaking, I was conscious of the uncanny qualities of the house and the literary and filmic gothic and horror references and looked for ways to incorporate them without being too literal. I wanted to approach the house as a kind of an organic body, a work of art that absorbs and devours the visitor into its interior. A zone where fluidity and lack of perspective suggests that we are not in the social, rational and functional space of the conventional world.
The film emphasises the porousness of the division between the imagined and the real in the world that Junker had invented – a world of a personal fantasy, in which a family he did not have are given space in rooms that remain uninhabited. The camera dwells on a baby’s crib and cot, in an unused nursery room. The film closes on a singular image – a painting of a bearded, top-hatted man who resembles Junker, outside an open window looking into a room, where he finds a woman and a little girl who greet him. Behind the man, in the distance, are town buildings. It is the world Junker perhaps wished for himself – the return of a family he had lost, living happily in a world that would soon exist, if only he could build it.
Woodrow Hunt and Olivia Camfield, We Only Answer Our Land Line
There are domestic spaces here, ordinary in appearance but for visual encroachments – overlays, inserts, superimpositions. You make very familiar settings seem alien, ghostly, other…
Before we began making this film, Woodrow received a large collection of family photos from his grandfather. During the months we spent going through the photos together we began to notice how these photos changed our interaction with the physical space we occupied. The re-experience of memories triggered by the photos created a layered experience of space and time. When we began to make the film and explore the character of Alien within an Indigenous experience, we chose to use the photos to explore different variations of altered space that may come about when discussing aliens. The photos work in a similar concept of certain alien technologies that we see in movies such as teleportation or memory infiltration. As we incorporated the photos into the video we noticed the effect they had on us and the other images. The people and the places within the photographs became permeable as they haunted the images above and around them. The ordinary spaces then became accessible to these possible ghosts and the same was true for the spaces the ghosts inhabited as we decided to haunt them as well, closing the perceived gap between ancestral family photo and current day individual.
You’ve described the film as depicting non-linear Indigenous experience. Could you say a bit more about that, and about the juxtaposition of interior and exterior, of the home per se and a wider sense of land – and nation – as habitat?
We were interested in exploring the layered historical, spiritual and physical experience of Indigeneity. We didn’t want to construct the video based on a linear progression of one image after another. We were more interested in how images interacted with other images being seen or not seen. Many of the clips extend within the digital timeline beyond or before they are seen by the audience, while some are never cut and exist throughout the entire video. By hinting at this structure through blips and masks we hoped to create a viewing experience where the viewer would mentally re-examine the clips they had seen or may not have seen and imagine what clips will come next or won’t come next all while watching what is being shown to them at that moment.
These techniques replicate values within Indigenous communities where many continue to remember the past into the present to imagine the possibilities of the future. This almost circular experience of time and space was something we wanted to explore in the video. One way we did that was by layering the clips to collapse multiple worlds and scenes. The home and the alien world then don’t seem so far away from each other and could even talk to one another.
Áine Phillips, Buttered Up
This is a film adaptation, if you like, of a previous live performance in which you disappeared through a buttered-up couch. How was that done?
The live performance was presented as part of a larger event at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, County Cork in 2016. There were other performances happening around the building, it was a fundraising event with about 200 people attending. I was located with my couch in a neat corner at the top of a flight of stairs, out on a wide veranda overlooking Cobh harbour. It was midsummer, so very beautiful! I spent about one hour carefully buttering the crevices of my red couch – very like the one in the film – and after it was plastered with plenty of butter, I donned a swimming cap and goggles and launched myself into the middle of the sofa, diving through it slowly and elegantly – I tried to be elegant! I disappeared out the back through a slit which I had prepared in the upholstery and rolled down the stairs behind the couch. It was dark by this time so the audience couldn’t see where I had gone! I reappeared for a round of applause after a few moments. People seemed delighted with the entire spectacle and many people asked me afterwards where I had disappeared to. I always answered, ‘Into the underworld of domesticity.’
The film is playful, eccentric, colourful – but also claustrophobic. The domestic here is a space to get trapped in, bound to, consumed by.
Yes, I wanted the film to express both the entrapment of domesticity and the playful creative space of the domestic. Or maybe to use creativity and humorous absurdity as a language to explore the darker aspects of the domestic space. In my own life experience, as a young mother of two daughters living in a very remote location for many years, I felt constrained and housebound. But my domestic space was also my art studio and space of creative choice. The home can also be the space of nurturance, growth and transformation. Buttered Up expresses this paradox for me. It is very prescient now to think about this paradox because our domestic spaces are our refuge and safe place, but we are all completely confined in our homes, literally imprisoned by the restrictions placed on us by the Covid-19 crisis. All over the world we are all experiencing the entrapment of the domestic frame. My advice is: use butter.