Sitdown is an Alchemy Film & Arts series of artist interviews, published to complement its exhibitions, residencies, and other events. You can find all other Sitdown entries here.
Dagie Brundert is a Berlin-based filmmaker and pinhole photographer who fell in love with her Super 8 camera in 1988. She has been an artist in residence at Echo Park Film Centre (Los Angeles) and LIFT (Toronto), and is the recipient of lifetime achievement awards for Super 8 films at Images Festival (Toronto) and Open Air Festival (Weiterstadt). Since 2008 she has delivered workshops across the world on alternative, eco-friendly film development techniques.
A programme of Dagie’s films is part of the eleventh edition of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, available on demand, 29 April – 3 May.
Listen to a conversation between artist in focus Dagie Brundert and artist and curator Lydia Beilby.
Lydia Beilby (LB): Hello and a very warm welcome to Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival 2021. My name is Lydia Beilby. I’m an artist and curator based in Edinburgh and it’s my pleasure to welcome botanical film Alchemist Dagie Brundert to the festival this year. We have a special focus on her work – Wormholes and Swingchronicities, and in this conversation, we’ll be talking about some of the concurrent themes and issues that come through Dagie’s works. It’s wonderful to have you here. Welcome to the festival, Dagie.
Dagie Brundert (DB): Yipee, yipee, yipee. Hello. Hey.
LB: Fantastic. Wonderful to have you here and thank you so much for coming to speak to us. So I wanted to begin with a question about process and a question specifically about the sort of synchronicity between image-making and life. It feels to me like there’s a very natural balance between those two elements. I wondered if you could tell us something about your process, and about how these two elements feed into one another. Because it seems to me that the two are inseparate – image-making and life are integrated in both your practice and in your approach.
DB: That’s a good question. I mean, this question already covers everything because maybe it’s like, my filmmaking is my life. All my films are very personal, I think. You have the approach, my approach to making new film is just to have a camera with me, whenever I go out, whenever I’m travelling, whenever I have a small, funny, fancy idea, in my mind, I just go out and have my antennas on my head and my eyes open. I’m just capturing things that I find without a very precise script beforehand. I just step outside. Sometimes I have something in my mind, of course, which is a part of my life, whatever I’m thinking about. But I’m finding it outside because for me the two worlds collapse, in a way, the outside world on the inside. I made the experience that it’s always like this.
I’ve been making films for more than thirty years now and it’s just happening. So with every time I’m surprised again how funny the universe is, how much humour the universe has, and how much coincidences can lead to a film if I as a maker, I have a subject, I’m just ready for it. This is just what’s happening. Sometimes it feels like it’s just happening, it’s falling upon me from – I don’t know, from somewhere from space, or whatever. But it’s also because I have it in my brain, in my mind, because we connected. The inside and the outside world is connected. And I transport my inside world into, through my films to the outside world, which is you the audience. And the other way around, I transport the things that I find – the beauty in banality or whatever, transported via filmmaking and show it. So it’s one, it’s a connected thing. I feel like a hippie sometimes because I’m just, I’m collecting, I’m collecting the vibes like that.
LB: Absolutely. It feels very much like a kind of dialogue that operates on a number of levels. I’m really interested in this idea of the the antenna, if you like, and this sense of close looking and exploration through the lens of the camera and for you Dagie, there’s a sense of interest found in everything that you see around you. There’s a kind of democratising to the images, which I think is really powerful and profound, and a sense of finding interest in everything and exploring the world through your camera eye, which I think is very powerful.
Would it be too much of a stretch to say that this is a quite feminine way of looking at the world? You know, in a sense, there’s kind of perhaps more conventionally masculine views of the world that have been about the large scale, but often your work is about the small things. It’s about the domestic, it’s about finding the beauty through the process of close looking in engagement with the world around us. And again, we have this idea of synchronicity, synchronicity between ourselves as physical human beings and cells within the world, within the landscape that we find ourselves both natural and manmade.
DB: I absolutely agree. Yeah. Is it a feminine view? Maybe, maybe, maybe. I mean, there are maybe some guys who are capable to go, just to step outside and let things happen and find the tiny hidden beauty gems in the banality of whatever, but yeah, I think it has something to do with my woman-ness. Because I’m sensitive. I mean, men are sensitive too. That’s another approach as soon as they have, sometimes very often they have a different approach towards filmmaking. Can I say that? Yeah. So I agree. Yeah. What was the question again, if I agree if it’s feminine?
LB: I think you addressed that beautifully. Thank you. To follow on from that I’m interested in whether you feel that you engage the camera as a kind of memorial device, and your films could be seen as a form of self-archiving, because we’ve talked about this sense of there being no division between art and life, and your action is literally unfolding in front of the camera. And I was struck by a quote from one of your works, and this is from Yksi Katsi Kolme, and I’ll quote you here. ‘I really want to send a message to the next self, to the next Dagie.’ I was wondering about this sense of self-archiving and this idea of using the camera and the material as a form of memory device.
DB: Yeah, you picked a good quote. This is because I was concerned with a question. Since we all have to die one day and maybe reincarnation is true, maybe not. But if, how can I find the next Dagie? Who will be the next Dagie after me? The Dagie two, if I’m the Dagie one, there will be a Dagie two and I would love to send her a message. I would love to send her, write her, a note about – I don’t really know about what, but something, and I was thinking how the hell, where can I hide the message? How can she or he know that there’s a message from the pre-Dagie? This is what I was thinking about.
It’s so easy. You just have to fold time and space. And this is what Yksi Katsi Kolme is all about. Just press the spiral arms one upon the other and fold the dimension and you will maybe, maybe, you will see a transparent follow-on Dagie or something. Yeah, I think you’re right. Sometimes it’s like a diary. Because I’m actually very self-centred in all my films because I’m explaining the world to my audience and I’m appearing as an actor because there are no other actors around. And I’m just walking through life and through space and time and finding stuff, having an idea, having some joke or whatever to tell people. And yeah, this is my everyday concern.
For example, a film that doesn’t appear in this list. It’s a project called Ode to June. I’ve been doing it for eight years now in a row. Every month of June I have to film one little piece of Super 8 every single day of June, which makes it 30. Can be small, like one two seconds and there’s no other script. It’s just I have to, and sometimes I don’t really feel like it, but I have to. And this turns out to be a symphony of summer. It’s so beautiful. It’s really, really cool. Yeah, but it’s not in your show. It’s on the website. It’s on the Vimeo. And this is really, absolutely, well, self-centred would be too much. It’s like recording myself. And this is like a diary. And also a diary of my mother city where I live in. It’s a one-year special thing about the month of June. Totally personal, but sometimes totally political, because I capture the vibe of the time somehow and put it inside inside the film, which goes automatically.
LB: I think you do an absolutely beautiful job of capturing the essence or that atmosphere within your films. And in the accompanying essay to your programme that I’ve written, which is on the Alchemy website, I write about a sense of your work being a series of tiny postcards, like from your many and varied adventures. So there is a sense of very personal experiences filtered through the filmmaking process. And I’m interested to hear about your feelings in relation to the idea of you as a performer. So there’s a sense of you, Dagie, as a performer, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. So you’re shooting the work on your trusty Super 8 camera, you’re also hand processing the work so there’s an element of collaboration there and performance in that process. And you also appear often in front of the camera. And there might be a sense of a narrative, you explaining what’s happening. So a kind of reflectiveness to the project too, or there might be a sort of small-scale, performative intervention in front of the camera. So the many roles of Dagie Brundert within your work. Talk to us about this performance self, this performability in your films.
DB: Yeah, don’t forget the sound is another very, very interesting aspect. And I found out that it’s cooler to make the sound myself. And sometimes, I mean, I’m not really a musician, but I’m talking so the voiceover is mostly always my voice. And then I play the ukulele or play whatever I find, some instrument. And at one point, I thought, why not film myself playing the ukulele and taking the sound and putting it later onto the sound line of the film, which is all one and maybe it was born in the fact that I just love to do everything on my own. I don’t need other people. Oh, sometimes I need help. Sometimes I have a cameraperson or whatever. But I just began Super 8 because I loved it. I fell in love with Super 8 because it was so simple. I just had a little camera, I just had this little cassette. And those days in the late ’80s, or the early ’90s, the labs were still alive. And I could send the film to the lab and they’ve been developed there. But soon after, I just started to develop the films myself, because the labs were closing and I just did everything on my own in my little bubble on my little editing table. And I just loved it. Maybe I’m a self-centred person. I don’t know. But I just love to have everything. And oh, maybe I’m a control freak. I don’t know…
LB: Self-sufficient artists is what we would say – self-sufficient.
DB: Self-sufficient. Exactly. Because, if there’s no one around to help me, if there’s no one around to act, I’m doing it. Why not? And that’s that’s what I love. Yeah.
LB: There’s also a sense that you’re involved in every stage of your artistic process as well. So you’re shooting the films, you’re processing the films, you’re literally bringing the films into being yourself with your hands. I wonder if you could talk to us about the importance of tactility in your work. So perhaps this feeds into one of the reasons that you choose to work with Super 8 as well because of the particular beautiful grain and feel of the film.
DB: Absolutely. Yeah, this is the main reason why I do it. It is totally about the aesthetics of Super 8. Could have been 16mm as well. But that was unaffordable… I can compare it to video, especially to video and these days of the late ’80s. That was only VHS. And this was totally identical crap. And I was never interested in that. So Super 8 was the thing. And I fell in love with the little grains. And, by the way, I edit my films digitally. I have them telecined, I have them digitised with 2k or in 4k, which is really cool because the beauty doesn’t get lost. The beauty of Super 8 doesn’t get lost.
The tactility of Super 8, because it’s analogue, it’s just all about analogue. I can hold the film strip in my hand, and I can look through it. I can hold it against the window and look through, and I see the picture. And even more when I develop the film myself, even more when I develop expired film myself, I have a feeling that I really am coming to the core of the film, which is also the core of the material and the core of the film, which I love a lot. I understand matter more and more. I understand what I’m doing. I’m actually capturing light, light and time. This is all about filmmaking. It’s so simple. It’s just capturing the moment, capturing, capturing light – it’s photography, it’s light, graphic.
LB: This is an absolutely magical process of that transient moment being struck on to the emulsion of the filmstrip which is incredibly beautiful and profound. And Dagie, I wanted to talk to you further about the process of collaboration, because I see this as something very central within your practice. I’m thinking of collaboration here in terms of a relationship between yourself and the filmstrip as a material. So the photochemical film strip as a kind of malleable sculptural form.
You’ve talked briefly about the process of bringing the image into being through the processing stage. I see that as a kind of collaborative process between you and the image and a sense of allowing the material to speak, allowing the photochemical film to perform its materiality. And I guess I’m thinking about this particularly in relation to your different forms of alternative processing that you constantly experiment with, in order to give the image these different layers or these different ways to speak through their very form or through their layering.
DB: Yes, definitely. I’m totally thrilled, I’m totally fascinated by the fact that I can interact with nature for example. So if I am at a certain date in a certain place, and like, invited to whatever, wherever I am, I have an idea, I want to make a film, I go outside, I see, oh, this and that is growing there. So maybe I’m thinking about maybe I can develop a film later in this nature that surrounds me at that certain moment. And then begins interaction between my surroundings, my idea, and the film material. This is so fantastic. So it’s like, maybe let’s call it the inner and the outer circle. The outer circle would be the fields around me where rapeseeds are growing. And the inner circle is meme, my idea, and the film that’s going to come to be. And there’s an interchange.
This is, I don’t know if I can explain it, but it’s so beautiful, because I love to work locally, I love to pick local stuff that’s growing there that I can purchase in a shop. If it’s a beverage like, I love to develop in brands, for example local brands, and just experience so much. And I experienced too that the interaction between the two worlds, they make the film even even more vivid, somehow. Because the outer world flows into my world and I bite on it and I spit it out again, and this is just, we share the same world. I love to say we: me and my nature around me, the flowers, the door around me, we share the same air and sun and there’s so many ways of altering my story that I have in my mind. For example, if I see there’s ‘wow, there’s so many trees around’, for example, I would love to scrap on the tree bark and see if it’s a good developer and maybe it will change the message of my film as well. I’m always very open to things that are happening around me and they flow, they flow into my filmmaking and this makes it a bit more complete.
LB: So again, we have this sense of openness and responsiveness to the environment around you in the sense of dialogue with the natural world. I was thinking about the film, Jacaranda, in which you observe jacaranda tree in bloom. And then, the film is processed then in the materials harvested from the tree, therefore imprinting a very strong sense of the physical space and atmosphere into the filmstrip. So these kind of overlapping layers of meaning and resonance are bound into the film.
DB: Yes. Yes, you’re right. Yeah, definitely. Because then also the films work like a kind of tutorial, because you see me picking, see me standing in front of the huge jacaranda tree. It was in Los Angeles, and I was just overwhelmed by the beauty, by the water, how the cloud of violet blooms. And you see me picking them and you only see me making the soup and then you see the whole film and you think, ‘Okay, maybe the whole film was developed in this way, or what I just saw there,’ and I just love it. It’s like a tutorial, but it’s a little bit more because they see the object, maybe it’s not an object anymore. That’s to say, you see the object and it turns, it comes, mingles with me, the subject, maybe we change subject and object and it becomes one.
LB: Yeah, almost a sort of resonant material archive, in a sense, an archive of the experience, the interaction that you’ve had with the natural world and the materials of the light touching the filmstrip and sort of physical interaction of the image as well – the sense of creating again a kind of archive if you like. I’m interested in hearing more about your open source website in which you publish information about your various film experiments. And this sense of, of community that you cultivate through this process of making available both your films on your Vimeo site and the film recipes from your experiments. So this sense of creating an open archive for people to dip into. It’s incredibly generous, Dagie.
DB: It is and it was actually not me who invented it. It was me who found it when I was like, about 10 years ago, I started to think about how to find alternatives to the toxic developing things. And I stumbled upon caffenol. I mean, photography is a very old thing. It’s older than 200 years. And film is just photography in motion. So there were people around the world researching on different methods to develop film. This has been always going on and I found these recipes that were open on the internet, and I found… I’m on Facebook and there are many caffenol groups and eco-processing groups, and everybody just helps everybody and I love it so much. It’s totally democratic. There’s no one super greedy who wants to have a patent of this recipe or whatever. And I found out that whenever I had questions, because I was just beginning with coffee. And then I thought, ‘Oh, well, what coffee can do whisky can do as well’ or whatever and I was really… the bug bit me and I was really into in this world. I found so many helpers there on the internet, worldwide, people who were just as crazy nerds playing around with food and potions and lotions, and whatever. And we just love the idea because nobody can steal any idea, anything from us. It’s okay if it is totally open.
So I have another website, which is called yumyumsoups.wordpress.com, where I put all my recipes and also pictures for people who want to explore, to take the basic recipes that I already experienced, and maybe alter them and find new ways and find new food. And I love the idea, I just love the idea that it is open because it’s productive, it makes it even more productive, and nothing gets lost, nothing gets lost. On the contrary, if you spread it more, the more other people are getting infected and have like the idea and it’s bouncing back towards me and I get some response from them. This is the word that you just mentioned. A resonance, this is it.
LB: It also creates a sense of community as well, worldwide community within the experimental film world and a kind of atmosphere of exchange that’s constantly shifting. So the idea that a caffenol recipe is not fixed, it’s open to interpretation. So it’s open to interpretation with the ingredients that you forage and use. And another thing that strikes me as really interesting is the sense of creating ways of processing that are not only ecologically sound, so taking out the bleach stage and the harmful chemistry to both the environment and to our bodies, but looking for ingredients that are local to us.
So you talked a lot about sourcing materials from the landscape. So being in tune with the environment, being in tune with nature, looking for things around you in the different places that you travelled to. So materials that are particular to a geographical place, or are in season, or if we’re using materials that we can find in a supermarket or a shop. It’s materials that are not from specialist, scientific suppliers, they’re easily available: washing soda, vitamin C, coffee granules. These things are easily accessible to all of us. So in a sense, it also means that your dark room is portable, it can be roving, you can move with it, you can travel with it, you can be very flexible and responsive in your practice.
DB: Yeah, absolutely, and I try to become smaller and smaller because it actually, you don’t need so much. You just need a container, which is lifetime and stuff to film in it. And that’s to say I’m a traveling-darkroom woman, maybe something like that, and even I love it so much. It’s like a challenge. If you go somewhere to certain places where there’s not so much growing, like for example, one year ago while I was in South Sweden, it was just the end of the winter and the beginning of spring and there was not so much growing. There was just the rapeseed plants, they just came out of the soil, and they were smelling very, very powerfully. And I thought, ‘Okay, I really, I definitely have to grab them and chop them and boil them into a good developer.’ And fantastic. What I really felt that I was just because I don’t have a plentiness around me.
But sometimes I don’t need plentiness around. Okay, the little growing of sprouts are just coming. And also moss. Moss is a good survivor, moss has to survive winter. It just, it clings on rocks and stones and on trees. And it really has to be a powerful plant to survive. And this is what this special plant gives me, as a filmmaker, gives me because it’s all about the fennels. And I don’t know how you pronounce it. But it’s the powerful molecules inside the plant that makes the plant survive, survive, or gives colour to the plant, arguably smell to the plant. And this is exactly the little particles that I take from the plant to develop. And this is just, wow, this is just so fantastic. And sometimes I just sit there and think, ‘Wow, thank you nature. I’m so thankful.’
I’m trying to not to kill all the flowers that I see outside. But just take a little bit, take a little bit of nature and see, okay, dear tree can I please take some of your bark, I will leave the rest untouched. But I’m, I’m absolutely thrilled. And by the beauty and by the variety that a plant through evolution found to protect itself and to smell beautiful. And this is just amazing that I can use these particles for a film. Wow.
LB: Yeah, fantastic. So your practice takes a kind of conscious ecological form in that sense Dagie, and I’m struck by this sense of you talking about taking just enough. So really thinking about reducing things down and thinking how little can we work with in order to make our images or to create the film images that we’re looking for. And again, we come back to this idea of chance and happenstance and you allowing these kind of playful elements to emerge in your work. So in processing your films in these different materials, you don’t know exactly what kind of aesthetic effect that these materials and these botanicals or these elements will have on the filmstrip. So there’s a sense of leaving these things open to the elements in order to see what emerges. Again, a sense of allowing the film to speak, the film to interact with the processing materials, which brings another really interesting element to your work.
DB: Yes, it’s these places where magic happens. You do just have to be open and you can’t plan all the things 100%, and this is what wouldn’t interest me at all because I’m open for accidents. I’m open for coincidences because you have to give magic a place to perform to get to happen. I just love it. I don’t feel reduced. I don’t feel reduced. I don’t feel tiny. On the contrary, I feel freer, I already feel freer. But I think it has to do something to do with my approach towards a film because even if I have a specific idea about the message that I want to produce in my film, I’m still open for something to happen and to lead me to another direction or distract me or whatever. And this is it that. I think it’s not good for everybody, for people who have a certain script or have a certain line that they want to continue on. All accident would be negative, but for me that accident is positive. I had so often that I develop something and the developer was really crappy or that some some parts of the film stuck together and gave it a weird, weird accident. But this exactly matched the film content. Well, it just happens. It’s cool. It’s magic. There’s so much magic inside film, if you’re open to it.
LB: Absolutely. And I’m interested in maybe finishing with a question about the role of the audience within your work Dagie. So your films are often, they’re often very brief in length, so there’s a sort of transience to them. There’s a sense of them drifting in and out. So I wondered, firstly, what would be the sort of ideal screening scenario for your films? Do you envisage the ideal setting to be in a cinema or would it be a space that’s a little bit more flexible and kind of different atmospherically perhaps to a conventional cinema? Is there a kind of setting in which your work has screened previously that you thought, ‘Yes, this really speaks to my kind of ethos’?
DB: Yes, I think a mixture of screenings. I had some screenings in smaller cinemas and I had mixed screenings of digital films of mine and also analogue films of mine. The early works I can show them analogue because they have a sound stripe on them. If you have a good Super 8 projector which is quite powerful in light, it is possible to project the films analogue, and I love the mixture. I love to sit at the projector which is positioned in the middle of the cinema and maybe it just it feels like a gathering. I love to be there in person which is cool because I love to shoot… my films are rarely longer than three minutes and I love to present like three or four films in a row and then talk, give a short introduction about it. So it’s more like sitting around a bonfire and hearing the noise of a Super 8 projector, really like this, just this rattling noise is fantastic. Okay, often newer films of mine I can show them on original Super 8, so I have to project them digitally but, yeah, I think a mixture between both is really cool, with me present telling stories, which also lightens up the atmosphere because I don’t like film shows where everybody is, ‘Be silent. This is art now you don’t have…’ Well, okay, ‘Be nice to the artist’ means watching the films carefully and not talk too much and not making sounds with something that you’re eating. But when I’m there, I try to not to shock them but to shake them and say, ‘Okay, I’m here. I’m the artist, but I can talk, talk to me,’ and I want to get closer to the audience. And this is, this is what I like because I like applause, of course, because I make films because I’m an extrovert artist and I like to get feedback from the… from the audience. I love a satisfied audience who tell me after the show, ‘Wow, that was so cool. I want to make it too. I can make this.’ This is just lovely.
LB: Of course, that kind of discursive space in which we can share art and speak out. Yes, well, in these pandemic times, unfortunately, it’s not possible for us to host you here in person Dagie, but we can imagine that beautiful aura and that space and think watching the programme Wormholes and Swingchronicities gives a beautiful sense of your kind of approach and your fantastic work. So thank you so much for speaking with me and for your generosity and the beauty that comes through your work, Dagie, it’s been wonderful. Thank you.
DB: Thank you, was wonderful talking to you and I have so many more stories, but it’s okay, because I’m going to continue making films until I’m 100 years old. This is okay. Yeah, have fun. I really, really want you to have fun with my films and to get new ideas and to get infected about whatever. No, maybe talking about infections, that’s maybe not a good word but infected about beauty, beauty and simplicity. Something about that. Okay, yeah, Lydia, it was a pleasure to talk to you.
LB: Thank you so much Dagie.
DB: Okay. Bye bye.
Lydia Beilby is an artist, curator and educator whose practice focuses upon analogue film media, public programming, collaborative community projects, and educational work with groups of all ages. Working with 8mm and 16mm photochemical film, and archival ephemera, Lydia has a particular interest in the tactility and physicality of the analogue medium, and these qualities are foregrounded within her own working methodologies. Lydia’s practice explores the camera apparatus and projection medium as both a performative process, and an extension of the body, and this way of working centralises hand-made, artisanal, co-operative and environmentally sustainable approaches. As a curator, Lydia has held roles with Edinburgh International Film Festival since 2009, taking the role of Short Film Programmer in 2010, and since 2019 as programmer of the Black Box strand, which brings together short and feature-length experimental and artists’ film from around the world.