Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Form/Space Atelier Program For November 2009
Form/Space Atelier Program For November 2009
Show Title: Actaeon At Home
Show Duration: November 13- December 6, 2009
Opening Reception Friday November 13, 6PM, as part
of the Belltown ArtWalk www.belltownartwalk.com
Experimental Filmmaker Vladimir exhibits her 5th interactive film experience
Actaeon At Home. Vladmasters are handmade View-Master™ reels designed,
photographed, and hand-assembled by Vladimir. They make use of toys, neglected
household objects, and odd ephemera to tell 28-picture tales of train chases,
missing steam shovels, disastrous dinner parties, and overly adventurous
Actaeon, to the ancient Greeks, was a hunter unlucky enough to get a good look
at Artemis bathing naked amongst her nymphs. For his trespasses, Actaeon was
transformed into a stag and then devoured by his own hounds. Our Actaeon, may
or may not have anything to do with the historical Actaeon. He is a small man
in a room with striped wallpaper and antlers and a typewriter and a collection
of Currier & Ives prints. Oh, also there is a train chase.
This new Vladmaster is narrationless. Instead of talk there is the Apt
Ensemble, a trio of musicians who lead you through the Vladmaster story
playing a variety of instruments and providing the odd sound effect. Listen
carefully and you will hear everything from a pump organ to a tuba to a
musical saw to a train whistle. This is also the first Vladmaster set
photographed entirely in glorious black and white.
This Vladmaster was made to debut in a live performance with the band and
emcee Tim Nickodemus for the 2005 PDX Fest Invitationals where Vladimir was,
with some tongue in cheek, crowned the World Champion of Experimental Film.
This set consists of four handmade Vladmaster reels, the box to keep them in,
and the mini-cd soundtrack. The music was written by Peter Broderick and
Nathan Crockett; performed by the Apt Ensemble (Peter Broderick, Nathan
Crockett, and Branic Howard) and recorded by Peter Broderick. Tim Nickodemus
introduces the CD. Douglas Jenkins is the human star of the photographs. The
story was written and photographed by Vladimir who also designed the reels and
Interview by Ross Simioni
Illustration by Tony Millionaire
"MOST OF THE TIME DURING MY SHOWS, I'M LOOKING AWKWARDLY DOWN AT THE FLOOR AND
WAITING FOR THE SOUND TRACK TO END."
Inspirations for Vladmasters:
Gertie the Dinosaur
EarlyFritz the Cat
The artist who goes by the name Vladimir is one of the only known filmmakers
working with View-masters, which, if you remember, are those cheap-looking toy
binoculars usually filled with images of zoo animals or dinosaurs. Instead of
watching her so-called films on movie screens, audience members hold
"stereoscopic viewing devices" up to their eyes and click through picture
reels of dioramas, action figures, and abstract photographs of trains. She
calls them Vladmasters.
Through her website, Vladimir mails her handmade films around the world, each
one accompanied by a spoken-narration CD and sound track. Her "picture
stories" have included adaptations of Calvino and Kafka, along with some of
her own writing, like the one about the pseudo-mystical congregation of
farming machinery. She claims to "seek out the forgotten, the discarded, and
the overlooked objects of this world...and [takes] tiny, tiny photographs in
order to tell their stories."
Since 2003, she's become and anomalous staple in the independent film festival
circuit, winning the World Champion of Experimental Film title on multiple
occasions. She remains active in her hometown of Portland, Oregon (also the
home of the View-Master), where she works as a projectionist, creates her own
scretch-it Vladlast lottery tickets, builds Super 8 film experiments, and
works as a quality assurance engineer at a software company.
This interview took place over email, with Vladimir responding from both
Portland and Brisbane, Australia, where she was participating in the Other
Film Festival. —Ross Simioni
I. MOVIE PROJECTION AS SELF-ABNEGATION
THE BELIEVER: When you set up a performance — or is it better to call it a
screening? — what happens, exactly?
VLADIMIR: Sometimes I compare my performances to synchronized swimming. At a
performance, everyone in attendance is given a viewer and a set of my handmade
disks. There is a brief instructional introduction, and then we begin the
sound track, which leads everyone through a tiny private screening experience
just past the end of their nose. There are ding noises on the sound track to
cue the turning from one image to the next. Sometimes there is a narrator and
sometimes there's just music. Perhaps the most exciting moment is
participating in the ker-think of tens or hundreds of View-Masters turning
simultaneously after that very first ding.
BLVR: Would you say that’s the ideal scenario for someone to experience the
vladmaster? In a theater, like most films? I just received the vladmasters you
sent me in the mail, watched them all in my living room all day, and really
enjoyed the private storytelling feeling. It felt almost like reading.
V: I like both the theater and the personal experience. The great thing about
the theater is that there is a sort of euphoria and excitement that comes from
the experience of just being in a crowd of people who are all holding
View-Masters and all experiencing this sort of simultaneous media for the
first time. The crowd experience is really wonderful, but I think that the
more personal private experience that you had in your living room is probably
more conducive to reflection and paying attention to the story. Perhaps you
could call one a roller coaster and one a scenic drive?
BLVR: A little while ago, I heard David Lynch talking about his appreciation
of the laptop computer, how it has completely transformed cinema by
encouraging people to watch films alone, more like the intimacy of books. It
also encourages people to use headphones, which brings a renewed appreciation
to the way sound and music function in a film.
V: I really like this idea. The intimacy of the viewmaster viewing experience
is very important to me. I’m a projectionist and one of the wonderful things
about projecting movies is that you get to hold every part of them in your
hand. You get to see the film as an object and to see the individual frames. I
think the View-Masters present a similar experience: you can view them
narratively, as time-based, alongside the soundtrack, but you can also hold
them in your hand, see their individual parts, and appreciate them as craft
BLVR: That reminds me of how Stan Brakhage painted directly on his film. When
I first realized what he was doing, my idea of film was suddenly transformed
from an abstract thing, with images floating in the air, to the idea of actual
physical film stock. He broke that “fourth-wall” of physicality.
V: I’m sad to say I haven’t seen very much Stan Brakhage, but I was fortunate
to see two nights of films by his close friend and collaborator Phil Solomon
when he visited Portland. He treats the surfaces of his films chemically so
that you see the surface layers buckling and peeling. The original images
decay and fray and become submerged beneath the layered surface so that his
films are filled with a sense of beauty and loss. There is also a Bay Area
collective called SILT who often work with the decay of the film image by
leaving their films in holes in the ground to get moldy and be eaten by
creatures. I saw a wonderful 8mm film they hand-fed through a broken
projector, sometimes holding it too long in front of the lamp so that you
could see the image start to melt.
Perhaps at the other end of the film-as-object spectrum, there are Bruce
McClure’s films. He strips film down to its most basic elements: light and
dark. He does multi-projector performances in which each projector is running
an identical film loop that consists of several black frames followed by a
single clear frame. He uses dimmers, the focus on the projectors, and
occasionally gels or different shaped gates to manipulate the stroboscopic
shapes created by the film. The sound for his performances is generated by
passing the sound of the frames running through the projector through various
pedals to create a rhythmic pulse that matches the pulse of the visuals. They
are without doubt the most physiologically affecting films I’ve ever
BLVR: The concept of viewing a film has always been so removed from the idea
of performance, but with your work and, say, McClure's, there's that element
of it's-happening-right-now — something you don't get with pre-recorded films.
Do you think this connection with film comes from your work as a
projectionist, where you're sort of "performing" the film?
V: When you’re a movie projectionist, the goal is actually one of
self-abnegation. A good projectionist is an unnoticed projectionist. This is
perfect for me because I’m always trying to make myself disappear. I’ve always
just used the word “performance” for lack of a better alternative with my own
shows. Most of the time during my shows, I’m looking awkwardly down at the
floor and waiting for the soundtrack to end. If anyone can be said to be doing
the performing, or the projecting, during my shows, it would be the individual
The thing I’ve taken from projecting is just the intimacy with the medium.
Because we tend to show older prints, before we show a film, I pass every reel
through my gloved hand to check for damage. When you do this, you become
hyper-aware of the individual frames and of the process of these discrete
pieces becoming a fluid whole. It is exactly like calculus.
I think that there are many people who turn their films into performances and
also make the audience hyper-aware of film’s construction and mechanism. Bruce
McClure is certainly one of them. I’ve just been lucky to see three of his
performances in the space of a week and a half at the utterly amazing
OtherFilm Festival in Brisbane Australia. Almost every film there had a
performative element. The projectors were always in the same room as the
audience and mostly projected by the filmmakers.
I saw two wonderful multi-projector performances by the great Australian
filmmaker Dirk De Bruyn. He began each of his shows by shining a flashlight
around the raised arms and reels of the 16mm projectors. The shadows of the
reels would play around the audience as a sort of initiation into film via a
There was also a performance by Sally Golding and Joel Stern, two of the
organizers of the festival who also do performances under the name Abject
Leader. Joel does live soundtracks and Sally makes films. She’s a fellow
projectionist and also a film preservationist and her work is steeped in
experimentations with film substance and film history. The performance that
they did at the festival dealt with early cinema color techniques in which
consecutive frames of film would be shot behind red, green, and blue filters
onto black and white film and then projected back through those same filters
to create a full spectrum effect. Sally set up three projectors pointed
straight into the audience, one each with a red, green, and blue filter, and
then stood in the center of the room holding up a large picture frame filled
with tracing paper. She makes the audience stare into the glare of the
projector and then rescues us by physically interrupting the glare and locking
the three projections into a single image.
BLVR: One thing I've never been entirely clear about is the job of a
projectionist. What's the whole process there?
V: The average feature film comes in two very heavy metal cases each
containing three 20-minute reels about 18 inches in diameter. Probably 95
percent of theaters run these reels on what is called a platter system. This
means that they build all of the reels onto one big platter so the projector
pulls the film off of one level of the platter and spits it back out onto
another. The whole film runs through a single projector in a single pass with
no need for a projectionist other than to build the film and push the START
I’m lucky to work at a theater that doesn’t use platters. Instead we use two
projectors and do reel changeovers. Over the course of a film, the
projectionist switches back and forth between the projectors four or five
times. At the end of each reel of film there are two sets of cue marks,
approximately 8 seconds apart. When one reel is winding down, I stand at
attention next to the projector that is not running and keep a very careful
eye on the top right corner of the screen. When I see the first cue mark, I
start the second projector, which then has 8 seconds to get fully up to speed.
At eight seconds, I see the second cue mark and hit the CHANGEOVER button
which simultaneously closes the dowser on the first projector and opens the
dowser on the second. If my timing is off, or if I miss the cue marks, the
audience is treated to anything from a half second of black to a very
embarrassing six seconds of countdown leader.
II. "YOU ARE A GOOD ROBOT SENT TO SAVE THE LAST HUMAN FAMILY FROM THE EVIL
BLVR: The Vladmasters have been in a ton of film festivals, and you actually
won the title of World Champion of Experimental Film a few times, which means,
by all standards, you are clearly a filmmaker. But at the same time, you're
not a filmmaker in the same way that pretty much everyone else is a filmmaker.
V: IN terms of the audience experience, which is of a visual and audio
narrative that takes place oer a pre-determined time line, I'm closer to
making films than anything else. I certainly feel comfortable beinga part of
film festivals. However, when I'm making things I don't think of them as
films, I think of them as stories. If I had my choice I think I'd go with the
very simple description "picture story."
BLVR: So then, if you had to place yourself in a lineage of directors,
filmmakers, or picture-story makers, where would you be? On your website it
says that you enjoy "the very early films of Rene Clair."
V: Although I love film, I don't often think in terms of cinematic models when
I'm working on a project. I get more caught up in the very strict parameters
(twenty-eight photographs over four disks) of the View-Master and I
concentrate on working things into that tight little structure. One of the
great delights in working with the form is in the moment of anticipation, in
the narrative disjunction, that comes in the jump from one frame to the next.
To me this jump feels more akin to turning a page in a storybook than to
smoother flow of a film narrative.
The one time I did look to cinematic models was working on Actaeon at Home. I
knew that that would be a show with live music and no narrator, so I was
trying to create a purely visual logic for the jumps from frame to frame. I
was inspired by early animation. Looking at something like Gertie the Dinosaur
or early Fritz the Cat cartoons you get a sense of these early animators' joy
in discovering the infinite malleable possibilities of lines in motion. There
is a glorious anarchic logic and infinitely transformative quality to those
worlds that I tried to capture, in stiffer form, in Actaeon.
BLVR: Another thing I want to ask you about is Portland, which, per capita,
seems like one of the most artistically exciting cities in the world right
now. It also seems, from the outside, like there are these very close-knit
artistic communities tying together all types of musicians, artists, and
filmmakers in a free-spirited sort of way.
V: I'm probably not the best person to talk about the Portland art scene just
because I'm very, very shy and mostly opt to retreat from the world. That
said, I probably never would have become a sort-of filmmaker if I hadn’t moved
to Portland and discovered organizations like the ones I mentioned above. When
I moved to Portland, after college, I had spent four years programming a
university film series and had a good background in foreign and classic film
history but no real concept of experimental or underground film. The only
models I had of regular people making films were unnecessary imitations of
Quentin Tarantino. Coming to Portland I discovered a whole other idea of
making films, films that were small, personal, homemade, and felt completely
apart from anything I had seen before. It was not unlike discovering, at the
age of 13, that there were people who made music that was not played on Top 40
BLVR: So how did your awakening to experimental film unfold? What directors
helped to usher you out of the "Top 40" of filmmaking?
V: I don’t know if experimental is exactly the right word for the films that
attracted me. I think I might more use the term handmade. Some of them were
certainly experimental, but just as many were simply small or personal or
homemade. One thing that happened a week or two after I moved to Portland was
that I went to a screening by the Tiny Picture Club. This is a Portland Super
8 collective. Their logo was like the Superman logo with an 8 replacing the S.
It was a very chilly November and the screening was in a tiny, unheated
Quonset hut. There were about 50 people crammed in there, sitting on the
floor, with musicians along one side of the room. They played along to about
10 different Super8 films about dreams. The films were all very small, simple,
and joyous. Much of the footage was hand-processed and scratchy. There was
some stop action animation. There were homemade costumes and masks. There was
an introductory film set to the T-Rex song “Bang a Gong.” In it all of the
members of the club wore white jumpsuits with their logo emblazoned on the
back. They were running around a park with their cameras. There was much
pixilated action made to make them look like they were flying, levitating,
rotating in circles on the ground on their bellies. The feeling I felt sitting
in that room and watching those films was exactly like the feeling of falling
BLVR: Do you make any handmade films yourself?
The only films I've made have been super8 films with the Tiny Picture Club.
The thing that I enjoyed most with films was trying out technical experiments.
I used to work in the Equipment Room for the film school at the Northwest Film
Center, so I had access to all kinds of super8 cameras and projectors. I built
a device that could control up to three super8 cameras simultaneously and
could run them at either eighteen frames per second or off of a
intervalometer. It was pretty cool but, other than filming some friends
playing soccer in a park one afternoon, I never really figured out anything
good to point the cameras at.
BLVR: You once said that Atari is one of your favorite art forms. You said you
liked the video games where you could still see the pixels. I'm curious if
this ties in with all of these homemade ideas. Without any of the
high-fidelity bells and whistles, it seems like there is less of a separation
between the artist-creator andthe viewer.
V: I think what you said about the lack of separation between creator and
viewer is exactly right. I like to be able to get a sense of craft and
humanness behind work. When I see the little pixels rolling by in an Atari
game, I think back to BASIC programming and how hard that little computer is
thinking and how hard the programmer had to work to put all those pixels in
just the right place.
I’m very bad at actually playing Atari games. I rarely make it past the first
level. However, similar to the viewmaster, I love them as absurd little
mini-narratives. The narratives are really what give form and understanding to
the pixels. If you take a game like Space Invaders or Galaga or even Frogger,
and watch it, forgetting the narrative, you’re left with the motion of
abstract colored forms. It’s only those couple of text windows at the
beginning (which nobody pays much attention to) that provide form for the
whole structure and objective of the game. One of my favorite mini-narratives
goes along with a game whose title escapes me at the moment — it’s the one
where you are a good robot sent to save the last human family from the evil
I’ve recently encountered some interesting Flash games online that return to a
completely abstract and non-narrative form of the video game. One in
particular is called Boomshine. It’s a field of slowly moving colored balls.
The objective is to click your mouse somewhere on the screen to create an
expanding ripple. Every ball this ripple touches turns into a new ripple. You
try to turn as many balls into ripples as possible with your single click.
It’s so simple that it doesn’t require directions, yet it’s also beautiful and
BLVR: OK, I just played Boomshine for twenty minutes and I was in some sort of
weird trance with that game. Plus, you're right about the directions. To
figure the game out, you just get to resort to simple visual assumptions
(e.g., if I do A then B happens). In the context of this conversation, it
reminds me a little of the abstract filmmaking you've been mentioning, where
you're forced to start thinking things like "That thing over there is moving
fast, and the other thing is moving slow." It engages the mind in such a
different way than narrative film.
V: I’m very untrained when it comes to watching experimental film. I don’t
think I could make an abstract film if I tried because everything inside of my
head only knows how to operate on cause and effect. But I do like to sit back
and enjoy other people’s abstractions even if I’m always very self conscious
about not appreciating them in the right way. This might be why I like
Boomshine so much. You get cause and effect alongside your abstractions. I
can’t help but trying to make sense of everything I see whether I’m supposed
to or not.
BLVR: And finally, just to clarify, Vladimir is not your birth name, right?
V: I was never enamored of my birth name and I’d always planned on changing it
when I went off to college. But one day, when I was sixteen, one of my English
classes had a class assignment in which we were supposed to pair up and write
little essays about our partners based solely on looking up their name in a
few baby books. Maybe it was just my natural impulse toward sabotage, but it
seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the change. I had a sharpie and an
index card and I made myself a name tag introducing myself by my new name.
Ever since then, I’ve been Vladimir. I have now been Vladimir for almost half of my life
Posted by Paul Kuniholm Pauper at 10:55 AM