The new 47-minute immersive 360 film “Gone, Gone Beyond” by People Like Us will World Premiere in San Francisco this 11-14 October 2017 at Recombinant Festival at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. Developed in collaboration with Recombinant Media Labs, Gone, Gone Beyond will screen in CineChamber, a 10 screen/8 speaker space with seamless wrap around projection and surround sound, where the audience sit inside. Gone, Gone Beyond uses edited collage sewn together in a giant patchwork. Pull on a thread and watch whole new narratives expand and unravel all at once on a 360 palette.
The following conversation was conducted between Vicki Bennett and WFMU DJ and artist Hearty White in September 2017.
HW: Before you were approached about doing this project, had you even considered doing something for multiple screens?
VB: No, I hadn’t. Although collage is conceptually multi-dimensional, I had no notion of how to expand conceptually beyond the rectangle or two-eyes/ears physical space. The most I’d done was something for three screens next to one another, which is not expansive in the same sense because you’re just using images consecutively next to each other, not seamlessly.
Naut Humon (Recombinant Media Labs) first asked me to create something for Cinechamber in 1998! But I kept saying no because I just didn’t know how, and because I didn’t know I wasn’t inspired in that way.
HW: You’ve been doing audio and video collage for years but this Cinechamber project is a different beast all together. How did you approach the challenge of having the viewer in the midst of the experience as opposed to just being in front of it?
VB: It was hard to get my head around this, or rather have it get around my head. Human beings with heads and necks that turn. We deal with surround environments all of the time – to cope with everyday life we push to the back a lot of stimuli unless it’s really necessary, only do we focus more in heightened situations. Imagine a creative situation where you visually miss half of the experience simply because you do not have eyes in the back of your head. Also, once in this environment the sense of time and space becomes elasticated, and with that your focus and ability to deal with a situation changes too. I had to go back to what it is that I’m trying to do: through collage to invite someone else to experience a world consisting of fragments and layers that we can enter into and take and make meaning from. Not just one meaning, but as many different meanings as there are people. Making moving collage I gradually realised that this medium breaks beyond the rectangle, beyond the screen – and that collage is all about that… what cubism was partly about. We use materials on a surface, in a frame, whether that be the TV or something you place on the wall. But really we want to go through and into that surface to engage with it. I want the surface not to exist. In fact the surface does NOT exist. There is no actual point between us and something else, whether that be the reflection in a mirror or the air outside with our own breath. The idea that we are experiencing someone else, whether that be art or actions, at what point is that our experience or our concept? There is no determined point, it does not exist. Gone, Gone Beyond tries to go behind and beyond the screen, through the surface, imagining no surface. That’s how I conceptually dealt with a challenge. Additionally, technically, we went to Cinechamber last year and viewed previous works and made a list, of preferences (do’s and don’ts!) on what we considered successful, physically/mentally. Turned out there were some similar principles to fairground rides.
HW: Because there’s no convention or prescribed way for the audience to view a moving 360 degree piece, I can imagine for an artist that means ceding a bit of control to chance.
VB: The chance element often comes in when you’re appropriating, because you’re essentially involved in something that already has a life of its own, and although you don’t ever erase what you use (unless you make a one-off and burn it or something) you do change it by adding to it, but same goes for anything else that you use. Whether it be a piece of audio or moving image, it is existing independently to your actions – the frames already are moving, as is any place or time that it is sourced from in context to the present. Of course as soon as you come into contact with it that changes, even if you didn’t touch it, you would be adding to it’s future history. So the idea of chance is so in that you never really know how your collage will work when you combine the elements, how they will interact, “speak” with each other, which often results in things that you could never have pre-decided, something bigger than the parts, often better, I think. Then if you add the 360 element, who is to say what will happen with one thing in front of another, to the person sat in between elements, also adding the chance element of their mood and own position in relation to the content.
HW: But do you think that because it is literally impossible to see everything that this means it might benefit from multiple viewings?
VB: Yes. Having said that, when you edit or make collage (and editing IS collage!) then the person experiencing it will never experience everything anyway. That is the case with all things. It only takes the recording of a conversation with someone, even if you know and connect with them well to know that if you listen back 5 times you will each time discover something in a different way.
HW: The title of the piece is taken from the Heart Sutra. How did you arrive at this connection? Is there a no-mind meditative quality to the work? Also it seems like a terrific metaphor for life that you could be immersed in it and miss at least half of what’s going on.
VB: Ha, yes! Definitely at least half. The last lines of the Heart Sutra “Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate” say “Gone, Gone Beyond”, then Beyond that as well… breaking through, then breaking through more, crossing over, breaking through some more again (and some more after that…). You cannot go Beyond… or at least you can but trying to TALK about it would unravel every word just as you were trying to explain it. However, I’ll try anyway! The Heart Sutra talks of the emptiness of things. This is not to say that there is nothing, it is more that there is no fixed or isolated particle, substance, thought, idea – that is to say that everything changes all the time. The Heart Sutra is an inspiration, plus the idea of no fixed independent self resonates in some key areas of sampling, appropriation and collage. Also, this relates to what I said about surfaces – that there is no fixed identifiable point between one thing and another, because it is all relative. That is not to say that things do not have their own character and people do not have their own personality, but it is limited in our experience in space and time, our experience is only a fragment of the whole. Editing doesn’t chop the world into fragments – our sense of reality, our ideas and notions often come to us in small fragments, and we can use collage to put things back together again to make sense of and ultimately get a current perspective upon what we may have otherwise become used to. David Lynch says that the idea develops like we are fishing – we get the fragment of an idea, then we use that as bait to get more. Collage makes sense of information in a manner that the brain actually understands, presenting more than the sum of the parts, demonstrating not only how we connect things but how we are connected – and – the more integrated the input, the more the brain tells us to believe it. So getting back to something in the Cinechamber and how that might be “Gone, Gone Beyond” – I’m trying to break through the surface, or use analogies (visually and sonically) that hint at and tell stories of looking beyond, behind, and seeing what is on the other side, if indeed we can ever say there is an end point, which I don’t think there is!
HW: Because the material you work with is often recognizable and comes with it’s own context and associations, some deeply ingrained in the culture, is it often hard to predict how the audience will interpret the images? I know you have very concrete ideas about your intent; is the risk greater for misunderstanding because of the familiarity the audience might have with an image? Or does it even matter?
VB: Yes, it is hard to know what you’re going to get, if you get a reaction. All material and content has a list of baggage and associations, a painting or a sculpture or a violin or a laptop or a male or a female all trigger preconceived associations based upon previous experience. When the material is the actual thing (footage/composition) rather than the raw materials then it’s both different and the same as this. It is different in that someone could say that a fragment of a song or film is still that film, which it is, but then again it is not. For many reasons it is not that thing because it is a fragment of it. A thread. Therefore you cannot say a thread is a tapestry. But you cannot say it isn’t either since it was part of that. So when someone sees Julie Andrews running up a hill in Austria, if they know the film they know what the story was about and what is going to happen. However they then find out that doesn’t happen. So is it still part of that film? Yes, it’s still Julie Andrews. Well, actually it isn’t 100% Julie Andrews either. It is a photographic image of Julie Andrews. Yes, I am splitting hairs here but actually then I am not – this is “Ways of Seeing” territory and this did not arrive with sampling, it arrived with reproduction… which is how we are all here, we are all copies and we know how different copies can be! When you have an image it is NOT the thing. So, to cut to the chase, the audience member will quite possibly not be able to shake off the film that something came from, or the song that something is sampled from. However, as much as we suffer from earworms and the constant need to make sense of and associate things with what they are like (we are interconnected!), I think that after a short while you can drop that initial association and see it as raw unique material, which in fact it is. You can elevate above and beyond the associations. The very fact of editing and taking thing apart has nothing to do with that horrible gross statement that “everything is a remix”, it actually reflects the fact that this is going on all the time, we are always editing, and that by editing you are actually cutting into the surface, you are performing explorations to see what is inside, just like a medical procedure. So perhaps the brain is desperate to find the next association or the previous one, but after a while it will calm down and stop moving forward and just be with it. Once you use material it is only partly what it was and also only partly what it is, and it also has a future, it doesn’t stop with you, it is not ABOUT you. Some may argue that only the first instance of something is the original but I would argue that you can never find the first instance of anything and that people are actually reflecting their own insecurities about individuality, impermanence and their own ego. Does it matter? Every answer between yes and no, possibly! Not trying to be clever, I just don’t know.
HW: In some forms of Buddhism, Gone Beyond can mean something like “beyond wisdom” or “beyond knowledge”. For all our talk about design and artistic philosophies, how much of the work is informed by intuition and dreams?
VB: We might think of “beyond” as actually going somewhere, travelling, that there is a particular direction through space and time that we are going. In my piece, sampled lyrics such as “have you ever tried, really reaching out for the other side” talk about beyond as if it is somewhere that you look through or behind… travelling/crossing through. Sampling songs like “I Me Mine” and lyrics like “I am he as you are he as you are me” might suggest that you don’t travel in that way at all, since you are already there, it is more “inward” and “outward”, not back and forth, but one cannot see it until looking at the same thing from a different perspective.
I’m all for just being process led, and if I’m really immersed it does indeed present all kinds of unexpected ideas about how things might work out in this piece, without the usual sort of laborious effort or research. As much as I might slave over long lists of sources to combine their stories, a lot of the time they completely work themselves out for/without me and I sometimes think that research is just something to keep your mind busy while bigger and better things can start happening for you without your thoughts messing it all up. All year I’ve been having these occasional 5am waking up spells – where either I dream something or I wake up and I’ve immediately a whole bunch of thoughts and solutions. This doesn’t happen to me for many projects but because I’ve had such a great opportunity to spend time in this project for a while. Instead of what I might have imagined too incongruous or “just a dream” it is tending to fit in really well, I’m not disregarding these sorts of ideas when they arise without all my daytime kind of hard work. There are 2 or 3 sections, sometimes a few minutes long in Gone, Gone Beyond that are entirely the result of having either dreamed the sequence or woken up and having wrote a bunch of things down at 5am. Also, I’ve had many dreams where I am actually inside the Cinechamber structure and things are going on that I am not making happen! Like events going on behind the screen, lights and holes appearing. Only once before has that happened to me, when I was working on a live audiovisual performance which only contained horror films, called The Magical Misery Tour, and I was quite surprised about not having bad dreams given that I was watching lots and lots of horror films. However, I got to the end of the project and that week I had a dream that I was editing all the horror films to make new sequences and all of a sudden a horror movie appeared on the timeline that I had not put in there and that did not exist. That woke me up, that’s for sure.
More information and additional program details: recombinantfestival.com
Buy tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/recombinant-festival-2017-tickets-37510096709
More about Gone, Gone Beyond http://peoplelikeus.org/2017/gone-gone-beyond/
People Like Us: peoplelikeus.org
Hearty White: wfmu.org/playlists/HA