Daniel & Clara: An Interview in 12 Parts. Part 10: Black SunFebruary 24, 2019
Here is the penultimate part of our year long interview with Daniel and Clara that emerged as part of an artist residency with Exploding Appendix. It will also be the final section for those reading online. Part 12 will be written as a concluding reflection on Daniel and Clara’s 2018 artist residency and the many unfinished projects it spawned and ran continuous with. This will be added to the full transcript when it is published in printed form. Until then, thank you for reading and engaging.
In this eleventh, and penultimate, part of our interview with Daniel & Clara, Bradley Tuck talks with them about their short films made between 2017 and 2018.
Artists Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais have been collaborating since 2011 on moving image work, performance and photography. Since meeting they have worked exclusively together seeing themselves as two halves of a single artist. Alongside their work as artists they also publish their own magazine Film Panic. Throughout 2018 they will be collaborating extensively with Exploding Appendix as resident artists and, alongside this interview, will be collaborating on events, screenings and film projects.
BRADLEY: So far we have mainly been talking about your feature films. We have also talked about your live performances and printed publications, but a central part of your output seems to have taken the form of a feature film. These are long durational immersive experiences. Throughout 2017 and 2018, you seem to have shifted your attention somewhat to making short films. This includes a series of five short films entitled Exteriors, as well as individual shorts such as Scene 13 – The Crow, Telekinetic Pleasures, INT. LANDSCAPES, Espectros Da Terra, along with the Studio Diary Series, which itself is a series of 100 short films. So, in total that is 109 short films in two years, which is incredibly impressive. Each of these films is amazingly beautiful, engaged and experimental. Maybe because they are short films it feels almost as if they are more experimental than your feature films. Maybe that isn’t the right way to put it. All of your films are in a constant process of experimentation, but because these are short and there are so many of them we get a real sense of the breadth of your experimentation. It is as if each one is a fascinating test; a formal and technical exploration, which once started quickly comes to an end and a new one begins. Sometimes themes and ideas are developed, but always afresh, with renewed vitality. In a way, this marks a shift in your work. The change in length seems to create new and different possibilities. What drew you to shift from the feature film to the short film? How do you feel this has shifted the direction of your work?
DANIEL & CLARA: It has always been our desire to be able to make films with the same immediacy as a painter paints or a writer writes, over the first 7 years of working together we were searching for a way to work that was quick and direct, we wanted to have a process where we could fully serve our creativity, where there was as little obstruction as possible between thought and the act of making. Even though we have managed to work pretty much full time on our projects, we are at times frustrated by how little we have made, we have so much we wish to do but due to limited resources and the scale of some of our projects we feel we have had to work slower than feels natural to us.
But in the autumn of 2017 we completed Black Sun which was at that point our 6th feature film together, and even though we have more we wish to do with the feature length film we felt it was time to experiment with other durations and forms. In some ways Black Sun is a conclusion, or an end point of a certain trajectory of thought and process that started with Savage Witches and what comes after that point needed to move in a new direction or at the very least find a new method. As so much of our filmmaking and writing focused on longer films it made sense that we should shift to the short.
At first it wasn’t easy, we had been thinking for so long about the feature length form that we didn’t seem able to let the films grow in a short form. We had to work on them a little bit at a time, sometimes we would do something and then leave it for several weeks before coming back to it again. We had to make them almost from the corner of our eyes without fully directing our gaze at them, every time we tried to look at them full on we would lose them. We had to work with a lighter touch, not interrogate so much but let our creative instincts act in the right measure. So eventually we found our way, we developed a sensibility to the rhythm that exists within the short form and once we had that we felt we could do anything, it was very liberating
EXT. FIRE AT FAIRLIGHT GLEN. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais. 2017
BRADLEY: Let’s start by discussing your Exteriors series from 2017. These are films, which, as the title suggests, explore the outside natural world. This is a marked shift from the more ‘human focus’ of your feature films. Two thoughts come to mind. The first concerns how this theme emerges simultaneously in Film Panic. (Do we not see similar themes in your interviews, especially with Scott Barley?) Maybe this is an obvious thing to note, but reading Film Panic alongside these short films you get a sense of how your intellectual engagements with other filmmakers overlaps with your own film projects.
The other thing that comes to mind is the way these films express something that is explored in a very different way in The Kingdom of Shadows. This, we could call, your ‘pantheism’. Something seems present in your depiction of nature. Even when we only see the crashing of waves and hear their sounds, there is a sense in which we are never simply seeing ‘mere nature’, or maybe it is that ‘mere nature’ always tends to confront us as something magical and mediated. However, I caution myself in using the word ‘pantheism’ because it gives the impression that some higher being is incarnate in all things. I think there is something like an incarnation in these Exteriors films, but I wouldn’t want to ascribe this to God, or Consciousness. If it is God, it is God reduced to an involuntary spasm. There is a kind of incarnate polymorphic texture that emanates from the natural world. Not so much because nature has a consciousness, but rather because nature has a ‘fleshiness’. It reaches out and touches us.
Another way of approaching this ‘incarnation’ of nature is to say that it follows your preoccupation with rituals. The rituals and rhythms of nature and the rituals and rhythms of the recording collide to produce an exterior world that seems ‘alive’. This transformation (or alchemy) of nature emerges in the use of the VHS camera. In this respect the VHS camera gives nature a kind of mediated quality. It is as if the distortions and ripples of footage, and the nostalgia we might feel for the VHS itself, imbues nature with a kind of magical quality. This kind of ‘magical quality’ is possibly best explored by discussing the films themselves.
EXT. WAVES fascinates me because for most of it, we are merely watching waves. We are listening to the sound of waves. That is it! Yet somehow we are lost in the cacophonous tumult of the sea spray. We are rocked by its torrents and we succumb to its undulations. Maybe because the sound track of the waves is recorded close up, or because the waves themselves are viewed with a kind of closeness, we feel like we are there, immersed in the violence of each crash and mesmerised by the spray that rebounds from the rocks.
A little reprieve is granted as we turn to the cliffs. The sound of the sea continues almost as if it were ushering a hypnotic chant, but visually we are allowed a little distance from the drama. Soon we are returned to the sea, whose ferment bellows like flames. We become mesmerised by the streaks of froth striped across a dark blue background. Music begins to emerge, almost as if it is the final commentary rendered as a single tone. Maybe it marks a kind of transformation, our becoming one with the water. The music plays us out.
EXT. FIRE AT FAIRLIGHT GLEN
In EXT. FIRE AT FAIRLIGHT GLEN the fire takes on a magical character in part because VHS seems unable to capture it. The glitching and striping of the image, along with the otherworldly glow of the flame gives this film a sorcerous power which seems at once technological and mystical – the lined stripes of the VHS image appear like a nostalgic image of the future and the blurry glow of the flame evokes a ritualised fantasy world where glowing creatures inhabit the skies.
The flames float like luminous blossoms through the air and blur into VHS fairy dust. They are accompanied by the amplified crackling of a fire. As the film progresses a choir of animals (Sheep, Dog, Horse) accompany the crackling sound. Short intermissions of a black screen puncture the film with a kind of rhythm that sets the pace. After each brief puncture we are reunited with the dazing glow and the ritual continues.
The film brings to mind a hallucination I had as a child, or, I retroactively assume it to be a hallucination. I thought it was real. In the dead of the night, as I lay in bed, I could hear my parents watching TV. Whatever they were watching had a strange delirious soundtrack, the same noises repeating with a droning intensity. This hypnotic delirium was frequented by the re-occuring motif of a dog’s bark. Whatever my parents were watching next door seemed to grasp me in a dizzying frenzy. Of course, when I asked about it the next day my parents said they were not watching anything, and so I came to the assumption that this was somehow within me.
As I watched EXT. FIRE AT FAIRLIGHT GLEN I imagined that this is what they could have been watching. Although the soundtrack was not exactly the same, it seemed to capture a similar pulsating and dizzying sensation, punctured with animal noises as it increased with intensity.
For me this captures the respect in which it is a dizzying hypnotic film. It also brought to mind the footage of the Jack of the Green festival in Hastings that appears in Splendor Solis. Fire is often a part of a ritual and this film itself feels like a ritual that casts a powerful audio-visual spell over us.
What fascinates me about EXT. TREES is how they approach the darkness. At times this approaches a black screen. However, unlike Black Sun, we can tell this is still footage. At some points it is the black tree against the dark blue sky. At other points it appears as if it is completely black, but this black is not jet black, but the dark grey of VHS footage. Towards the end it appears as if it is completely dark, but if we look carefully we see the faintest branches blowing in the wind. They appear not fully visible, but as slight indentations imprinted upon the darkness. As with all these films the fact it was recorded on VHS gives it a ghostly quality. The crackles of the footage let us know it is mediated. This mediated quality is a ghostly quality. It is as if something has been captured on the film, something that once happened, but now only appears to us as a ghost; as a recording.
The footage is accompanied by the quiet humming sound of nothing in particular as we slowly descend into greater and greater darkness. If Black Sun makes us confront darkness by simply giving us a black image, EXT. TREES approaches darkness with an image getting darker and darker.
EXT. WILD FLOWERS
EXT. WILD FLOWERS strikes me as slightly different to the other films. The other films have a slow meditative quality. EXT. WILD FLOWERS feels more ‘artificial’ and ‘dynamic’. The music feels more pronounced. There are more cuts between bits of footage and the colours seem brighter than any of the other films in this collection. At one point it flashes between a black screen and a yellow image. Where the other films feel meditative, this film feels intoxicating and hypnotic. It also seems like a nod to the colourful gardens of your other films.
EXT. SEA MIST
Although the use of VHS footage seems to import a sense of the ghostly into this series, EXT. SEA MIST strikes me as being the most eerie. A high pitched drone can be heard which could easily be the noise of pipes, but in this context it approaches us as the eerie presence of the mist itself. Every time the pitch changes the spectre of the mist seems to acquire an ever-new intensity. The image on the screen could easily simply be a light blue colour if it wasn’t for the bottom of the screen that reveals where we are. Again we are by the sea, but unlike EXT. WAVES, where the water seemed tumultuous and violent, we encounter waves that seem calm… haunting… haunting and calm.
This is my personal response to the films, and the themes they evoke for me. For me, what might at first appear as a simple footage of natural exteriors takes on a deeper significance. I have no idea if this is the way you read the films, or what they mean to you, so maybe I have jumped the gun. How would you describe the films? What significance do they have for you? What drew you to make them?
DANIEL & CLARA: We really like your descriptions, they capture the films well. We always like this way of describing films which incorporates the personal sensations, reactions, memories and the associations of the viewer. This is how art is truly experienced, a great mix of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations colliding to create the experience.
With these films we didn’t have a particularly strong intention in mind other than to make the first steps towards approaching how to deal with the landscape through moving image, to see how our VHS camera deals with the recording and transformation of the natural subject. It was maybe our most modest motivation yet, simply to strip away everything and deal with looking at and recording the landscape and see what happens. Of course, as always, our intention wasn’t to document, we wanted to start by simply looking and maybe begin to find ways to look harder and look differently at familiar subjects. We love how the VHS camera captures and re-presents what it records, there is so much colour and texture in this format, especially if you work with it in the way we do, it has a very expressive quality to it, it transmutes reality into a new image. So each film has a different mood and explores different techniques that really have grown in response to how the camera reacted to the landscapes and subjects we filmed.
It was around this time that we started thinking about how we could use moving image to deal with traditional genres or categories of painting, such as landscapes, portraits, nudes, still lives, etc. Painting had always been an influence for us but now we’ve become more interested in really looking at what moving image can do that painting can’t, and what painting can do that moving image can’t. Stillness and movement is the most striking difference, the fact that painting exists in a single image whereas moving image exists most commonly as a series of images that unfold or follow one after another. Time exists in painting as an eternity, the experience of a painting is immediate and you can come back to it again and again and stay with it as long or as little as you want, narrative exists as something that spreads across the single image. In moving image time is experienced, it moves in the same way as we experience our own embodied consciousness, it is something you have to go through, you must experience a succession of events or even just the duration of a single event for the work to reveal itself to you. It’s a different experience. Also, from the point of view of the creation, it is interesting to compare the two forms. In painting you start from a blank canvas on which you have to construct some kind of reality through marks, you go from abstraction or nothingness to representation. In most moving image you start with representation, an image of reality captured, which you then manipulate to construct an experience.
SCENE 13 – THE CROW. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais 2017
BRADLEY: Yes, there is a sense in which, in these short films, you are continually going back to the things themselves, and your experiences of these things and asking “how do I capture this?”, “How do I respond to this?” It is as if you are constantly stripping back your everyday assumptions and trying to deal with the world afresh. In the Exteriors films it really seems like you are exploring the way that the VHS camera captures a particular kind of subjective outlook on the world. At some points, because the films’ focus (in this case the landscape) is a traditional topic of painting, these almost feel like moving paintings.
Scene 13 – The Crow (2017) seems to build on these themes. Like the Exteriors, this was also filmed on VHS. Yet if the Exteriors are exploring how VHS captures its own kind of subjective outlook on the world, Scene 13 – The Crow captures, for the most part, what we might call VHS turned on itself. We have the fuzz, crackles and distortions of VHS, but nothing else. There is still a texture, but it is the texture of VHS.
Actually saying “nothing else” is not exactly correct. There are even short bits of external footage, but they are very brief. There are also distortions that I am not exactly sure how you produced, but they seem like more than simply glitches on the footage or the fuzz from a TV. Nonetheless, this film feels like an exploration of VHS itself.
The music is also very beautiful in this and very special. In some ways it reminded me of a music video, especially the old films for Warp Records that I grew up with in the 90s and 00s. So I guess there is a kind of nostalgia that could easily be linked to this use of VHS, but not in the respect in which nostalgia often runs the risk of occluding what is genuinely in front of us. VHS has a kind of social weight and will bring to mind all sorts of associations, but in this film it is transformed into something else. This film bares a poetry of time (a narrative even), where the distortions build and shift in a similar way to how the waves crashed against the rocks, the fire burning like blossom, or the trees against the blackening night in the Exteriors.
The other thought that came to mind was of its relation to both Black Sun and EXT. TREES. Here again, at points, we are confronted with the apparently black screen, but this time it is not completely black, but rather, we confront the ballet of distortions that dance across it.
Finally, its title stands out. The film opens with the sound of crows, so the crow is there. But there seems to be a greater context to this film. Could you explain this? What is the story behind the making of this film? What is its significance for you?
DANIEL & CLARA: For us the VHS doesn’t have a nostalgia, it is a medium that we feel very excited to work with, its specific characteristics are very suitable for the things we wish to express and the kind of images we want to create. Filmmaking technology changes very fast, when something new comes along the old tools eventually get discarded and because these tools are created by an industrial and consumer system the old tools eventually stop being made. For us this seems a real shame because even though these tools no longer have an industrial function they still have an artistic function, many image-making possibilities still to explore. It is a real problem for anyone working with celluloid or older video tools to deal with, the possibility that their preferred medium will at some point stop being available.
The title of this film refers to the tarot, Scene 13 pointing to the image on card 13 of the major arcana of the Tarot de Marseilles, which features a skeleton with a scythe sweeping the heads off of kings and queens that are growing amongst blue and yellow leaves on a scorched black earth. Even though it has no name, this card is often referred to as ‘death’ and it carries a grim aura with it, but we like to remind ourselves that without it life would be miserable because this represents that most practical of forces that just cuts away what has become unnecessary to make space for what is vital. Above anything else it is a card about transformation, about the necessity for renewal, for radical action, for liberation, cleansing and stripping down to essentials.
Crows, which have appeared in many of our films, are connected to the process of the blackening or nigredo in alchemy, which we’ve talked about before. This is about a sort of dark night of the soul, a process of facing our shadow, our fears and owning up to our own limitations. It is as much about a breaking down of matter through decomposition as it is about breaking down unnecessary habits, reductive thought-processes and restrictive value systems. It is as liberating as it is gruelling and that is why it is so frightening, why we can find it so difficult and repelling, because it is all about hitting up against our own limits in order to break through them. As a bird that blends with the darkness, the crow often carries this symbolism, its caws are often thought of as ominous signs of warning, but one can see it also as a guide through the blackening and there is something comforting about that.
In this film the screen is often dark but never blank, every frame has textures, lines, shapes, various dark colours, and there is one very brief shot of footage. What we started with was the moments on a video tape that existed between the recorded footage, the point where the tape created an image on its own, from where the tape had stretched over time as well as the distortions created in the moment when the stop or record buttons are pushed. We started with gathering lots of this material and then worked with it to bring out and emphasise what was there, seeking something beautiful in this usually overlooked or discarded material, the secrets hidden in the spaces between the footage – the gold in the shit and the light of the darkness.
Even though we gathered this material for a long time the actual editing and scoring of the film was done in just one week after we both had strange dreams on the same night which referred to entering a dark abyss and a terrifying black void, each of our dreams seemed to refer to each other’s, echoing and in some ways answering the other’s. This somehow was what we needed to bring Scene 13 – The Crow into life.
TELEKINETIC PLEASURES. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais. 2018
BRADLEY: Maybe nostalgia is the wrong word, because that would seem to involve a kind of sentimentalisation of the past. This can be unhelpful because it can occlude what is genuine and fresh in art works, or make us see particular technologies in a very limited light. Thus, it can create a ready-made formula for engaging with art. Nonetheless, we tend to associate particular technologies with particular periods. At some level they bring associations whether we like it or not. Maybe, if VHS became more easily available again these associations would change. They are, of course, in no way fixed.
So, if we turn to discussing Telekinetic Pleasures, your short film from 2018, it is tempting to start referencing all sorts of science fiction films and TV shows from the 70s and 80s, as well as music videos, and science fiction in general. The film uses a combination of VHS and special effects that seem to have fallen out of fashion in mainstream media, and this brings about historical associations.
The film is even set in 1984, so in this context the technologies bring with them a sensibility of that era. Yet, this isn’t merely a pastiche of an old science fiction TV show, even if it might bring out those associations. It strikes me as an attempt to explore what a new emerging technologically transformed consciousness might feel like. The film opens by describing an experiment on both animals and humans. We are told that of the twelve humans experimented on, nine have died, one is in a critical condition, but two show signs of success. Of course, this could be read in the tradition of the moral dilemma (the ethics of science) as presented in science fiction, but the film seems more interested in giving a sense of their transformation. The film focuses more on creating a sense of sensory immersion, than questioning the ethics of this particular scientific research. However, there is something cold and detached about the presentation of these two people. They are presented naked, which, in this context, suggest the respect in which they have become bare life, deprived of everything, even the ability to look, dress and cover themselves as they please. They are mere test subjects.
At the same time, there is a sense that the film mimics the kind of experience they must be experiencing. We ourselves are thrust into a dizzying rampage of sounds and images. For me, this seems to chime with a topic we have continually returned to, that of your exploration of creating new psychic outlooks. In this film it is as if we are somehow embroiled in their process of acquiring a new psychic power (telekinesis).
So there is a kind of tension at the heart of this film. It feels cold and detached in relation to the test subjects, but we are immersed in this experience with them. The film itself is called “Telekinetic Pleasures”, but it is not exactly clear what the pleasures are. Maybe the pleasure is the frenzy that we become party to. It is almost as if the film is exploring a strange, seemingly paradoxical state of finding pleasure in alienation. It is similar, in a way, to the way that the sounds of conveyor belts and heavy machinery can bring with it greater alienation, but can also be viewed from an aesthetic point of view as something ‘pleasurable’. The emergence of mass industrialisation has been very influential on the art of the 20th century from Futurism to Eraserhead (1978) to heavy metal and industrial music. In a parallel way, in this film, the exploitative experiment is transformed into an intense ‘pleasurable’ experience.
Is this how you see it? What do you feel you were exploring in making this film?
DANIEL & CLARA: We are interested in different mediums and how each one carries with it different interpretations depending on the particulars of how it works. Celluloid film is interesting because it is a strip of plastic coated in chemicals that react to light, once processed you can see the image on the film strip. There is something very tangible about it, it is very material and you can easily get your head around how it works, it’s all there in front of you – it’s not a simple thing but if you open a camera or projector and if you hold film in your hand they make sense, there is a logic to the mechanics of it.
Digital video, on the other hand, is incredibly mysterious and in some ways more of a mystical medium, the footage exists as data, as a code, there is no master copy, no original object, it can’t be held in the hands. There is something very spiritual about digital video, to meditate on it one encounters that which cannot be touched but it is real nonetheless.
Analog video is something else again, a VHS tape has a real physicality to it, it’s a solid black box, if you open it up inside you find black magnetic tape, but no images can be seen on it, it is mysterious, dark and strange. For us the VHS tape relates to the body, it’s a physical thing but it is mysterious, there is a consciousness in there, there is something in it that brings it to life but that part can’t be seen by cutting it open.
Some of these things were on our mind when making this film. Again the film is a kind of creation myth and we have written a longer story about these characters and the scientific experiments that triggered their evolution and the events that followed. We approached this short as if their psychic transmissions were captured on a video tape, the tape itself becoming a unit of consciousness.
The title refers to how we can move matter with our minds, the manipulation of the material world with our psychic intentions and the great pleasure in doing so. For us this relates to the creative process, the making of art being a manifestation of thought and feeling into objects that others can see and experience.
INT. LANDSCAPES. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais. 2018
BRADLEY: My immediate assumption, before watching INT. LANDSCAPES, was that it was somehow continuous with your Exteriors films. It is true, both deal with landscapes, but INT. LANDSCAPES seems to be exploring the way landscapes are formed in our ‘mind’s eye’. Like Black Sun, Scene 13 – The Crow and EXT. TREES, there is once again an exploration of the dark black screen. Unlike Black Sun, or Scene 13 – The Crow, this felt less like a process of blackening, and more an attempt to get us to visualise the landscape in our heads. So throughout we get a completely black screen, punctured with footage of the countryside. The footage that appears was shot on Super 8 and appears to have been shot during the making of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Phantom Islands (2018), in which you both acted. So, whilst we get lots of shots of the landscape, it is also clear that something… …something dramatic… …something creepy… …is happening. Accompanying this we hear a voice whispering a description of the surroundings, sometimes this chimes more or less with the image, sometimes there is no image. So at one level I read this as a creepy tale about something happening in this eerie landscape. At another level I saw it as a kind of ‘diary entry’ exploring your involvement in being in Phantom Islands. At another level still, I saw it as an attempt to use cinema to develop this interior world; an interior landscape. How do you view this film?
DANIEL & CLARA: INT. LANDSCAPES was shot in Ireland in 2017 while we were there for the Phantom Islands shoot, on our time off from the film we explored the countryside, recording sound and capturing a few frames of film. We only had one reel of Super 8 which we decided to take with us at the last minute, we wanted to see what we could do with a very limited amount of footage and create a film about our time there and our experience of the place. In some ways the film is a document but it consciously fails in clearly documenting the journey we were on. Through the voice you hear us describe what we are seeing and in the brief glimpses of footage you see enough of the environments to evoke a sense of place but our real intention in moving towards a document was to find its limits and instead create a poetic response. We were more concerned with the intangible dimensions of the experience rather than capturing what we did and where we went.
Initially we hadn’t planned for this film to be a stand-alone short, it was going to be used as a film within a film in Notes From A Journey, a feature film which we are currently in the final stages of completing. Notes From A Journey is a film about a journey around the UK, particularly focusing on the landscape, and in the end the Ireland footage felt out of place as it had a mood and an atmosphere all of its own. But it really worked as a stand-alone film, our interests in darkness, the landscapes, the imagination and narrative are all there and, interestingly, looking back it seems to hint at our move towards making diary films that would become very important throughout 2018.
ESPECTROS DA TERRA. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais. 2018
BRADLEY: Yes, a lot of these films have a kind of ‘diary’ or ‘sketchbook’ feel. Exteriors, INT. LANDSCAPES and the Studio Diaries could all be grouped in some way in this camp. Some are like personal diary entries about your activities. Others are closer to a sketch of particular phenomena that are around you. Telekinetic Pleasures and Espectros Da Terra stand out distinct from these as they seem more obviously an attempt to create fiction. Telekinetic Pleasures is about two test subjects in a laboratory who develop the power of telekinesis. Espectros Da Terra seems to be drawing upon ghostly and supernatural images to create a world. It is a world where Arthurian legends and Lovecraftian horror appears to collide. There is a real richness to the film, both through the use of Super 8, and in the images and iconography we encounter. Some of these images would appear to be images of nature like a river running, a forest or sap oozing from a tree. Other images include a gloved hand holding a red icosahedron, two people covered in white dust having sex, lovecraftian monsters wandering the landscape, a sword in a stone, a naked pale white figure gorging on another body. This almost feels like the fragments of a feature film. Each image feels like it could tell a story beyond the four minutes of the actual film. However, in this short space of four minutes we feel like we have encountered a world, rich in meanings that transcend our comprehension. It is a short film that creates a whole dramatic world in a very short space of time. What were you exploring when you made this film? What drove you to make it?
DANIEL & CLARA: Espectros Da Terra was a commission by the Experimental Film Society, they gave us two reels of Super 8 film and asked us to make a film about anything that we wanted. We were in Portugal at the time so we decided to use some of the landscapes near Porto, but instead of going out into the countryside, we decided to shoot it in the scrap-lands behind supermarkets, on roundabouts and the areas just to the side of motorways and train tracks. For us this is a film about the environment, the spirits of nature on a planet that is dying, it is a film about a great sadness that we feel at knowing that we humans are destroying the planet we live on and that it seems we won’t stop until there is nothing left. In this film we wanted to make our own peace with nature, to look beyond the human world and commune with the spectres of the earth, we momentarily pull back the veil and see the world as it is in spirit, in myth and imagination, and what we see is that what we destroy in nature also dies within ourselves.
STUDIO DIARY Series. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais. 2018
BRADLEY: There is something that you say in the last studio diary. It is something you have been saying here throughout, and it concerns your view that cinema is not dead or dying, but it is in fact very young. It is only just getting started. Throughout the Studio Diaries you are constantly experimenting with that cinema. You are pushing it in new directions. The Studio Diaries are certainly diaries, but if people are expecting the format “I got up, went into town, met an old friend…” …it isn’t really that. Actually there is storytelling, so it does have that aspect, but the storytelling is not at the forefront. A lot of this seems like very stunning visual and audio experimentation. It could be objects around the home, a location for a shoot, preparation for a film, but somehow it is transformed into something else. There are so many different devices used, it is almost like a magnificent exploration about what film can be.
In many ways it is more like a ‘sketchbook’. It is almost as if, through the camera and the microphone you are building a picture (a sketch) of the world around you. These ‘sketches’ are beautiful, dynamic and multi-layered. They are complex experimentations that weave sounds, music, your own words, your own footage, your own effects, footage from other films. We could be watching rain patter against a window, oranges rolling, hands in water, the world captured through a magnifying glass, a film shoot, a film screening, a portrait of another person. Sometimes there is a disjunctive relationship between the sound and the image, but always in a way that is interesting and provocative. Sometimes the words seem scripted and overflowing with dramatic significance or poetry, at other points they sound like a few lines from a conversation, and at other points it feels like a barely audible mumble.
There is so much that could be said. It is hard to do these films justice. There are 100 short films in this collection. Most of the films are between two to three minutes long. There is around three hours in total, but each film is, in itself, unique and beautiful in its own right. In each we get a really interesting experimentation with the sounds and the images. Each film could stand alone.
Yet seeing them together is powerful. When united we get a sense of this being a diary. We get a sense of you being there, exploring. You are not separate and behind the camera, you are in it. So whilst there is a sense of this being a collection of ‘sketches’, there is also a strong ‘diary’ element. However abstract this film might become, you are both there as main characters throughout. This is your life on film. There was always an element of that even in the film of The Quest For The Cine-Rebis, but the Studio Diary Series has extended and deepened this.
When I came to visit you in June, I got to see a little behind the scenes of the Studio Diary Series. On the first day I got there you started preparing for the shooting of Plot Points (your forthcoming feature film), which we were filming the next day. You got me to sit on a chair in front of the lights while you tested them and while you were doing that you were also filming for the Studio Diaries. So a shoot of that test shoot became an entry in the series. It was edited and I was asked to say something into a microphone, which became a mumble in the background in the short diary film. By the next day the film was online. Then we went and shot a feature film over two, slightly spilling into three, days and all the time you were also filming another studio diary with an additional camera. That next studio diary was released almost immediately. It was intense. The whole series itself was shot between 04.03.2018 and 22.10.2018, so in 8 months you created 100 short films, alongside all the other projects you have been involved in. What was it like submitting yourself to this process? What do you feel about the project now it is finished?
DANIEL & CLARA: Previous to this year much of our work has been feature length films made to be seen in a cinema space, it was essential to us that our work be projected on a big screen in a controlled and immersive environment, but in 2017 we began investigating how we could create work in different forms and for different contexts, particularly how we could create short films, multiscreen video installations and also how we could approach making something for the internet. As anyone making films now will know it is inevitable that your work will end up on the internet, as much as we design our feature films for the cinema context, the opportunities for screening in cinemas have become so limited that if we want our work to reach a wider audience the most viable outlet is via the numerous online streaming platforms. We have made some work that we’ll never release in this way, such as Black Sun which can only be viewed live in a cinema, but we wanted to explore how to make something that could really work online, that works with the limitations of the context but without a creative compromise in any way. The first thing that we realised is that short films work best online; the second was that it seems to be a good place to publish works in series, films that come out daily but that are also available for people to watch in any way they wish; and thirdly, as these films would be shared through facebook and twitter it seemed that personal subject matter would be the most appropriate, putting ourselves in the work and showing our life and our daily activities.
So these things were on our mind, we’d been thinking about all this for a little while before we actually started the Studio Diary Series, the reason it began when it did was because we were having a clear out and in the back of a cupboard we found an old mini-DV camera which someone had given us years ago. For some reason we’d thought it was broken but we discovered it was working and decided to make a project using it. We both love shooting with mini-DV, the cameras are very easy to handle and the way you hold them feels like a very natural extension of the arm, the design is much more intuitive to use than DSLRs and it is actually very versatile in terms of dealing with a range of light, colour and detail. We became fascinated with the kind of textures and images we could get with this camera and in a way the Studio Diaries became a way to make an extensive study of the possibilities of shooting and manipulating DV footage.
When we started, we created some parameters for the process of making these films. The idea was that we would create very short pieces that would be daily diaries of our work in the studio, that they’d be a way to document our creative activities and personal ideas about art, creativity and moving images but not simply as documentary or illustration, instead these things should be expressed through the very form and process of the films. Each film would be an experiment in themselves, an investigation of how images work and what the role of art and creativity is in our lives. The technical rules we set ourselves were that we would always record sound separately from the video, never using synch sound; and that we would shoot, record, edit and release them online in a single day so they’d be immediate, succinct and we’d not have the chance to over-think them. Within this framework we could do anything we wanted and it was very liberating, we felt incredibly free.
We decided to make a series of 100 to push ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of, we could not conceive how we would carry it through and remain completely engaged, finding new things and continuously pushing our explorations. In a way this became the task of each diary, as we only allowed the films to materialise on the day they were made, we didn’t prepare and we never had the ideas before we made them. It became a part of our daily work, each day we would wake up, work out what the plan for the day was and decide at what stage we should make the studio diary. Sometimes we would not have any idea at all until the moment we clicked the record button and started looking through the camera, and then something interesting would happen and it would all come together.
Around the time we made the 20th video we were invited by the programmers of Doclisboa film festival to screen the project in Lisbon in October. This opportunity then became our deadline for completing the films. We screened the first 99 films at the festival and during our time there filmed the 100th instalment. The screening was the first time we saw all of the films together and it was an amazing experience to see how our process evolved through the course of the films. We feel they truly succeed as a document of our creative thoughts and processes, somehow it’s all there for us. Something we’re interested in doing now is presenting the films in different ways for different contexts. They will stay online as individual shorts but we’ll also be screening them in full, as an abridged version, as a multi-screen video installation and as a live version. Also later this year a book expanding upon the films will be published by Stereoeditions.
STUDIO DIARY Series. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais. 2018
BRADLEY: So now that has finished, what are you currently working on?
DANIEL & CLARA: We currently have two feature films in post-production. The first is called Notes From A Journey, a film which was shot in the spring of 2017 while we did a two week tour presenting our work at various venues around the UK. The film is about the British landscape and two travellers played by us who exist in a strange limbo between dimensions of perception. It has fragments of what could be considered a story or scenes but rather than being a film with a sharply defined narrative it uses the form of an endless journey to present a certain mood and a series of evolving images to activate an awareness of how we see, hear and feel about what is in front of us. The editing is complete and we are currently working on the sound and music, it should be finished by the spring 2019.
We’ll then be working on the editing and sound for a film called Plot Points, which was shot on location in Portugal over 3 days in June 2017. It is about a group of characters stranded in a mist covered seaside town, it is a cinematic meditation on the ocean, sorrow, the colour blue and how the past lingers and shapes the present. It is very much inspired by the films of Raúl Ruiz, Jacques Rivette and Marguerite Duras and is our very own love letter to a certain strand in art-house cinema which could be called the cinema of melancholy dreams! We also have several other video installations, publications and performances which we are working on and we’ll be announcing very soon.